Pep Guardiola was glad to see Manchester City’s clinical best return as Sergio Aguero’s hat-trick closed the gap Premier League leaders Liverpool to just two points in a 3-1 win over Arsenal on Sunday.
The champions were let off the hook by Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Leicester on Wednesday, 24 hours after City’s shock 2-1 defeat by Newcastle with what Guardiola described as an unrecognisable performance.
This time City did take advantage of playing a day before Jurgen Klopp’s side, who travel to West Ham on Monday, to pile on the pressure and jump back ahead of Tottenham, who had leapfrogged City into second on Saturday.
“After what happened at Newcastle, everybody thought we would be seven points behind, everyone expected Liverpool to beat Leicester,” said Guardiola.
“But a lot of things are going to happen until the end of the season, a lot of games will be tough. That is the real Premier League, you know better than me what that means and what we have to do.
“The most important thing today was the players showed why they are a good team. We didn’t recognise ourselves in the previous game at Newcastle. Today, at least, we came back.”
Aguero’s seventh goal in as many games in 2019 – and his 10th in his last dozen against Arsenal – was the highlight of a thoroughly dominant performance.
For the second time in a week, the Argentine scored inside the first minute to give City the perfect start by heading home Aymeric Laporte’s cross.
However, just like on Tyneside on Tuesday, City failed to press home their advantage as Laurent Koscielny profited from some slack defending to head home an equaliser just 10 minutes later.
Guardiola’s men were knocked out of their stride for most of the remainder of the first half, but retook the lead in style just a minute before the break when Ilkay Gundogan’s delightful lofted pass teed up Raheem Sterling to cross for Aguero to tap home.
In contrast, the second half was a stroll and City should have more than just the one goal to show for their dominance.
Sterling was the provider again for Aguero to secure his 10th Premier League hat-trick in controversial fashion as the ball came back off the striker’s arm before rolling over the line just after the hour mark.
“He was born with that talent, he will die with that talent,” added Guardiola on Aguero’s goalscoring ability.
A sixth consecutive away league game without a win sees Arsenal slip down to sixth behind Manchester United, who were 1-0 victors at Leicester earlier on Sunday, and three points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea in the battle for Champions League football next season.
“They showed their superiority over 90 minutes but, above all, in the second half,” said Arsenal boss Unai Emery. “We need time to reach our target and need to be calm, patient.”
Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Aguero again peppered Bernd Leno with powerful shots that the German kept out to maintain some respectability for Arsenal.
But that is all they had to show for another sorry away performance that leaves their chances of avoiding a third straight season in the Europa League fading.
“We still have big games and I think we need more away wins, because at home we play very good,” said Leno. “We win many games at home, but I think to go into the top four again we need more away wins.”