Agony for Arsenal as injury time winner for Man City robs them of reward for thrilling display
Arsenal (1) 1 Saka 31
Manchester City (0) 2 Mahrez pen 57, Rodri 90
Arsenal served up a dazzling half of football but were undone at the death after playing the last half an hour with 10 men.
The Gunners produced arguably the best 45 minutes of their season to deservedly lead thanks to a well-worked goal from Bukayo Saka.
But the Premier League champions were gifted a way back early in the second half when Granit Xhaka tangled clumsily with Bernardo Silva to give Riyad Mahrez the chance to level from the spot and thoughts of a win faded after Gabriel received a second yellow from ref Stuart Attwell.
And during six minutes of stoppage time, after Arsenal had reorganised and looked like claiming a merited pint, a lofted ball into the box bounced kindly for Rodri to poke home.
Xhaka was sent off it a humiliating 5-0 defeat at the Etihad in the opening weeks of the season but this was a vastly superior performance from the Gunners, who came very close to claiming a first league win over City for the first time in 13 encounters.
It was full of zest, ambition and energy. Having played less than City, their extra harrying and hassling bore fruit and could so easily have ended with a rare scalp of one of the division’s elite.
Saka gave the Gunners a lead they thoroughly deserved on the half hour, when he swept in a first-time shot past Ederson from Kieran Tierney’s low cross into the box.
It capped a blistering, ambitious start to the game from the Gunners. So timid in the past in this fixture, but here very firmly on the front foot.
For Saka, rapidly becoming the face of the next Arsenal generation, it was his sixth league goal of the season and a logical consequence of his skill and pace down the right.
Gabriel Martinelli too – on the opposite flank – gave City so much grief that the league leaders looked a shadow of their normal all-conquering selves.
Mikel Arteta – watching from home as he recovers from his second bout of Covid – must have been pacing up and down in a state of high excitement as his team blazed the trail.
Arsenal’s first real move of note was a real beauty and typified that first-half effort. Martinelli controlled a long clearance from Aaron Ramsdale superbly on the left touchline and forced Joao Cancelo into retreat. A lay-off to Alexandre Lacazette was passed on to the onrushing Martin Odegaard and it needed a lunge from Ederson to deny the midfielder.
City responded with a glancing header from Ruben Dias which drifted just wide – Ramsdale well beaten as he tried to anticipate the trajectory of Raheem Sterling’s whipped cross to the near post. But it was Arsenal who continued to look more dangerous.
Martinelli cut in from the left onto Thomas Partey’s pass before firing low at Ederson at his near post. Later, he curled a shot narrowly wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Then, a scintillating run from half way took the winger within a whisker of a adding a second as he ended by poking a low shot agonisingly wide of the far post.
Arsenal were so much on top with their pressing and harrying but seven minutes after the break, City found a way back when Bernardo Silva twisted in the area and fell after a tangle with Xhaka.
Attwell saw nothing untoward, but VAR intervened after spotting a shirt tug and after a lengthy delay, during which Gabriel was yellow carded for trying to scuff up the penalty spot, Mahrez tucked home from the spot.
And the match suddenly felt turned on its head entirely when Gabriel clattered clumsily into Jesus on the centre circle to collect a second yellow.
That dismissal came moments after Nathan Ake had needed to clear off the line when Ruben Dias’ header back to Ederson went over the keeper’s head – with Martinelli missing a sitter following up, with the goal at his mercy.
Such are the fine margins.
Gunners: (4-2-3-1) Ramsdale – Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka – Saka (Elneny 84), Odegaard (Holding 63), Martinelli – Lacazette (Smith Rowe 71). Subs not used: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Cedric Soares, Pepe, Tavares, Sambi Lokonga
City: (4-3-3) Ederson – Cancelo, Ruben Dias, Laporte, Ake – De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo Silva – Mahrez, Jesus (Gundogan 63), Sterling. Subs not used: Walker, Grealish, Steffen, Fernandinho, Chagas, Mbete, Palmer, McAtee