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  • Julian Taylor at the Etihad Stadium

Guardiola insists five star City are 'alive' for the Premier League title amid Arsenal's fresh need to respond



Manchester City 5 Luton Town 1


Pep Guardiola insists Manchester City are "alive" in their season's Premier League title race, as the pressure now lands on both Arsenal and Liverpool to win tomorrow.


City eased past relegation haunted Luton Town at the Etihad to temporarily go top of the table. Now the gauntlet has been thrown down in the direction of both Merseyside and London.


Arsenal are in action at home to Aston Villa, knowing that a victory would take them back to the summit again with just a few games remaining. Nevertheless, the Gunners face a far more difficult assignment than what City had at home to the spirited, if still struggling, Hatters.


This expected and comprehensive win is a significant boost for City boss Guardiola during the business end of a packed 2023-24 schedule.


Guardiola denied City possess a significant mental advantage before Arsenal play, in addition to other title rivals Liverpool hosting Crystal Palace.


"I don't think it will be (a psychological boost)," said the Spaniard. "I have a feeling they want to be there (at the top of the table). I don't know how they (Arsenal) will do tomorrow, but they win a lot of points in extra time and it is a credit to them. But we are still there for the big trophies.


"I spoke to the players about how incredible it is to be here, after last season, to be right up here and the chance to reach the semi-final of the Champions League and to play Chelsea in the FA Cup semi final. It is a real privilege. The team is alive."


City's goal glut arrived late - Erling Haaland's penalty came after a first half breakthrough via an own goal by Luton's unfortunate Daiki Hashioka and a fine volley by Mateo Kovacic. Ross Barkley pulled a goal back for the Hatters, while Jeremy Doku and Josko Gvardiol replied in the dying minutes.


Predictable


Unsurprisingly, the score line reflected an utterly predictable afternoon. Guardiola's team were all but on autopilot which may well cause some anxiety for both Arsenal and Liverpool, where the Sky Blues have further levels to reach. Luton will not be the last team to be worn down before the end of a pressurized season.


In the thick of an intense schedule for Guardiola to negotiate, rotating line ups to keep his whole squad as fresh as possible, this proved to be the ideal fixture to tune up between the mega European showdowns against Real Madrid.


Luton had, in reality, anticipated a long afternoon on the east side of Manchester against the reigning title holders, who have a tense week ahead on three fronts - the league, a Champions League quarter final second leg against Real and the cup semi final versus Chelsea at Wembley next weekend.


Having said that, the luckless Hatters probably didn't legislate for going a goal down with just 66 seconds of the action kicking off at the Etihad.


With City in full flight, personified by the fearsome presence of Haaland, a sight to behold, the visitors struggled to contain both the Norwegian and Jeremy Doku, before Daiki Hashioka deflected a volley by the former into the net. The Japanese defender needed treatment for taking the force of Haaland's drive, too.


Rob Edwards' side were facing the return of another gilded City A-lister in Kevin De Bruyne who missed the compelling 3-3 draw in Madrid due to illness. The Belgian kept Hatters' keeper Thomas Kaminski busy on occasion. The only surprise was a mere single goal advantage at the break, as Luton struggled yet again with the rigours of away games in the league.


Concentration


To their credit, the Hertfordshire outfit defended admirably with the requisite concentration levels until late on, but they must let this defeat slide before hosting a more winnable game against Brentford at Kenilworth Road next Saturday. The Hatters continue to battle with Nottingham Forest in a bid to avoid a quick drop back into the Championship.


City, as anticipated, were largely encamped in Luton's half, peppering Kaminski's goalmouth with efforts; the best of which in the first half was a low angled drive by Matheus Nunes which skidded off the base of the post.


City's patience and probing yielded a second goal in 63 minutes. A superbly controlled volley from Kovacic on the edge of the Luton penalty area lashed the roof of Kaminski's net to give the hosts that sense of certainty.


Guardiola's men were caught for the first time on the counter attack shortly afterwards, however, as Luton went so close to scoring. Cauley Woodrow's shot cannoned off the bar which would have placed a more unlikely complexion on matters.


In the 74th minute City won a penalty of the non-contentious varity, when the Hatters' Fred Onyedinma brought down Doku. Haaland duly obliged from the spot.


The simplest of conversions looked like planting a more realistic look on the day's events - until a determined Barkley drilled the ball into the far corner of the net for Luton with ten minutes to go, during a mini spell when City had all but switched off from the comfort of their third goal.


Impressive


Doku netted an impressive fourth for a dominant City - the Belgian winger drifting into the Hatters' penalty area before effortlessly gliding the ball, right footed and low into the corner.


To add to Luton's misery, City grabbed a fifth in added time. Gvardiol planted the ball into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area after being neatly set up by Doku.

And with that, Guardiola's charges remain on a mission, which continues to carry a menacing air for both Arsenal and fellow title rivals Liverpool. "They (City) were amazing, they were brilliant and suffocated us," admitted Luton chief Edwards.


"Arsenal were pretty good when we played them. I'm not going to say who will win the title, it's hard to say as there are three amazing teams, but today was the hardest game we've had all season."


Ahead of preparing his team to face Villa and, perhaps ominously, for Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta, Guardiola's former assistant, he knows City been here and done it before.











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