Manchester City and Pep Guardiola just know how to get the job done. Their form has been patchy over the last few months, but on a vital night at the Emirates, they secured a 3-1 win to take them to the top of the Premier League.
Jack Grealish also proved his worth as he scored the crucial second that took the wind out of Arsenal’s sails. The English winger was mocked last season for failing to live up to his price tag, but has grown into a key man in Guardiola’s attack this term, and came up with a vital winner at the Emirates. £100m was a hefty price to pay as City activated his Aston Villa release clause last summer, but he will now feel like he has justified a fair portion of that after sweeping home the second goal.
That stopped Arsenal in their tracks, before Haaland added a third to seal the win for City - who are so used to winning games like this. They are title defining, and although Arsenal retain that game in hand, this feels like a monumental body blow in their quest for a first league title since 2004, especially when you consider the points they have dropped over the last week.
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Managerial decisions certainly affected the course of the game. Mikel Areta’s choice to stick Jorginho in for the absent Thomas Partey was obvious. His decision to swap the reliable Ben White for Takehiro Tomiyasu though, was not quite as sensible. Against Jack Grealish he struggled, he was wasteful in possession and he gave Kevin De Bruyne the opening goal on a silver platter.
Having looked shaky early on, the Japanese international then misplaced a backpass straight to De Bruyne and the Belgian produced a wonderful finish over Aaron Ramsdale to give City the lead. Given Pep Guardiola’s dominance when his side take the lead, it felt like a major mistake not just in this match, but in the entire title race. At the moment, City were top of the Premier League.
But Guardiola’s own tactical decision was causing problems defensively. Bernardo Silva was playing left-back when his team didn’t have the ball and up against Bukayo Saka, he was being run ragged. In the opening 20 minutes, the away side managed to stifle the supply lines to him, but after that, Silva was exposed on more than one occasion.
The Spaniard should have been booked after two fouls on Saka and the England man had a great chance to shoot but took too many chances before the chance was snuffed out. He was getting more involved in the game, which was good news for Arsenal who had shot themselves in the foot early on.
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Then Arsenal's moment came. Eddie Nketiah was played in by Granit Xhaka and as he shot towards goal, he was taken out by Ederson. As Nathan Ake got back to clear off the line, Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot, due to the late challenge from the goalkeeper. Given he had already been booked for time wasting, the Brazilian goalkeeper was perhaps lucky to escape a second yellow. Even though he desperately tried to put him off by pointing to the bottom left corner, and that is exactly where the Englishman stuck his penalty to level the scores.
Silva was finally booked before the break while Rodri stuck a header towards goal and it bounced off Ake’s toe and onto the crossbar. It was a pulsating encounter that lived up to the top of the table billing it had been given. De Bruyne gave Arteta a shove on the touchline to inflame the Emirates crowd before Haaland, not too involved in the match, tussled with Gabriel and was awarded a penalty as he went down, but Arsenal were saved by the offside flag.
Riyad Mahrez was taken off for Manuel Akanji as Ake moved to left-back and Pep simplified things. Nketiah was inches away from getting a touch on a cross before more lackadaisical defending almost gave Haaland a goal. Then City finally got in front as Jack Grealish produced the finishing touch via a deflection off Tomiyasu, whose miserable night continued.
As Arteta paced on the touchline, he could do nothing to prevent De Bruyne cutting the ball back for Haaland to score his 26th league goal of the season and secure a crucial three points. City saw the game out, and they have stamped their mark on the title race.
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