Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal playing catch-up with Manchester City: Wenger

Hull City 1 Arsenal 4

By Jason Mellor

It is a state of affairs that has looked increasingly clear since the start of the season, and now Arsene Wenger is the first to put it into words. In simple terms, the Premier League is playing catch-up with Manchester City.

While Arsenal continued to repair the damage inflicted by their two-game no-show at the outset of the campaign with a comfortable 4-1 victory against Hull, Pep Guardiola’s league leaders racked up an eighth consecutive victory in all competitions.

Even at this early stage, they enjoy a five-point advantage over the Gunners, who must wait until they travel to the Etihad Stadium in December to test themselves against a side already being talked of as champions-elect. Until then, as it does for any other title contenders, it looks like a case of attempting to hang onto City’s coat-tails.

“I would prefer to be five points ahead,” conceded Wenger when asked if he was concerned about the early points differential. He knows recent history is against City, whose sprint from the blocks mirrors that of 12 months ago, when they won their first five league games, but still ended up being out-lasted by the Frenchman’s side, who finished two places and five points above them.

“We’ve only played five games,” added Wenger, who saw Alexis Sanchez score in each half in addition to missing a penalty shortly before the interval, after Hull defender Jake Livermore was sent off for handball.

“At the moment, Manchester City are the better team as well as the most consistent. We have to play catch-up a little bit, but hopefully we can do that.”

Theo Walcott and substitute Granit Xhaka, in stunning fashion from 30 yards, scored at the outset and the end of the second period to underline the visitors’ dominance.

While Arsenal contemplate their mission implausible of catching City, Hull’s ambitions are rather more modest, as they aim to finish above at least three other teams in May. Mike Phelan is set to bring some much needed stability to a club with an uncertain future in terms of their ownership, with the 53-year-old caretaker manager this week set to accept an offer to take on the role full-time.

They briefly threatened a comeback when Robert Snodgrass converted a penalty awarded for Petr Cech’s foul on substitute Dieumerci Mbokani, but as Phelan rightly pointed out, this was almost a free hit. The outcome against those other teams seeking salvation at the bottom will have a greater bearing on their final league position.

“I hope so,” Phelan said when asked if it was more a case of when he takes charge, not if. “There’s been an offer and it’s just a case of making sure everything is correct.”

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