London, Jun 17 (efe-epa).- A pair of egregious blunders by Arsenal defender David Luiz accounted for two of the three Manchester City goals in Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over the Gunners at an empty Etihad Stadium as the Premier League returned to action following a three-month hiatus caused by Covid-19.
In solidarity with the protests in the United States following the police killing of George Floyd, all of the players had “Black Lives Matter” instead of their names on the backs of their shirts and both teams kneeled on the pitch before the opening whistle.
And the contest in Manchester, like the one hours earlier in Birmingham between Aston Villa and Sheffield United, was also preceded by a tribute to health-care workers and to victims of the coronavirus, including the mother of City coach Pep Guardiola.
One talking point ahead of the match was the confrontation between Guardiola and former assistant Mikel Arteta, who took the reins at Arsenal last December.
But the Gunners were clearly outclassed facing the two-time defending Premier League champions and the defeat would have been worse if not for Bernd Leno’s performance in the Arsenal net.
Arsenal lost Granit Xhaka to injury in the 8th minute and Pablo Mari was hurt in the 24th, prompting Arteta to turn to the notoriously inconsistent Luiz.
Leno made stops against David Silva and Riyad Mahrez as the first half was winding down and the score was still 0-0 in stoppage time when Luiz’s clumsy attempt to intercept Kevin de Bruyne’s pass put the ball at the feet of Raheem Sterling, who hammered home to give City the 1-0 lead at the break.
With the second half just four minutes old, Luiz brought down Mahrez in the box, earning himself a straight red card.
De Bruyne converted from the penalty spot to make it 2-0 and the pace slowed, as 10-man Arsenal fell back to defend, and the most dramatic moment for the rest of the night came late in regulation, when City defender Eric Garcia and goalkeeper Ederson collided.
The keeper suffered no serious damage, but the Spanish teenager had to be stretchered off with his neck in a brace and City had to see out the match with 10 men, as Guardiola had already used all five of his substitutions.
Second-place Man City climbed to 60 points, 22 less than leaders Liverpool, who need just 6 points to seal their first top flight title since 1990.
Arsenal, with 40 points, are ninth, 8 points out of the top four.
Wednesday’s earlier match was marred by the first-ever failure of goal-line technology since it was adopted by the Premier League in 2013.
Sheffield United looked to have scored in the 42nd minute of their match against Aston Villa in Birmingham, as host goalkeeper Orjan Nyland stumbled backward across the line after snagging a free kick by Oliver Norwood.
United players began celebrating, but referee Michael Oliver pointed to his watch, indicating that he did not receive the signal of the ball’s crossing the line.
Though a goal/no goal decision is subject to review by the video assistant referee, VAR did not intervene and the match at Villa Park ended 0-0, a result that will have pleased the home side much more than the visitors, who missed out on a chance to vault over Manchester United into fifth place.
Aston Villa, with 26 points from 29 matches, remain second from the bottom, but trail 15th-place Brighton & Hove Albion by just 3 points and are within a point of the three clubs ahead of them in the table: West Ham United, Watford and Bournemouth.
Hawk-eye Innovations, who operate goal-line technology for the Premier League, issued a statement after the match acknowledging that the system failed on Wednesday.
“The match officials did not receive a signal to the watch nor earpiece as per the Goal Decision System protocol. The seven cameras located in the stands around the goal area were significantly occluded by the goalkeeper, defender, and 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 firm said.
“Hawk-Eye unreservedly apologizes to the Premier League, Sheffield United, and everyone affected by this incident,” the statement concluded. EFE msg/dr