Man City 4-1 Arsenal: Why Kevin de Bruyne and Erling Haaland will be key to Treble pursuit

 

Kevin de Bruyne and Erling Haaland provided the silk and steel as Manchester City's seemingly unstoppable momentum consumed faltering Arsenal in their so-called Premier League title decider at Etihad Stadium.

There may well be twists and turns ahead but few would bet against City claiming a fifth title in six seasons after they tore apart the league leaders, the one team who have made a contest of this campaign.

City's 4-1 victory was nowhere near a reflection of their superiority, Pep Guardiola's side making a mockery of the pre-match billing that this could be a tight affair settled by the finest margins.

The margins were vast in all areas - and at the heart of it all was the deadly duo of De Bruyne and Haaland.

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Guardiola admitted there was a deliberate ploy in this game to use De Bruyne and Haaland to unlock Arsenal. It worked to quite devastating effect.

He said: "We've always had an incredible attacking threat but the connection between Erling and Kevin is extraordinary. Here we tried to use it as much as possible.

"Kevin is always pushing and feels he can do better but in this shape he moves behind Granit Xhaka or Thomas Partey and has more freedom. It's so dangerous for opponents. The threat with Erling-Kevin, Kevin-Erling is so important.

"I think Kevin is the master of the assist whether or not Erling is playing and Erling scores goals with or without Kevin but together they are so dangerous."


City's victory, however, came with a twist on the usual methods of menace the pair have inflicted on opponents throughout this season.

De Bruyne has traditionally played the role of provider for goal machine Haaland, creating eight goals in the Premier League for the 22-year-old Norwegian who has taken the season by storm.

This time it was Haaland, giving an illustration of how his all-round game has improved under Guardiola's guidance, who assisted De Bruyne in the league for the first time this season, doing so twice.

Haaland showed perfect close control to kill a long ball instantly on his left foot to put De Bruyne clear for City's first after seven minutes, then played the Belgian in again for the third nine minutes after half-time, extinguishing any Arsenal hopes of a comeback.

De Bruyne, who was given a pep talk of sorts by the demanding Guardiola a few weeks ago, showed once again that he operates at an elite level in the manner he took those two goals.

He ignored the temptation to go for power in both instances, placing his first beyond the outstretched left arm of Aaron Ramsdale with his right foot then showing glorious awareness and technique to place his second between the legs of defender Rob Holding into the far corner.

Only Ramsdale stood between City and an even bigger rout, denying Haaland four times before the striker, literally, let his hair down and scored his 49th goal of this landmark season with seconds left.

Haaland was not quite at his ruthless best in front of goal but there were other qualities to admire, qualities he has acquired since the start of the season, fashioned by Guardiola and taken on board by a player with almost frightening room for improvement.

The striker was relentless, worked tirelessly and showed a mastery of build-up play and ability to bring others into the game that was a revelation.

De Bruyne and Haaland set the tone from the first whistle, the opening goal the result of a partnership that has looked so natural from day one of the Premier League season.

Guardiola was understandably delighted at a win that now puts the title destiny in their own hands. This was an ominous mission statement against the side that still leads the Premier League but who will be unseated if City win at Fulham on Sunday.

Haaland has provided a stunning cutting edge to this City side, making them even more intense and direct on top of the head-spinning passing carousel that is Guardiola's stock in trade and left Arsenal so helpless here.

Guardiola believes City's next three league games, away to Fulham then at home to West Ham United and Leeds United, may prove pivotal in the title race.

And City also have that Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid and the derby FA Cup final against Manchester United on their exciting agenda.

There may be uncertainties to come - but one certainty is that De Bruyne and Haaland will be the key men in their Treble quest.

 

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