Gunners are unable to hold out for a point against Pep Guardiola’s title-chasers as they move 11 POINTS clear at the top
A new year it may be but Manchester City start it with same unquenchable thirst for titles. The same relentlessness. The same refusal to accept nothing less than victory, even on an off day.
City trailed at half time to a goal by Bukayo Saka and levelled from a fiercely disputed penalty, coolly converted by Riyad Mahrez.
Ben White sprang the attack, reading City’s intentions and stepping out of central defence to beat Kevin De Bruyne to the ball. Arsenal threaded passes through midfield to Martin Odegaard and Kieran Tierney, the axis for so much of their creative work.
Tierney opted to deliver his cross low and early. Alex Lacazette stepped across Nathan Ake to obscure his view and pin him out of play as Saka darted inside the from the right and swept the ball into the bottom corner with a left-foot finish.
By half time at City in August, Arsenal were three down and a man down, with Granit Xhaka dismissed. They went on to lose 5-0, a third successive defeat start without scoring a goal to start the season.
The outlook was bleak and the fan-base was in uproar. Here, the home crowd rose to roar them into the interval. They were one up and it could have been more as they grew in confidence.
Gabriel Martinelli went close with a curling effort only narrowly wide from the edge of the penalty box. Then a toe-poke from an angle after jinking between Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo, also agonisingly close.
City had not registered a shot on target at the half-way stage, although they did squander decent openings. Gabriel Jesus headed wide from a corner and Dias ought to have done better with a free header at the near post, picked out by Raheem Sterling.
Between these chances, Arsenal claimed a penalty for a foul by Ederson as he slid out to challenge Odegaard and foil a slick move. Referee Stuart Attwell awarded a corner, although, even on the replays, it was difficult to detect any contact on the ball.
Odegaard seemed to get there first, if only by a split second, hooking his left foot around the ball as the goalkeeper kicked him. VAR Jarred Gillett mulled it over before backing Attwell.
The officials were a man down at this stage. Assistant referee Constantine Hatzidakis was a late withdrawl and fourth official Kevin Friend spent the first half on the line with a flag.
Neil Davies arrived as emergency cover and was in position with Friend back in the fourth official’s zone by the time the second half exploded in a storm of controversy.
Arsenal reacted angrily to a forceful challenge by Rodri on Martinelli. No foul according to referee Attwell. Seconds later, Manchester City were at the other end claiming the softest of penalties.
Bernardo Silva ran at Xhaka who stuck out a leg. Bernardo duly tumbled over it. Again, Attwell was not convinced, waving play on until sent to his monitor by VAR Gillett.
Perhaps Xhaka’s little tug on Bernardo’s shirt as he fell made all the difference because the referee saw enough to change his mind, pointed to the spot and unleashed two utterly bonkers minutes.
Gabriel was seen trying to scuff-up the penalty spot with his studs, and players from both teams engaged in pushing and shoving. Attwell called the captains for a chat in a bid to restore order.
Mahrez waited, remained focused and despatched the spot kick into the net.
Confusion in the City defence and Aymeric Laporte headed the ball past his own onrushing goalkeeper. Ake’s quick recovered and sliding clearance saved the day but how Martinelli failed to score the rebound is a mystery.
With the goal wide open, the shot by the young Brazilian clipped the frame of the goal and flashed behind.
The place was still buzzing when Gabriel checked Jesus to halt a counter attack in midfield and was sent off. It was a needless foul by the defender, already on a yellow for dissent, chirping at the referee after Mahrez’s penalty and not for scuffing the spot.
As if to underline his immaturity, the 24-year-old offered his sarcastic applause to the officials as he trudged off.
The home crowd bristled with animosity – the Emirates Stadium is never noisier than when offended by decisions – and Albert Stuivenberg hurriedly reshuffled, while fielding messages from boss Mikel Arteta, missing from the touchline while in isolation after a positive Covid test.
How close they came, then City struck. De Bruyne hoisted the ball hopefully into Arsenal’s penalty area and Rob Holding’s header fell to Laporte.
White made a block but Rodri was quickly onto the loose ball, stabbing it past ‘keeper Ramsdale from six yards. Cue more mayhem and jubilation from City who have won 10 in a row against Arsenal.
Thoughts flicked to the absent Arteta, so close to a fine result against his mentor Guardiola, taking it out on the furniture in his front room. ‘I hope he has the right insurance,’ said Stuivenberg.