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Phil Foden against Arsenal: Did Man City youngster take his chance?
Phil Foden impressed for Manchester City in his first Premier League start of the season against Arsenal as the champions won 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium. Has the youngster done enough to be a regular starter now?
Last Updated: 16/12/19 6:25am
Kevin De Bruyne delivered a masterclass in Manchester City's 3-0 win over Arsenal and he made it look easy too. There was no great surprise that the competition's most complete player took centre stage. What will have thrilled City supporters was the sight of Phil Foden linking up so well with him in his first Premier League start of the season.
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The teenager has had to wait for this chance, only his fourth start in the league. Never before had he started away from home. Never before had he made back-to-back starts in all competitions. Injury to David Silva had presented the opening but it was also Manchester City's underwhelming form that necessitated change.
Foden seized his chance.
"Because he played so well in the last game, his mood is up so we decided to play him," Pep Guardiola told Sky Sports before kick-off. "I want what he has in between the lines, how he attacks in the final third, his intensity with and without the ball."
It is difficult to pick faults in a team that has been so relentlessly brilliant as Manchester City over the past three seasons but that intensity has dipped a little this term with Silva among the culprits. They have become slightly easier to play against and to play through. Arsenal were abysmal but there were signs that Foden, in a tweaked formation, could help that.
Guardiola went with two holding midfielders in an attempt to make the counter-attack that so hurt them against Manchester United last weekend a tougher proposition for Arsenal. It worked but it needed the work of Foden and De Bruyne, tucking in off the flanks.
Along with Rodri, the pair were the only players on either side to cover more than six kilometres in the first half. Foden put in more tackles than anyone else on the pitch in that opening 45 minutes, getting back into shape well but closing down when he could too.
Foden's key moments against Arsenal
2 – First touch of the ball is a neat one in the build-up to De Bruyne’s opener
5 – Pressing inside the Arsenal box results in Sokratis clearing desperately
15 – Feeds De Bruyne with a neat forward pass that results in Sterling’s goal
32 – Quick off the mark to put a tackle in on Maitland-Niles by the touchline
40 – Couple of neat passes before threading the ball to De Bruyne who scores
43 – Skips past three before De Bruyne’s shot is pushed against the post
45+1 – Heavy touch inside the box means a good chance to threaten is wasted
56 – Replaced by Bernardo and is congratulated by Guardiola as he comes off
"They are really tight, compact," Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports. "We talk about transitions hurting Manchester City in recent weeks. Pep Guardiola has done something about it."
Foden's role was chiefly a defensive one in the early stages. Even so, he was involved in the build-up to the opening goal before producing a perfectly weighted pass for De Bruyne in the move that led to the Raheem Sterling goal that doubled Manchester City's lead.
It was when he moved over to the right flank that he really impressed.
"He has come alive since switching sides," said Carragher.
Foden seemed happier cutting inside onto his stronger left foot and did just that to play a neat pass to De Bruyne for the third goal. He did even better soon after when finding a path to dribble between three Arsenal players, a moment that would have resulted in a second assist had Bernd Leno not done superbly to tip De Bruyne's curling shot onto the post.
Of course, there are much tougher jobs in the Premier League right now than partnering the brilliant Belgian when he is in this form but Foden played his part as the facilitator.
"He is a little bit different," former Manchester City defender Joleon Lescott told Sky Sports. "He doesn't want to pass it straight away, he wants to break the lines with his pace and his dribbling ability. He offers something different in midfield."
Will that be enough for him to retain his place? The fact that Guardiola opted to withdraw Foden just 10 minutes into the second half should probably be regarded as an encouraging sign rather than a worrying one. This was the first of seven games in 21 days for City. They are going to need Foden during that run. On this evidence, he can be trusted.
What will be most intriguing, however, is discovering which of those games that Foden now features in. History would suggest that he is likely to be earmarked for the cup ties against Oxford and Port Vale rather than the trio of testing Premier League games against top-half opposition in Leicester, Wolves and Sheffield United.
But perhaps something has changed. Is this the start of the next phase of Foden's career? A recognition that he is no longer merely a talented being honed but a player who is needed.
It was a question that Pat Davison put to him before the game.
"I would like to think so," he told Sky Sports. "I just have to keep proving myself every game. Whether it's 10 minutes or a full game I just need to show that I can play at this level."
Foden is certainly doing that. He just needs more chances to show it.
Pep Guardiola's verdict
"He plays good. Sometimes the players struggle when the team is not at its best. But he did what he should do, especially in the last minutes of the first half, playing right winger. You always see he is so clever with his passes and so on.
"He was not a lot in touch with the ball, he helped us defensively, but the problem we have is that we made the actions for the counter attack but not for the ball possession, except for the last 15, 20 minutes. He didn't touch the ball too much, so our build-up was not perfect, and that's why he struggled a little bit to have more of the ball in positions, but always when he has the ball he can play, and he is another extraordinary player."