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PL25: A goal-glut at the Etihad as Manchester City hit North London for six again

To celebrate 25 years of the Premier League each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a memorable game that took place on the corresponding date. This time out we revisit a nine-goal classic in Manchester that established one side’s title credentials.

If Manuel Pellegrini’s second and third seasons at Manchester City were drab, drawn-out affairs his first was crazy-fun and laden with goals. A four-goal drubbing of Cardiff City at the start of 2014 meant they were the first side for nearly a century to score 100 goals across all competitions before January was out. Better yet, they refused to compromise on their attacking ideals as a title chase with Liverpool got fraught and nervy, going on to notch an incredible 156 before the season’s end, a record that didn’t just surpass the previous best by Manchester United but ended up smashing it by thirteen. Indeed such was the prolificacy within the Chilean’s squad that we saw three different players top the 15-goal mark in the league for the first time in the Premier League era.

With all this in mind it might come as a surprise then to learn that City were not leading the field when Arsenal headed up the M1 on December 14th 2013. They were in fact six points adrift of Arsene Wenger’s side who were being orchestrated along by new signing Mesut Ozil into racking up a string of impressive results. In public the players and coach alike talked down the prospect of a first league trophy at the Emirates for a decade; in private the possibility must have at least been acknowledged by now.

Yet the omens were bad for the Gunners everywhere they looked and especially as this prematurely-billed title decider was being staged at the Etihad. City had so far been in imperious form at home, ripping sides apart with 29 goals in seven games. Just three weeks earlier Aguero, Negredo and co had battered Tottenham 6-0 and the joke doing the rounds was that it was now the turn of their North London neighbours to be inflicted by similar humiliation. It was just a joke though. Nobody actually believed it.

An acrobatic, short-range volley by Aguero fourteen minutes in hinted at an unlikely punchline but then the joke fell flat shortly after when new dad Theo Walcott equalised and celebrated by miming a cradle-rock. Nobody could have anticipated what was to come, but half an hour in and this was already a classic in the making with the visitors more than playing their part by carving out chances with an adventurous formation that consequently left gaps at the back. Before the break Alvaro ‘The Beast’ Negredo duly found one and nudged City back in front.

Despite the arrival of five first team players, that summer’s expenditure by City had been pretty modest with a third of their outlay going on midfielder Fernandinho from Shakhtar Donetsk. Five minutes into the second period it was the Brazilian who put some distance between the sides curling home his first goal for the club. Yet once again Arsenal deserve credit for their contribution to this memorable encounter: refusing to lay down, Walcott popped up once more with a delicate floater over the looming presence of Costel Pantilimon.

The pace was unrelentingly frenetic and the quality of the football from both participants was never less than sublime with the only negatives of the day coming from the early withdrawals of Koscielny and Aguero to injury, the former appearing to be far more serious and requiring a stretcher and prolonged break in play.

Just three minutes after Walcott had made a serious game of it City stretched out their advantage once more and effectively killed the contest off when David Silva redirected a thunderous low cross into the roof of the net. Not even a revved-up Arsenal had the heart for a further comeback and for much of the remainder of the second half the game finally – thankfully even – settled into attractive patterns of play rather than goal-mouth drama.

With two minutes left on the clock the score was 4-2 and had it been concluded there and then it would be looked back on now as a thoroughly entertaining spectacle. Only there was more. Much more.

A second Fernandinho solo effort was followed soon after by a Mertesacker consolation and then in the 96th minute Yaya Toure stepped up to guide home a last-gasp penalty, a richly deserved padded stat to top off an accomplished performance from the Ivorian.

The final whistle was met with broad smiles from most, shaken heads in disbelief by others, and fatigue by all. 6-3. A game for the ages.

“You can never score enough,” Pellegrini intoned in the tunnel. “We could have scored more”.

It was precisely that attitude that led to the extraordinary goal-scoring feats that Guardiola’s men are currently competing with. It was an attitude that Pellegrini strangely disregarded in the seasons to come.

What happened next?

Jolted by the result Arsenal went into a sustained tail-spin that culminated in a 6-0 spanking at Stamford Bridge in March. They finished the campaign in the familiar position of fourth.

City’s fight for the title went right to the wire with Liverpool only for their north-west rivals to implode late on. Behind Mourinho’s Chelsea they remain the second highest scorers in Premier League history.

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Article title: PL25: A goal-glut at the Etihad as Manchester City hit North London for six again

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