LONDON (AP) – After finishing his first season in England empty-handed, Pep Guardiola finally collected his first trophy with Manchester City on Sunday.
Thanks to some familiar faces.
Despite recruiting more than $600 million in talent in around 18 months, Guardiola relied on City’s old guard to produce the 3-0 victory over Arsenal in the League Cup final.
Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and David Silva, who formed the backbone of City’s Premier League title wins in 2012 and 2014, scored the goals at Wembley Stadium that lifted a burden off Guardiola.
“It’s special they scored,” the manager said. “They help us to understand what it means in the club to win titles. Because they won titles, they put pressure on us to continue to win titles.”
The victory, aided by Arsenal’s brittle defending, allowed City to quickly restore order after Monday’s surprise exit from the FA Cup at Wigan. The pursuit of a quadruple was extinguished by the third-tier side, but City is now one step closer to a treble.
The Premier League seems a formality for City, with a 13-point lead and a game in hand over Manchester United, which beat Chelsea 2-1 on Sunday. A place in the Champions League quarterfinals also looks certain with Basel beaten 4-0 in the last-16 first leg.
For all the investment in players during the decade under Abu Dhabi ownership, the return in silverware seems relatively sparse. Still, the six trophies won since 2011 represents a greater haul than in the previous 50 years for a team finally emerging from the shadows of its more illustrious neighbor, United.
Kompany is the ever-present, with the 31-year-old captain collecting his sixth winners medal with City on Sunday.
“An incredible moment for us,” said the Belgian defender, whose playing time has been limited by injuries in recent years. “You don’t want it to stop. Every little bit of hardship you go through, it is worth it.”
Guardiola had never gone a season in management without a trophy in his previous jobs at Barcelona and Bayern Munich until last year.
Now he is starting to deliver, albeit in the least significant competition for the club.
“I cannot forget how they took care of me last (season),” Guardiola reflected on the Abu Dhabi ownership. “I will always remember how … Sheik Mansour was the first one and told all the people to support me.”
For Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, this is the latest chapter of gloom in a season that saw the FA Cup defense end at the first hurdle and the team slump to sixth in the league. And the Gunners have to face City again in the league on Thursday.
“I feel that a little bit everything went against us today,” Wenger said, “and we self-inflicted our punishment.”
Only fleetingly at Wembley did Arsenal threaten against a City side that is so imposing as Guardiola’s vision starts to come together in England. Kyle Walker made the decisive sliding challenge that thwarted Arsenal record signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Perhaps Wenger should have emulated Guardiola by spending heavily to reinforce his defense. It was as fragile as ever when it was unpicked after 18 minutes. It didn’t require any of the slick passing moves that are Guardiola’s hallmark. Instead it was a long punt forward by goalkeeper Claudio Bravo that set up Aguero.
Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi was beaten to the ball far too easily by Aguero, who broke forward and lifted the ball over goalkeeper David Ospina.
Both teams stuck with their second-choice goalkeepers, who have been deployed throughout the competition – reflecting the status of the cup.
There was a further blow for Arsenal when Nacho Monreal was forced off injured and Sead Kolasinac was brought on. Kolasinac did come to the rescue just before halftime with a goal-line clearance after Aguero chipped Ospina.
But City was just too strong for Arsenal with Kompany leading by example at age 31 after being blighted by a string of injuries in recent years.
The center back won the corner that he scored City’s second from in the 58th minute.
Kevin De Bruyne passed to Ilkay Gundogan on the edge of the penalty area and Kompany was primed in front of goal to turn the German’s shot into the net.
“You have to be prepared to put in those six months of hard work,” Kompany reflected on his injury problems, amid the celebrations. “But it’s worth the hard work to be standing out there. Every chance you have, you have to take.”
Just as City did against an Arsenal side that capitulated.
It was game over in the 65th when Silva was released by Danilo and he turned Calum Chambers before striking past Ospina.
Arsenal fans chanted sarcastically, “There’s only one Arsene Wenger,”
They had seen enough of the game, streaming out of the north London stadium with 25 minutes to go. And many have seen enough of Wenger after almost 22 years at the helm, with the team in a downward spiral.
“You cannot say you are not disappointed when you concede goals the way we conceded goals,” Wenger said.