Manchester City moved to within three points of the Premier League summit after a thrilling 6-3 victory over league leaders Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium. It was a match in which City were scintillating and always looked the superior side but a combination of Arsenal’s constant hunger to go forward and the home side’s occasional slackness meant that the high-octane contest always retained an element of intrigue to go with the relentless entertainment.
Sergio Aguero had City in front in the 15th minute with an impressive finish following a corner, before Theo Walcott capitalized on Yaya Toure’s error to unexpectedly get Arsenal back on level terms. But when on song, City had too much for their opponents throughout the early afternoon clash that fulfilled and even exceeded all expectations. Two goals either side of half time from Alvaro Negredo and Fernandinho should have given City control. Again, though, they allowed Arsenal back in and a fine goal from Walcott looked set to produce a thrilling final 30 minutes.
Instead, not helped by Laurent Koscielny being forced off with an injury before the break, Arsenal were unable to cope with City’s incisive attacks and David Silva’s strike just three minutes after Arsenal reduced their arrears finally proved decisive before the sides traded further goals in the final minutes as a second for Fernandinho and a penalty from Toure sandwiched a header from Per Mertesacker.
It was a contest in which City showed why they remained favorites to win the Premier League this season, but also hinted at the reasons they may not. It was yet another resounding home victory for City to extend their record in the Premier League to eight wins from as many matches, with 35 goals scored and just five conceded. When they are at their best, with Toure and Fernandinho dominating the midfield, Silva and Samir Nasri floating and creating behind the striking talent of Aguero and Negredo, there is no side in England that come near them.
Yet, Manuel Pellegrini will also reflect that the win should have been far more serene given their dominance. That tendency to switch off on occasion didn’t prove costly on this occasion, but has been their downfall away from home and is why they still remain in the chasing pack rather than setting the Premier League pace.
The match was billed as a chance for Arsenal to finally prove, if needed, their title credentials. Instead it was another defeat, following on the heels from their loss at Old Trafford, in which Arsene Wenger’s side were unable to play with the required intensity following a tough European away trip. It is not all doom and gloom, with Arsenal still fighting back to make a match competitive for long spells that it had no right to be. The prevailing theme, though, is that the defeat hinted once more that Arsenal’s squad could lack the required depth to go the distance as key players looked mentally and physically fatigued.
Fresh from their confidence-boosting victory at the home of the European champions in midweek, in addition to their extra day of rest, City began in ominous fashion. Pellegrini also had the advantage of three of their key players, Vincent Kompany, Toure and Aguero coming in after a full week’s rest. Fernandinho and Toure were superb in the middle and crucially dominated their counterparts, Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey.
Arsenal had just started to get a foothold in the match when City went in front. Aguero reacted faster than Koscielny at the back post from Martin Demichelis’s flick on of a corner and acrobatically volleyed into the net.
Having gone close to a second through Negredo, City switched off for a brief spell, embodied by Toure losing possession to Ramsey just inside his own half to lead to Arsenal getting back on level terms. Walcott’s finish was far from cleanly struck, but perhaps helped by a slight deflection off of Demichelis, it caught Costel Pantilimon unawares and motionless.
Manchester City again quickly regained their mojo. Negredo immediately missed another chance to score, before he finally found the net at the third time of asking. It was a goal that embodied the swiftness and clinical nature of City’s attacks. Toure in part redeemed himself with a good ball out to Pablo Zabaleta in space and the full-back’s low cross was turned in by Negredo ahead of Koscielny. The blow for Arsenal was exacerbated when Koscielny was forced off with a deep laceration.
Pellegrini’s men were weakened too when Aguero was forced off with a muscle strain at the start of the second half. But, with the visitors’ defense now even more vulnerable with Koscielny off and Thomas Vermaelen on for a rare appearance, City soon established a two-goal lead. Flamini failed to intercept on the edge of the box and the home side, this time with Fernandinho, found themselves with far too much space in that crucial zone and the Brazilian coolly placed a shot into the net.
Walcott’s superb curling effort over the giant Pantilimon might have been the cue for a dramatic turnaround, but City were just too good. From Jesus Navas’s cross, Silva was somehow to allowed to find space between Arsenal’s two center-backs six yards out in the middle of goal to give his side a cushion that finally extinguished their opponents’ resilience. A final flurry of goals arrived late on, but it was all academic with the damage already done.