TERRACE TALK: Man City - Same old story but a happy ending at last

At long last a different ending to a familiar story for City.

With the age-old Achilles heel of overwhelming possession and feeble returns biting once again in the first half, something snapped at last at the Etihad. Rejigged and revitalised, City treated us to a sumptuous second period of short and long, cut and thrust, duck and dive.

What a difference 45 minutes can make. With City’s perpetual passing machine again being found out by one single nimble response, Pep Guardiola’s side were looking straight down the barrel once again. Twin towers of salt Nicolas Otamendi and Aleksander Kolarov had done their parting of the seas impression to let Theo Walcott in for an early goal and heads were nodding knowingly in the crowd. Here we, most certainly, go again.

The reaction to this most predictable of setbacks was, this time, astounding and mirrored the coruscating response to a similar dilemma in the home Champions League game with Barcelona. There City had also taken the second half by the scruff of the neck and refused to let go of it until the opposition lay flattened on the turf.

Switching thrust-free short passing for a dynamic mix of dig, bite and wallop, they wrested midfield control from Arsenal to such an extent it fair made the eyes water.

There has been an avalanche of criticism for Guardiola as he had watched City’s ten-game winning start fall into various states of disrepair, but there have been enough glimpses of what this City side is capable of to keep the public more than interested in where the season is carrying them. Here was redemption again for Pep and his wind-assisted learning curve.

City had done something similar to Chelsea two weeks ago and been publicly undressed on the counter-attack. Arsenal, though, had no answer to a second half of tigerish midfield jostling. Suddenly tackles were back in fashion, long balls were flashing from one side of the expansive Etihad green to the other. The ball was flying around so fast it looked like the heat it was creating might melt Mesut Özil altogether.

As the German disappeared from view, David Silva took artistic control, prompting midfield partners Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling into daring deeds.

Behind them, the impressive bulk of Yaya Touré was on the move at last and Fernando was busy tackling anything that moved.

Here at last was the platform for a breathtaking turn-around.

The doubts about the Catalan’s ability to understand what the word “tackle” meant to the soul and well-being of the Premier League may have brought some comedians forward on Twitter, but his midfield seemed keen to prove they had fully grasped the word’s meaning here.

There were still unedifying sights: Otamendi airborne and horizontal as the darting elf Alexis Sanchez shimmied through on the edge of the box; Kolarov waving the traffic through alongside.

But then suddenly something much more meaty to feast on for the game’s tumultuous conclusion. The view now was of Kevin de Bruyne smacking an outrageous pass from deep left to the very top right corner of the pitch, to allow Raheem Sterling to jink inside and finish off a creaking Arsenal rearguard.

With the closing act finding the Gunners unable to even exit their own half to mount some kind of challenge, such was the ferocity of the onslaught coming the other way, City’s season had gained wings again.

Early season predictions that Antonio Conte’s revitalised Chelsea and Pep’s City would contest the crown may yet be proved right. As Arsenal continue preparations for their annual New Year deflating souflée impersonation, perhaps only Liverpool may have a say.

Right now, we must let City bask in the glory of the unusual: that they managed at last to turn their unobtrusive passing game into a jet-propelled whirlwind and that they had done this against an Arsenal side, whose dominance over City in the last 40 years has been almost unbroken.

City, for so long the mavericks of English football, are still busy representing a passable image of their former selves and we can all rejoice in that.

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