Manchester City, Relentless and Ruthless, Strolls Past Arsenal

MANCHESTER, England — Quite when Arsenal knew it was all over is difficult to pinpoint. Hope might still have lingered after Manchester City’s first goal, roughly 370 seconds into a game that had been billed as the great showdown of the Premier League season. Some small sliver of optimism might even have survived the second, delivered on a satellite delay just before halftime.

The third, though, would have extinguished it, pulled it from its roots, razed any sign of its existence, salted the Earth so that it might never grow again.

Rob Holding stood with his hands on his hips, staring off into the middle distance. Gabriel Magalhaes sunk to his haunches. Thomas Partey clapped, twice, to try to urge on his teammates, but lost heart halfway through and stopped. It had all gone: the game, the hope, the wild, fabulous illusion that this might all end with Arsenal as champion.

Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal is, of course, still top of the Premier League table after its 4-1 defeat on Wednesday, but only on a technicality, a quirk of the schedule. It has a 2-point lead, having played two games more than Manchester City. There are no sure things in sport, no guarantees, but both recent experience and common sense would suggest this is not enough.

But then, no matter what Arsenal did, it was never likely to be enough. Manchester City, as it proved rather ably against the team that has led the league for the last three months, is not just the best team in the country by some distance. Its supremacy — not just over Arsenal, but over the Premier League as a whole — is so clear and so deep that it cannot, to all intents and purposes, be bridged.

Pep Guardiola’s team is now on course for a third title in a row, and a fifth in six years. It is the pre-eminent force of its era. That Arsenal might have stood in the way of that was, it turned out, nothing but an illusion. That fantasy is now over. Cold reality has dawned, and with it that numbing sensation. By the time Erling Haaland scored City’s fourth goal, it would not even have hurt anymore. It just was, as it was always going to be.

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