Recap: Arsenal took a major step toward landing in a first Premier League title in 12 years with a 2-1 victory over Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium. The crucial period arrived late in the first half, when Arsenal turned up the pressure and scored twice, first through Theo Walcott, and then in injury time through Olivier Giroud. Although Yaya Toure scored with a sensational strike eight minutes from the end, it was too little too late for the visitors.
Arsenal now go into Christmas just two points behind Leicester City at the top of the Premier League and, perhaps crucially, four points ahead of third-placed Manchester City. It had the feel of a potentially defining night at the Emirates and Arsenal ultimately responded to the challenge far better than Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
The early signs pointed in City’s favor, given the return from injury of Sergio Aguero and the fact that Alexis Sanchez remained sidelined for Arsenal. And it was City who were the more comfortable for the first 30 minutes. With Arsenal lacking in intensity, City were able to stroke the ball around at will. And just past the half-hour mark they had a glorious chance to take the lead. Walcott allowed Kevin de Bruyne to burst clear down the right, but the Belgian dragged his effort poorly wide of the target.
Just over a minute later Arsenal were in front. This time Walcott gave a stunning example of his quality at the attacking end, taking Mesut Ozil’s pass and curling an unstoppable strike into the top corner from the edge of the box. In the solitary minute of first-half injury time, Arsenal doubled their advantage. Again it was Ozil who was the creator, registering his 15th assist of the season when sliding a perfectly weighted ball through to Giroud, who finished clinically.
But City played a big part in their downfall, with a sloppy giveaway that led to the second goal. And after going behind they crumbled badly, again showing a desperate lack of character in the absence of captain Vincent Kompany. It was only when the match was nearly over that they came to life, when Toure striking a magnificently casual left-footed strike into the top corner. It was Arsenal though, who wanted it more.
FULLTIME! Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City
92 mins: Giroud was back on and Arsenal have two more minutes of injury time to hang on.
90 mins: Giroud goes in with a lunge against Otamendi in the Arsenal box, but just gets enough contact with the ball to prevent the referee from awarding a penalty. Giroud has now hobbled off the pitch, leaving Arsenal temporarily down to 10 men.
89 mins: Wenger is really trying to shut things down now, bringing on Calum Chambers to sit alongside Flamini in midfield and taking off Walcott.
87 mins: Toure has suddenly got his considerable engine fired up and comes close to a second, but just couldn’t stretch enough onto a pass and instead shoots wide.
Here's Toure's majestic goal:
84 mins: Suddenly the nerves have grown on Arsenal, and Bony has just gone close with a strike after De Bruyne had the ball taken off him in the box. Arsenal looked comfortably just a couple of minutes ago, but now the Emirates is set for a tense climax.
GOAL Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City (Toure, 82)
Out of absolutely nothing, Yaya Toure has given Manchester City hope with a quite brilliant goal. Bacary Sagna laid the ball back into the midfielder’s path 25 yards from goal and with little back-lift he almost casually placed a left-footed effort right into the top corner past a helpless Cech.
79 mins: City get behind the Arsenal defense for the first time in the second half, but, unfortunately for them, it’s Navas who has the chance. The winger, who hasn’t scored in close to two years, never looked like he wanted to shoot and ended up playing a cross straight into the path of an Arsenal defender.
76 mins: Arsenal now make their second switch. Ozil comes off to a huge round of applause, replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
75 mins: Again City find a free head from a set piece. Bony meets a corner from the right and angles a header toward the top corner, but Cech was there to hold on.
74 mins: City have made their final change with Jesus Navas replacing David Silva, who struggled to influence the game in his usual silky manner.
72 mins: City are starting to mount some sort of concerted pressure and Toure goes down appealing for a penalty in the box, but the midfielder was lucky not to be booked for what appeared a blatant dive.
70 mins: Arsenal make their first substitution and it’s one that has been used regularly by Wenger when his side are defending a lead. Kieran Gibbs comes onto to shore up the left side of the team, replacing Joel Campbell.
67 mins: Manchester City just look lacking in someone out there to take the team by the scruff of the neck and drag them back into this match. It’s been said often before, but, especially without Vincent Kompany, they continue to look devoid of a real character and backbone. This is a huge test for them in the final quarter of this contest. If the score remains as it is, City will go into Christmas four points behind Arsenal and six adrift of Leicester City.
63 mins: Manchester City will have to get two goals back without their star striker, Sergio Aguero, who leaves the pitch even before Wilfried Bony is ready to come on to replace him. It's not really a surprise, with Aguero having looked off the pace on his return from injury.
61 mins: A big save from Joe Hart. A lovely Arsenal move ends with Campbell touching laying off an Ozil pass into the path of Ramsey, but his shot was well closed down by Hart. It’s hard to believe it will be much longer before there’s a third goal in this match. If it goes Arsenal’s way, it’s surely game over.
59 mins: Another Manchester City free-kick, another header from Aguero, but again it’s straight at Cech. Still, Wenger won’t be happy that the City striker keeps finding space in the box from set-pieces.
57 mins: It’s fair to say this game has really opened up now. Campbell has another look at a chance for 3-0, but can’t get any purchase in his effort as he stretched onto the ball cutting in from the right. Seconds later Otamendi does well to stop Giroud and Walcott turning in a corss.
55 mins: Aguero gets another effort on target, but again it’s not a real test for Cech. This time his flicked header from a free-kick goes straight into the hands of the Arsenal goalkeeper.
53 mins: A real chance for Arsenal to make it 3-0. Nacho Monreal gets forward down the left and puts in a good pull-back for Campbell, but the Costa Rican shoots over from eight yards. You have to think that there will be more opportunities on the break against a City side now pushing men forward.
51 mins: Manchester City have reverted to their familiar 4-2-3-1 now, with Sterling on the left and just Yaya Toure and Fernandinho sitting in the middle of midfield. They’ve increased the tempo at the start of the second half, but they still need to get Aguero much more involved. The striker’s just hit a tame shot on the turn.
48 mins: Nicolas Otamendi joins teammate Silva in being booked after a clumsy foul on Giroud.
Second Half Kicks Off! Manchester City get the match underway with a change in their lineup. Sterling is on for Delph.
Here's that Giroud goal:
HALFTIME Arsenal 2-0 Manchester City
Manchester City will be wondering quite how they’ve come to be two-goals behind at the interval. For more than 30 minutes they were more than comfortable as Arsenal applied little pressure either with or without the ball. But then things turned dramatically in the space of just over a minute. First De Bruyne dragged a shot wide when clean through on goal, before seconds later Walcott fired in a superb goal at the other end. The goal lifted Arsenal immeasurably and with almost the last kick of the first half, Giroud put Arsenal firmly in control. Surely it won’t be long before either Raheem Sterling or Jesus Navas, or both, make their appearance.
GOAL! Arsenal 2-0 Manchester City (Giroud, 45+1)
That could be a huge goal seconds before the halftime whistle. And it’s an incredibly sloppy one for Manchester City to give away. Eliaquim Mangala gave Fernandinho a pass that was near-impossible to control, allowing Arsenal to take over and surge forward. Ozil increased his assist count to 15 for the season by laying a through pass to Giroud, who ruthlessly fired low through the legs of Joe Hart.
40 mins: Both the Arsenal fans and the players have been buoyed by that goal and they’re showing far more impetus now. It’s key for City to steady the ship before halftime.
Here's that fine opening goal from Walcott:
GOAL! Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City (Walcott, 33)
Walcott’s defensive vulnerabilities were just exposed at one end as City should have scored, and seconds later the England international gives his side the lead. With Arsenal’s first shot on goal, Walcott bent a superb effort round Joe Hart and into the far corner of the net after cutting in on his right foot on the edge of the box. It's come against the run of play, but that goal should certianly liven up proceedings.
32 mins: De Bruyne has by far the best chance of the game so far. De Bruyne was released completely into the clear down the right and had all the time in the world cutting into the box, as well as options square, but the Belgian dragged his shot wide of the far post. A big missed opportunity for City, but it was terrible defending from Arsenal.
31 mins: The game has finally started to warm up in the last minute or so. First City managed a threatening break, which was ended with a strong challenge from Laurent Koscielny on Aguero on the edge of the area. Arsenal then surged up the other end, and with challenges flying In, Silva is the man to pay the price, earning a yellow card.
28 mins: Being the home side and in such a big matchup, its’ surprising how little initiative Arsenal are taking so far. They seem quite happy to allow Manchester City to stroke the ball around and gain confidence. In truth, even though it’s early, you get the sense that neither team would be too disappointed with a draw.
24 mins: Kolarov is lucky to escape the first booking after deliberately tripping Mesut Ozil to stop a quick Arsenal counter-attack. The full-back lamented the awarding of a free-kick, but he’s fortunate it wasn’t more.
23 mins: There’s the first meaningful effort of the contest. De Bruyne cuts inside from the right past Nacho Monreal and fires in a low shot that Cech pushes behind at his near post. Manuel Pellegrini will continue to be the more encouraged of the two managers.
20 mins: Arsenal get into the City box for one of the first times, but Theo Walcott can’t gather the ball after it came back off a defender.
16 mins: When the sides last met, it was Arsenal's nous in sitting back and striking on the break that enabled them to get an impressive 2-0 victory. This time it appears that City are trying to stay more compact than usual in midfield and at the back, but also going forward with real purpose. Arsenal are yet to mount a meaningful attack.
13 mins: It’s continuing to be City in the driving seat, especially down their left, where Aleksandr Kolarov is joining up with Delph and often Silva. A fine City move has just ended with Silva having a shot blocked in the box.
10 mins: Fernandinho is allowed plenty of space 25 yards from goal, but his shot, like Silva’s, was always rising a long way over Cech’s crossbar. It’s an unusually mild night in north London, so much so that Wenger doesn’t even need his famous long jacket, but the action on the field is still to really heat up so far.
6 mins: It appears close to a 4-4-1-1 for Manchester City, with David Silva supporting Aguero through the middle, and Delph on the left and Kevin de Bruyne on the right. City are having plenty of the ball early on, but the closest they've come to Petr Cech's goal was an ambitious effort fired way over from Silva.
KICKOFF! Arsenal get the match underway.
2:57 p.m. EST: The players are out in front of what is a fired-up crowd at the Emirates Stadium for what could prove a crucial match in the unpredictable race for the Premier League title.
2:35 p.m. EST: Less than 30 minutes until kickoff at the Emirates Stadium and both lineups have been announced. Arsenal are unchanged, meaning there is no place for Alexis Sanchez. Arsene Wenger had said that there was a slight chance for the Chilean forward to return from a hamstring strain, but he doesn’t even make the squad. Manchester City do have a key player returning, with Sergio Aguero going straight back into the starting lineup after nearly a month out with a heel complaint. Manuel Pellegrini’s other main selection decision sees him beef up his midfield with the inclusion of Fabian Delph, meaning Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas have to make do with a place on the bench.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) December 21, 2015
— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) December 21, 2015
Preview: Neither Arsenal nor Manchester City will be top of the Premier League at Christmas, but a win for either at the Emirates Stadium on Monday could go a long way to ensuring they are at the summit come the season’s end. Arsenal sit second in the table, five points behind leaders Leicester City and a point above third placed Manchester City. Yet the surprise nature of Leicester’s rise from relegation escape artists to table toppers means that whichever team can muster a win on Monday will be the favorites to come away with the title.
A victory could be particularly significant for Arsenal. While they have won back-to-back FA Cups, Arsene Wenger’s side have not landed a championship in 12 years. Often they have showed title-winning form during that time, only to be let down by a lack of consistency and a tendency to wilt when the pressure is really on.
Wenger, though, has repeated his belief that his side are now ready to go the distance. And he has pointed to Arsenal’s last clash with Manchester City as a real turning point for the belief of his side. Arsenal won 2-0 at the Etihad stadium in January and ended a long run of disappointing failures against the top teams.
Arsenal will have to negotiate their latest challenge without several key players, however. Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Jack Wilshere are among those out, although Wenger has said that there is “a slight chance” that Alexis Sanchez could return from a hamstring strain.
Manchester City have an even better chance of being able to call upon striker Sergio Aguero. The Argentina international has not played in close to a month due to a heel complaint, but is set to at least be on the bench on Monday. Captain Vincent Kompany, along with Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando and Samir Nasri, however, remain sidelined.
City have struggled particularly without Kompany in recent weeks, losing two of their last four Premier League matches. Despite falling off the pace, City boss Manuel Pellegrini has stressed that Monday’s game comes far too early for it to be considered a championship showdown. And, compared to Arsenal, City do have the greater pedigree in recent years, having won two Premier League titles in the last four years.
Check back here from 3 p.m. EST for live score updates and video highlights. In the meantime, here’s a look at what happened the last time the two sides clashed, when a Santi Cazorla penalty and an Olivier Giroud header settled the contest in Arsenal’s favor on Jan. 18.