Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and David Silva, Manchester City’s three elder statesmen, their three wise men. The three current longest serving players at the club. The three with the most appearances. So, how appropriate it was that they should have been the three men who scored the three goals in this comfortable victory over Arsenal in the Carabao Cup Final at Wembley to give Pep Guardiola his first trophy as the Manchester City manager.
It was particularly poignant for Kompany, the Manchester City captain, a man who has come back from so many injuries and setbacks to lead his side to victory and no-one could begrudge him this moment. Indeed his was no sentimental pick from Guardiola, for Kompany remains the best centre back on City’s books, and they invariably perform better when he is in their starting eleven.
Other than his goal, a neat side footed deflection from a shot by Ilkay Gundogan, he bestrode the lush Wembley turf like a colossus, with time on the ball and he was rarely troubled defensively. On one occasion, when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was making a threatening run, he brushed him aside with ease, rather like a master might to a young pretender, he was that commanding. Even Wembley’s finest legend, the great Bobby Moore, would have been impressed. The Man of the Match award was an easy decision.
Ultimately City won at a canter, without ever really having to play at their swashbuckling best for Arsenal were distinctly average and inferior all over the pitch for the whole afternoon and could find no rhythm to their play.
They had one chance early on, when somehow Aubameyang failed to score from a few yards out, having had a couple of pokes at goal, but thereafter Claudio Bravo, in the City goal, was largely untroubled. Indeed, it could even be argued that once Arsenal had gone two goals behind just before the hour, they knew that the game was up and they seemed to lack gumption to fight their way back. Their supporters thought the same and, with ten minutes to go, nearly half of them had already left the stadium, such a sorry sight on a showpiece occasion such as this.
Their indiscipline and frustration was encapsulated by a petulant gesture of applause in the referee’s direction by Jack Wilshere, which was childish and summed up their afternoon. He was rightly yellow carded and his actions would have done little to impress the England manager, Gareth Southgate as he continues to make plans for the World Cup.
This could be a defining moment for Arsene Wenger. He had his customary moan at the match officials post match but deep down he must know that his side were poor and, worse still, seemed to be short of fight and spirit. They are rooted in sixth place in the Premier League with little chance of advancing higher or being caught by the chasing pack. Other than the Europa League, their season is largely over and the clocks have yet to change, which Wenger will know is not acceptable to a club of the size, pedigree and magnitude of Arsenal.
Yet this was all about City. They have been the standout side in the country this season and, whilst they came into this match as strong favourites, they would have been wounded by their defeat at Wigan in the FA Cup earlier in the week.
To some degree the pressure was on, for to lose in one domestic cup competition in the week would have been regarded as misfortune, but to lose two would have looked like carelessness. Whilst they appeared quite sluggish at times in the first half and, like Arsenal, lacked any real fluency, they still managed to take the lead after 18 minutes.
It was that man again, their leading goalscorer, the phenomenon that is Sergio Aguero, who did the damage. Here he easily brushed aside Shkodran Mustafi, as they both challenged for Bravo’s goal kick and then calmly lifted the ball over the onrushing David Ospina into the Arsenal goal. Rarely do City score goals through such a route one approach, indeed rarely do they even try to, yet Aguero has the ability to score from any position. A man for all seasons, and this is now his seventh season at City, he has performed amazing goalscoring feats over the years yet strangely he often does not quite receive the credit that he deserves. Maybe he is just taken for granted, so clinical is he in front of goal. Here he did what he does best, making a half chance look easy and, in doing so, put his side on their way to victory.
Clearly words were said in the City dressing room at half time, even though they were already ahead, as it was noticeable that they significantly upped the tempo and urgency of their game after the break, snapping into tackles and moving the ball far more quickly. It was no surprise when they extended their lead, albeit the source of the goal was, coming as it did from their talismanic captain.
Yet when their third musketeer, David Silva, slid a low cross shot adroitly into the far corner of the Arsenal net to make it 0-3 following excellent trickery and approach play by Leroy Sane after 65 minutes, it was definitely game over.
Indeed it may be the slogan of the Three Musketeers which Guardiola may unwittingly be following, that being “One for all, and all for one”, for he certainly seems to be instilling such ideals into his charges. On the day of his first trophy in England, it was his three biggest team players that earned the glory, those that have given blood, sweat and tears for the City cause over so many years. It was richly deserved for all three of them and, for Kompany in particular, such a joyous and emotional occasion after what he has been through in recent years.
A blue moon was shining over Wembley on Sunday night.