Manchester City resumed their futile defence of the their Premier League crown and chase of runaway leaders Liverpool with a comprehensive humbling of Arsenal and Pep Guardiola’s young pretender Mikel Arteta.
City eased to a 3-0 win over the Gunners at the Etihad, Arteta’s first return to the Etihad since he departed his post as Guardiola’s assistant to take over as coach of the London club.
The result will do little to alter the destination of the Premier League title this season, with Liverpool still a gargantuan 22 points ahead, but the did their bit to prolong the inevitable, meaning Liverpool still require two wins to hoist the trophy.
City’s match ended with a bit of a training ground feel as they outclassed and outplayed their opponents, with each kick of the ball and shout by the players echoing around the coronavirus-enforced empty Etihad in Manchester.
Raheem Sterling’s opener was followed by Kevin De Bruyne’s penalty before Phil Foden netted the third in injury time.
Arsenal’s David Luiz was sent off for the foul on Riyad Mahrez that led to De Bruyne’s spot-kick.
Both in that match and the earlier clash that heralded the Premier League’s return — Aston Villa v Sheffield United — following the whistle to begin the game, both sets of players from Aston Villa and Sheffield United — along with the coaching staff and match officials — took a knee in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and in honour of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed in police custody last month.
Villa and Sheffield finished 0-0 and even though it was marred by an extraordinary technology glitch, it was the opening sequence that was the most memorable moment.
“Both clubs hope that the act of ‘taking a knee’ will send a strong message of unity and amplify the many messages of support from Premier League players and the wider football family,” the two teams said in a statement published minutes after the act.
In another strong anti-racism message, players on each team had their names removed from the back of their shirts and replaced with “Black Lives Matter”.
Before the players took a knee, a minute’s silence was held in tribute to those who have been killed in the pandemic. There have been more than 40,000 deaths in Britain alone, but soccer still made its return after more than three months.
“It was a really strange afternoon and evening. Quite difficult as well,” Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder said. “We were all going into the unknown today.”
Wilder ended the game aggrieved that his team did not earn all three points that would have lifted Sheffield United above Manchester United into fifth place.
After 41 minutes, Sheffield United midfielder Oliver Norwood swung a dangerous free kick into the six-yard box of Villa’s penalty area and the ball was collected by back-pedalling Villa goalkeeper Xrjan Nyland. However, Nyland was bundled over the line and into the side-netting of the goal by a teammate, with replays showing the entire ball had crossed the line.
Referee Michael Oliver didn’t award the goal, though, despite the celebrations of Sheffield United’s players that reverberated around the stadium. Instead, the official pointed to his watch, suggesting it hadn’t vibrated to signal that a goal had been awarded by Hawk-Eye.
Hawk-Eye said the view of its cameras had been blocked by the players and the goalpost.
“This level of occlusion has never been seen before in over 9,000 matches that the Hawk-Eye Goal Line Technology system has been in operation,” the company said in a statement.
Wilder joked that Nyland was “in the Holte End and eight rows back” — a reference to the giant stand to Villa Park behind the goal Nyland was in
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” he added.
Villa stay in second-bottom spot, a point adrift of safety.