Deflating reality returns as Arsenal suffer that all-too-familar sinking feeling against Man City
Arsenal (1) 1 Saka pen 42
Manchester City (1) 3 De Bruyne 24, Grealish 72, Haaland 82
Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.
A record haul of points for the Gunners at the half way stage in the Premier League and an eight-point lead. But it’s all evaporated in the space of three games.
Champions Man City won at Emirates again – as they always do – and now have top spot, which they always seemed destined to claim once the sums went in their favour following the weekend results.
They have now won an incredible seven in a row against the north Londoners here. No team has ever boasted a record like that. This is, lest we forget, an astonishingly one-sided fixture.
For all the obvious improvements this season, it was still an 11th win in a row for Pep Guardiola’s team against the Gunners. There was no need to be so surprised.
The root cause was individual errors, with a catastrophic Takehiro Tomiyasu backpass seized upon by Kevin de Bruyne for the first goal, and lost possession by Gabriel which paved the way for Jack Grealish to restore the lead for City - via a slight deflection off the hapless Tomiyasu - after Bukayo Saka had levelled from the spot.
It hardly needed the late coup de grace from Erling Haaland to emphasise that when it comes to titles, there may still be some way to go for Mikel Arteta’s men.
Gabriel was lucky a personally difficult night against Haaland was not made worse when he conceded a penalty at 1-1 after fouling the Norwegian as the pair raced into the box.
A VAR intervention saved Arsenal by flagging up offside. If only it had been as efficient in the draw with Brentford at the weekend.
And if only Arsenal could discover the knack their north London neighbours have of beating Pep’s men in London. Spurs have managed it five times in a row without conceding. Some stats are just bonkers.
As it is, this first home defeat of the season will feel like a dagger to the heart of the Gunners’ soaring ambitions at the start of 2023.
The big challenge now will be to try and keep their equilibrium and stay in contention. There is only goal difference separating the teams after all and Arsenal still have a game in hand. It’s just that this result feels more significant than that.
The first half was all about the Gunners keeping their cool after going a goal down in such disappointing circumstances.
They had begun confidently and sharply, with Eddie Nketiah almost putting them ahead with a header from six yards after Oleksandr Zinchenko had crossed invitingly from the left. Jorginho, in for an injured Thomas Partey, started well.
But one mistake proved costly. Tomiyasu – surprisingly chosen ahead of Ben White – tried to keep the ball alive rather than boot into touch, but his backpass to Aaron Ramsdale was way too short and De Bruyne ran through to lift a perfect first-time shot over the advancing keeper.
Several players raced to console the Japanese defender. This was no time for anything other than togetherness on such a big night.
They got their reward for a positive response when Nketiah was taken down by Ederson, as the Brazilian charged out to narrow the angle, and ref Anthony Taylor awarded a spot kick.
It looked a bit harsh, but the Gunners maybe deserved some luck after the fiasco of the offside Brentford equaliser on Saturday and the failings of Lee Mason on VAR.
It took an age before Bukayo Saka was able to take the kick, but the winger remained ice cool and drilled low to Ederson’s right, with the keeper diving the wrong way.
It looked like the perfect platform had been set for a second half assault. We should have known better.
Gunners: (4-3-3) Ramsdale – Tomiyasu (White 83), Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko – Odegaard, Jorginho, Xhaka (Fabio Vieira 83) – Saka, Nketiah, Martinelli (Trossard 76). Subs not used: Turner, Tierney, White, Kiwior, Holding, Nelson, Cozier-Duberry
City: (3-2-4-1) Ederson – Walker, Ruben Dias, Ake – Rodri, Gundogan – De Bruyne (Phillips 89), Mahrez (Akanji 61), Bernardo Silva, Grealish (Foden 76) – Haaland. Subs not used: Laporte, Ortega, Alvarez, Gomez, Palmer, Lewis