Pep Guardiola secured his first trophy as Manchester City manager as they overpowered Arsenal to win the Carabao Cup in convincing fashion at Wembley.
City responded to Monday’s shock FA Cup fifth-round defeat by League One Wigan Athletic in style as they swept aside Arsenal and now turn their attention to clinching the Premier League and continuing their Champions League campaign.
Sergio Aguero gave City an 18th-minute lead when he took full advantage of Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi’s feeble challenge to latch on to keeper Claudio Bravo’s goal-kick and loft a cool finish over David Ospina.
Arsenal were toothless apart from one early opening when Kyle Walker stopped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the six-yard area and the contest was effectively over when man-of-the-match Vincent Kompany swept in Ilkay Gundogan’s cross-shot just before the hour.
David Silva put the final flourish on City and Guardiola’s day with a powerful shot past Ospina before City closed out the most routine of victories.
There was one contentious note which may draw further attention from the Football Association as Guardiola wore his trademark yellow ribbon, which he displays in support of imprisoned politicians in his native Catalonia, despite facing a charge from English football’s governing body for “wearing a political message”.
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Kompany’s character reaps rich reward
City manager Guardiola demonstrated his faith in the ability and influence of captain Kompany on his side when he was selected ahead of £47.5m John Stones at Wembley.
The 31-year-old Belgian centre-back was the mainstay and leader of the Manchester City side who claimed Premier League titles under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini in 2012 and 2014 – but has waged a relentless battle against injuries in recent seasons.
In 2015-16, Kompany figured in only 22 of City’s 59 games while in the following campaign he was involved in just 15 out of 56 – that is just 26.8%.
This term he has played in 13 out of 43 games but chose the Wembley stage to demonstrate exactly what he can still mean to Guardiola and City.
Kompany was at his imperious best, matching Aubameyang in a first-half race before brushing the Arsenal striker aside to snuff out a rare moment of danger.
And he was at the heart of the attacking action as City moved through the gears to exert complete control in the second half, seeing one shot deflected inches wide before reacting first to Gundogan’s shot to turn in the crucial second.
Kompany celebrated like a man who has known the long, lonely hours searching for full fitness and was enjoying a moment of sweet elation.
He led from the back and at the front in a consummate performance.
Guardiola’s new era leans on the old guard
This was the sort of day Manchester City’s owners had in mind when they finally brought Guardiola to Etihad Stadium in the summer of 2016 – watching their side dominating at Wembley to secure his first trophy in England.
And while the 47-year-old has brought impetus, ideas and fresh young faces to City in the shape of forwards Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus, he has been careful to maintain and nurture the experienced heart of the side that brought the club’s years in the wilderness to an end.
As well as Kompany, this EFL Cup victory was shaped by the predatory instincts of Aguero, still a world-class striker at 29. The Argentine set City on their way with his usual expertise as he took full advantage of flimsy defending from Arsenal’s Mustafi.
And it was another member of the old guard, 32-year-old Silva, who provided his usual range of subtlety and creation in midfield, completing the win with a thumping finish across Ospina.
Guardiola’s first silverware in England ushers in the new era for City – but he has wisely retained the battle-hardened core of the club’s previous successes.
Weak Arsenal pay heavy price
If one moment summed up Arsenal’s performance, it was the dismal manner in which Mustafi was left appealing limply for a foul after failing to deal with a routine long goal-kick from Bravo, a light-as-a-feather touch from Aguero paving the way for him to beat the onrushing Ospina.
Arsenal, quite simply, were overpowered with no answer to City’s quality once a lacklustre first 45 minutes gave way to a second half in which Guardiola’s side camped out in Gunners territory.
Lightweight, loose in possession and defensively weak, Arsenal were no match for City.
When the final whistle blew, the portion of Wembley where Arsenal’s fans were housed was virtually deserted, many taking Silva’s third goal as the signal to head for the exits and beat the rush home. Few could blame them as this was a painful experience.
This was a chastening afternoon for Wenger as another trophy hope was ended – faced with the cold, hard reality that Arsenal look light years behind this burgeoning, developing Manchester City.