It begins with an innocuous-looking free-kick on the right touchline, far from Arsenal’s goal. Kyle Walker takes it and shares a couple of passes with Vincent Kompany as Danny Welbeck charges with intent after the rapidly shifting ball, content that if he and his team-mates do their job there is no immediate threat. Twenty-six seconds later, Manchester City have the ball in the net again.
The third goal in City’s 3-0 win at Arsenal in March is just one of 93 goals Pep Guardiola’s side have scored on their way to being crowned Premier League champions with five games to spare this season. However, in its creation and execution, use of the ball, space and energetic, willing runners, it is symbolic of a side as lauded for its artistry as its efficiency.
From Walker’s initiating pass to Leroy Sane’s decisive finish, six City players touch the ball, none more than three times in a single instance of possession, as the Gunners chase shadows around them.
Walker, Kompany, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero share 15 patient but precise passes between them to set the trap, before the latter’s turn and acceleration away from Laurent Koscielny on halfway begins a rapid execution that is a masterclass of one-touch play: Aguero in-field to De Bruyne, out wide to Walker, into the middle for the arriving Sane. Thank you and goodnight.
Its fluidity makes it appear simple. But this, and the majority of the 92 other league goals scored by City, represent many, many hours of disciplined, focused training, millions of pounds of expenditure and an unflinching tactical vision – “Juego de posicion” (positional play) – seeded last season and bearing fruit this term.