Being torn apart by a player as brilliant as Kevin De Bruyne is not in itself embarrassing.
But the ease and speed with which the Belgian playmaker ended Manchester City’s trip to Arsenal as a contest was dispiriting.
As the popular refrain goes, Gunners fans arriving at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon expected little and yet still managed to leave feeling let down.
Someone as talented, multi-faceted and intelligent as De Bruyne does not always need space and time on the ball to operate, but he was afforded it by Arsenal’s ramshackle midfield. Matteo Guendouzi against De Bruyne was simply not a fair fight.
He blasted a cut-back into the roof of the net after just two minutes before making a mockery of the theory that his left foot is weaker, crossing for Raheem Sterling to tap in a second just 15 minutes in. A driving run and precision finish, once again on his left foot, saw the three points gift-wrapped by half-time.
Arsenal are not many things, but they are certainly accommodating hosts during the festive period.
As good as De Bruyne and City were, the fact they managed to launch decisive counter-attacks inside the first quarter of the game told you plenty about the welcoming approach of their opponents. De Bruyne created three chances – as many as the entire Arsenal team – and had four times as many shots on target
Arsenal’s lack of leadership and of a clear tactical style was brutally exploited by City, with Pep Guardiola promoting Phil Foden into the David Silva role.
Little positional discipline coming up against technically gifted players is only likely to bring one outcome and City responded to their 2-1 derby defeat by Manchester United in impressive fashion.
Gabriel Jesus did not score, but played the part of Sergio Aguero well, while full-backs Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker stretched Arsenal’s creaking defence to breaking point out wide.
Arsenal’s one and only shot on target came inside the first minute, as bright young forward Gabriel Martinelli gave the pessimistic home fans false hope.
But while the Gunners failed miserably to get the under-served Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang into the game, City bombarded the hosts’ goal with high-quality attempts. Had it not been for the reflexes of goalkeeper Bernd Leno, the score would have been much uglier.
In a season defined by underperformance, Leno has been Arsenal’s stand-out player. His full-length diving save from De Bruyne’s effortless yet powerful curling attempt to seal a first half hat-trick was exceptional. And his speed and decision-making to close down Jesus in a second-half one-on-one kept the score somewhere close to respectable.
“After four or five minutes the game was done,” Leno lamented. “I think in the first half we deserved this result. In the second half we couldn’t touch the ball and also couldn’t create chances.”
Freddie Ljungberg may have got a first win as Arsenal’s interim boss against West Ham last Monday, but the step up in opposition reminded everyone just how far off the team currently is.
Unai Emery was dismissed as manager on 29 November. In the days since Arsenal have not enjoyed a new manager bounce. They have simply continued on the same path.
“It’s good to know what is in the future or in the coming weeks but that is not our job. It is the job of the club,” Leno added. “We accept Freddie, he is doing a good job. I don’t think the manager is the problem, everyone has to look at himself and be honest at himself. If everyone was giving everything today. I think the mentality is the main thing.”
Leno is right: the blame can’t be laid at Ljungberg’s door. But with Arsenal flagging and ninth in the Premier League, a full-time manager is desperately needed to provide some stability and direction.
Whether that is Ljungberg, or someone from outside the current set-up, there is no time like the present for the Arsenal hierarchy.