At the final whistle Pep Guardiola carried the air of a man who was perfectly accustomed to these kind of occasions. He embraced his staff, he clasped the hand of the losing manager, Arsène Wenger, and then he made his way on to the pitch calmly to congratulate the players who had given him the first trophy of his Manchester City years.
The first of many, one assumes, even if Wigan Athletic blew a gaping hole in the theory that Guardiola’s team could win the lot this season. A treble is still on, however, and the Premier League might as well be engraved with their name, given the way City have turned the title race into a procession. Guardiola’s men will have to play better than they did here if they are to join the list of Champions League winners. Yet it was still another occasion to suspect the Abu Dhabi masterplan – target: worldwide domination – is gradually coming together.
In the process it was also a stark reminder for Arsenal about how far they have fallen behind the elite. Wenger has still not won the League Cup during 21 years as a manager in England and Arsenal now have the unwanted record of losing six finals in this competition. Nothing, though, will be more galling for Arsenal than the realisation it was they who used to dismantle teams this way. They looked what they are: 27 points short of City in the league, carrying far too many passengers and led by a manager whose peak years can feel a long time ago.
Superior as City were, there is even a reasonable argument that Guardiola’s side did not reach their more exhilarating peaks. Kevin De Bruyne can pass the ball more imperiously than he did here. David Silva was eight out of 10 when frequently it is nine. Guardiola said he was unhappy with his team’s first-half performance and, no kidding, there were even rumours De Bruyne had kicked one pass out for an Arsenal throw-in. Maybe that explained why Guardiola was not dancing on the pitch afterwards.
Ultimately, though, City did not have to be at their absolute best when their opponents, to quote Gary Neville in the television gantry, were “spineless” and there was a mass walkout in the Arsenal end after Silva had drilled in the third goal. Sergio Agüero’s 30th goal of the season had given City an 18th-minute lead, after some dismal defending by Shkodran Mustafi, and there was never any doubt that it would be Vincent Kompany lifting the trophy once the captain had stabbed in the second goal shortly before the hour.
Kompany was the outstanding performer, seldom troubled by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and, when he can play this majestically, what a shame it is that his career has been so undermined by injuries. On the big occasions, when his legs are not failing him, there is no better centre-half in the country.
In the end it was almost a surprise City did not score more and the ironic “olés” from Arsenal’s fans, at 3-0, probably summed up the disaffection from their end of the stadium. Wenger has heard worse in recent years and admitted afterwards a lot of the damage was “self-inflicted”. They are 10 points adrift of the Premier League’s top four, out of the FA Cup and their only realistic hope is the Europa League, a competition they used to regard with disdain.
At least Jack Wilshere played with the spirit of a man who was repulsed by the idea of meek defeat. There were others, however, in red and white who preferred to spend the game on the edges. Mesut Özil had one of his wishy-washy games, reminding everyone he will never be a chaser of lost causes. Aaron Ramsey was overwhelmed and, defensively, Wenger’s decision to revert to a back three simply did not work.
At this level it has been clear for some time that Calum Chambers is simply not up to it. Nacho Monreal injured himself with a mistimed challenge on Kyle Walker and his replacement, Sead Kolasinac, let Silva spin away from him for the third goal. But this was a collective failure. Arsenal were weak, vapid and outclassed.