Manchester City 2 Arsenal 1: Manchester City took three points off title rivals Arsenal and the manner and spirit of the victory will give a huge lift to Pep Guardiola’s Blue revolution.
Stifled going forward and soft at the back, City trailed to Theo Walcott’s fifth-minute goal at half-time and looked to be heading for the sort of defeat so familiar over the past few weeks.
But they hit back with a first City goal for Leroy Sane and went on to dominate the second-half with a fierce and determined performance that deserved Raheem Sterling’s winner in the 71st minute.
It lifts Guardiola’s side above Arsenal into second - although they will drop a place if Liverpool win the Merseyside derby tonight - and moves them away from the threat to their Champions League place from below.
More importantly, it gives the whole club a boost in the face of criticism over exactly how suited Guardiola’s methods are to the Premier League.
“It means a lot to win against one of the best teams in the Premier League - a good comeback,” he said. “Our performance was quite similar against Chelsea, Chelsea we create more chances. Today we were unlucky they scored the first goal. It was a good game. I think we dominated. We are what we are looking for. The victories give a lot of confidence in the mind of the players in what we are trying to do.”
It was a recovery that showed his players are ready for the fight after a period over uncertainty and chastening defeats to Chelsea and Leicester City.
Missing banned duo Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho and the seriously injured Ilkay Gundogan it looked like it could be a tough afternoon for a side that had won just one of its last six Premier League games at the Etihad.
And when Alexis Sanchez slipped in Walcott with a delicious reverse pass that the England winger tucked away, that fear looked like becoming a reality.
City should have equalised within a minute when De Bruyne’s brilliant cross found an unmarked Sterling but he headed wide when he should have done better.
But for their hustle and bustle in the first-half, they didn’t stretch Petr Cech apart from a miscued Laurent Koscielny clearance that smashed Hector Bellerin in the face and was headed for the top corner.
They found an equaliser shortly after the break when Sane - half-a-yard offside - got behind the Gunners’ defence and smartly tucked a shot under Cech.
From then on it was all City. Arsenal were pinned back in their own half unable to escape as the Blues snapped and battled for the ball and threw them totally off their stride.
It was a complete contrast to the side that had surrendered meekly at Leicester eight days earlier, when they were overrun by a hungrier and more determined side, and Guardiola admitted he was delighted with the transformation.
“The last three days we spent two-hours-and-a-half on second balls on the training field. It works.
“It is part of the game here,” he added.
“You have to be compact for the second balls. The last couple of games we were better in that sense. We are not a tall or physical team like most of the teams in England but you have to be in the right position. Today is a good day.”
The winner came in the 71st-minute when De Bruyne drilled a brilliant crossfield ball to Sterling, who still had a lot of work to do before cutting inside and firing a low shot past Cech. It was just reward for De Bruyne and Sterling, who never stopped running.
But for Arsenal, Mesut Ozil, equally gifted, strolled around bullied off the ball and showed little appetite for the fight. It was the second time in a week the Gunners had given up a lead and their title push could be over before Christmas.
Tottenham, after winning at Burnley, are just a point behind, and Manchester United are pushing for the Champions League places after four successive league wins.
“We have to come back next week and win our game.,” Wenger said philosophically. “We had a horrible week and what is worse, out of two good performances we get zero points and out of two leading positions, we lose two games. That is very disappointing.”
While City looked invigorated, the Gunners look stale and as unlikely to challenge for the title as they have done in recent seasons.
Guardiola said ahead of the game that there was no chance he would stay at a club for 20 years like Wenger has.
It might be time for his French counterpart to consider whether it is really the best option too.
Bravo 6, Zabaleta 6 (Sagna 45, 7), Otamendi 6, Kolarov 6, Clichy 6, Fernando 7, Silva 7, Toure 8, Sane 7 (Navas 76, 6), De Bruyne 9 (Iheanacho 84), Sterling 8.
Cech 6, Bellerin 7, Gabriel 6, Koscielny 6, Monreal 7, Coquelin 6 (Giroud 75, 5), Xhaka 6, Walcott 6, Ozil 6, Iwobi 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 65 (Elneny 78)), Sanchez 8.
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