Match coverage

Arsenal 1-3 Manchester City: Individual mistakes cost profligate Gunners as Citizens return top

Erling Haaland of Manchester City celebrates after scoring the team's third goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Manchester...

Individual mistakes from Gunners defensive duo Takehiro Tomiyasu and Gabriel Magalhaes during both halves helped reigning champions Manchester City rally from a tetchy start to return top of the Premier League, earning a hard-fought 3-1 away win over long-running leaders Arsenal in north London. Erling Haaland ended his three-match goalscoring drought to wrap up the points, combining with – who else – Kevin de Bruyne.

how’s your nerve? city return top after besting arsenal again

Manchester City's Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne celebrates his team first goal during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal...
de Bruyne (centre) wheels away to celebrate his superb finish, after a costly Tomiyasu (left) mistake
  • Pep Guardiola’s City now hold seven-game unbeaten H2H streak vs. Arsenal after morale-boosting result, return top of the league for the first time since November 5
  • Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have played a game fewer (22) and face former boss Unai Emery as they travel to west Midlands with Aston Villa up next on Saturday lunchtime
  • This latest result means the Gunners have now dropped 10 points in their last six league games, while Citizens have won five of their last six across all competitions – including a slender 1-0 FA Cup fourth-round triumph at Arsenal’s expense on January 27

Declarative statements about this season being Arsenal’s return to the top began to filter through after the last pre-World Cup round of Premier League fixtures and three months on from that weekend, that unflinching conviction in my voice to the contrary have been justified.

Manchester City had just been stunned 2-1 at home by Brentford, hours before Arsenal won 2-0 away at Wolves – a well-known bogey team in previous seasons – with minimal fuss hours later. Was that showing the mark of championship contenders, or purely a good run of form?

Time would tell, I cautioned anyone that would listen. Today’s date and fixture against Manchester City was used as a measuring stick, as the campaign usually reaches its apex in February, for it was far too early in the season for anyone to make any sweeping predictions.

Would the Gunners still be top of the league, or would the pressure have begun to overwhelm them? This evening’s matchup essentially laid bare all of their deficiencies and in truth, it could’ve been a much worse scoreline than 3-1 – had VAR and the woodwork not saved them.

Conversely, Arsenal fans will understandably counter that Ederson should’ve been sent off after clattering into Edward Nketiah in the area – already on a booking for timewasting – from which Bukayo Saka slotted home their 42nd-minute equaliser, during a frustrating first-half for both.

Bukayo Saka of Arsenal celebrates with teammate Martin Odegaard after scoring the team's first goal from a penalty kick during the Premier League...
Saka celebrates with Odegaard after converting his penalty, one of few positive moments for Arsenal

It could’ve been a much different story against City with ten men, but as fullback Gael Clichy – who made over 450 appearances for both sides in his prime – stressed at the break, referee Anthony Taylor’s decision was right because he didn’t want to ruin the game. Ah, that’s fine then.

Nketiah had three sights at goal and fluffed his lines each time, making Gabriel Jesus’ absence felt even more against the Brazilian’s former club. A dearth of top-quality strikers available to target in the January transfer window meant Arsenal again were found wanting in the final third.

Tomiyasu’s undercooked backpass was astutely met by an alert Kevin de Bruyne, who picked his spot and lifted the ball above Aaron Ramsdale in no man’s land, as City took the lead. For someone as scrutinised as the Belgian, he doesn’t shirk the big moments and this was another.

What makes his deft finish all the more painful from the hosts’ perspective, is this was midway through a first-half where City were largely second best. Unconvincing with 50-50 challenges and lacking composure in possession, Bernardo Silva’s auxiliary left-back role left him struggling.

Three minutes before the deadlock was broken, he watched Nketiah breeze by him in the area as if he didn’t exist, before heading Oleksandr Zinchenko’s inviting cross wide from close-range.

Eddie Nketiah of Arsenal heads the ball but misses the target during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Manchester City at Emirates...
Nketiah (centre) was alarmingly wasteful in attack for Arsenal when they needed him most

He wasn’t the only City player who needed to improve though: Riyad Mahrez and captain Ilkay Gundogan were both quiet, while Kyle Walker on the opposite side didn’t cover himself in glory.

None of the aforementioned trio were walking the proverbial tightrope like him though, committing four fouls – repeatedly on Saka – and fortunate to stay on a booking.

Tomiyasu blazed a volley over the bar as he sought to make amends almost immediately, while Rodri’s deflected header cannoned back off the upright in first-half stoppage-time.

Jorginho almost teed up Nketiah with a clever first-time pass across the turf 10 minutes after the restart, before VAR rescued Gabriel a minute later having wrestled Haaland to ground in the area.

Initially ruled a spot-kick, before VAR review deemed Haaland in an offside position when the pass was fed through into his path – so yellow card and penalty rescinded, Arsenal could exhale.

That wouldn’t last long.

Tomiyasu slid an excellent ball across the box for Nketiah, again a touch late as he tried to latch onto it. Jorginho made a goalline clearance as City probed in search of another breakthrough, before Zinchenko almost gift-wrapped one to them in the area with an errant pass.

Soon enough, their lack of composure in possession proved costly as Gabriel was next to cheaply relinquish the ball in a non-threatening position. Silva set Haaland through, he instinctively slotted across for Gundogan and Jack Grealish applied the finishing touch.

Grealish, who pressed Tomiyasu in the build-up to de Bruyne’s opener, has quietly been enjoying a decent run of form over the past month. Perhaps fittingly, the strike deceived Ramsdale after taking a slight deflection on the way through, by none other than the Japanese international.

Jack Grealish of Manchester City celebrates after scoring the team's second goal with teammates during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC...
£100m man Grealish has quietly enjoyed a run of decent form recently, and put City back ahead here

It went from bad-to-worse for Arsenal ten minutes later, as substitute and January signing Leandro Trossard was hounded off the ball in his half by Walker near Guardiola on the touchline.

Silva passed to Rodri, who galloped forward and left Granit Xhaka trailing before laying off Gundogan. He bypassed Jorginho before threading the ball through into de Bruyne, who slid across to Haaland – firing into the bottom corner for his 26th Premier League goal of the season.

What’s next? 

Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal, applauds their fans after the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on...
Arsenal head coach Arteta applauds the home support after defeat by defending champions City

Arsenal don’t have long to lick their wounds and end a four-match winless run, travelling to Villa Park in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off against their former manager this weekend. The last time they endured such form was at the start of 2022, Rodri’s stoppage-time winner in this fixture.

Leicester, Everton and Bournemouth all await before their return to continental competition as the Europa League last-16 draw will take place after the knockout round playoffs next Friday.

As for City, Guardiola will be sure to guard against complacency as matches come thick and fast: travelling to strugglers Nottingham Forest on Saturday before their Champions League campaign resumes away in Germany next midweek: RB Leipzig, the first leg of their last-16 clash.

Picture source: Getty Images


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