LONDON — Manchester City moved to the top of the Premier League for the first time since November with a 3-1 win at Arsenal in the biggest game of the season so far.
Goals from Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Erling Haaland — a Bukayo Saka penalty equalised for the Gunners in the first half — inflicted Arsenal’s first home defeat of the season and a huge dent in their hopes of winning the title for the first time since 2004.
The defeat extended Arsenal’s recent slump that has seen them claim just one point from their past three games.
JUMP TO: Best/worst performers | Highlights & notable moments | Postgame quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures
1. Arsenal slump lets Man City seize top of the table
Manchester City are now in pole position to retain the Premier League title and become only the fifth club in English football history to win three successive championships after a potentially decisive 3-1 win at Arsenal. Mikel Arteta’s team had opened an eight-point lead at the top last month, but they are now second on goal difference following their first home defeat of the season.
And after collecting just one point from three games, the Gunners are now just five points clear of third-placed Manchester United in what has now become a three-way fight for the title.
But while Arsenal, who were without injured midfielder Thomas Partey, are now facing a battle to regain their form, City produced a performance of champions while delivering an ominous message to their rivals that they are still the team to beat.
Kevin De Bruyne’s stunning lob on 24 minutes, following a loose Takehiro Tomiyasu back pass, gave City the lead before Bukayo Saka equalised from the penalty spot shortly before half-time after goalkeeper Ederson had fouled Eddie Nketiah.
The second half was dominated by City, but they had to wait until Jack Grealish’s deflected goal on 72 minutes before reclaiming the lead. From that point on, with Arsenal chasing an equaliser, it seemed that a third City goal was inevitable and it came on 82 minutes when Erling Haaland scored from close range after being teed up by De Bruyne.
With the two teams still to meet at the Etihad in April, the title race remains tight and unpredictable. But Arsenal’s task now is to make sure they are still in the race when they visit the Etihad rather than looking over their shoulder at United.
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2. Grealish rewarding Guardiola’s faith
It’s not so long ago that English football was raging about Phil Foden‘s absence from Gareth Southgate’s England starting XI at the World Cup, with one argument that if he is good enough for Manchester City, he should be good enough for England. A couple of months on from Qatar 2022, though, Foden is now also out of the City team because Pep Guardiola believes that Jack Grealish offers more to the side.
And at the Emirates, the City boss was proved right with Grealish producing an excellent performance before scoring the second goal of the game to put the champions in control late in the second half. Foden has now not started a Premier League game since the Manchester derby defeat at Manchester United over a month ago and much of that has been down to the form of Grealish and Riyad Mahrez.
In this game, Mahrez was ineffective and substituted, but Grealish was City’s best attacking player. The former Aston Villa winger, a £100 million signing from Villa Park in 2021, is different to Guardiola’s other options in that he runs directly at opponents, dribbling with the ball much more than his teammates.
He tormented right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu all night long with his direct running and ability to win free-kicks. When he scored his goal, after good work by Haaland and Ilkay Gundogan, it was a reward for his performance, and also for Guardiola’s faith in the player’s qualities.
3. Arteta’s touchline antics are now out of control
Something needs to be done about Mikel Arteta and his behaviour on the touchline, especially in games at the Emirates. The Arsenal manager was spoken to by the officials during the games against Newcastle and Manchester United last month after straying too close to the pitch on both occasions, but he took his antics to a new level against City.
Perhaps it was the tension that comes with being involved in the biggest game of the season and a match which had so much at stake for both sides. But Arteta simply needs to control himself better because he is in danger of sparking a serious confrontation with an opposition if he continues to behave as he did in this game.
In the first half, Arteta almost collided with Jack Grealish when the City winger sprinted down the pitch close to the touchline. On that occasion, the Arsenal boss was reprimanded by fourth official Darren England for leaving his technical area and going too close to the pitch. But Arteta, a former City assistant manager, was involved in a shoving match with De Bruyne in the second half when he kicked the ball away from the midfielder when he was trying to take a quick throw-in.
De Bruyne pushed Arteta and wagged a finger before walking back onto the pitch, complaining to referee Anthony Taylor at the same time. Arteta escaped a booking for his antics, but history shows that, when tempers flare, incidents can get out of control. Nobody wants to see a repeat of when Newcastle boss Alan Pardew head-butted Hull City’s David Meyler in 2014, so Arteta needs to calm down to avoid the prospect of something similar spiralling out of control.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Ruben Dias — The City defender was making his first Premier League start since October following injury problems and he made a huge difference. His commanding presence made City more convincing at the back.
BEST: Eddie Nketiah — Missed some good chances, but the Arsenal forward also caused endless problems for City and overcame his misses to be a constant thorn in the opposition’s side.
BEST: William Saliba — The Arsenal defender controlled Erling Haaland comfortably with his strength, pace and reading of the game.
WORST: Takehiro Tomiyasu — Selected to start ahead of the out-of-form Ben White, but Tomiyasu had a nightmare. Stray back pass led to Kevin De Bruyne’s goal and he then missed an easy chance from six yards.
WORST: Ederson — Very lucky not to be sent off for a foul on Eddie Nketiah which led to Arsenal’s penalty equaliser. Having just been booked for time-wasting, the City keeper should have received a second yellow card for the foul.
WORST: Riyad Mahrez — The City winger has been in great form, but he had an off night at the Emirates. Just couldn’t get into the game and was substituted after an hour.
Highlights and notable moments
Should it have even been a penalty? Ederson is caught in an awkward position after challenging Eddie Nketiah in the first half, giving Bukayo Saka the ability to score from the spot.
After the goal line save by Ake, Arsenal are awarded a penalty.
📺: @peacock #MyPLMorning | #ARSMCI pic.twitter.com/NGLTzmMf3z
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) February 15, 2023
But Arsenal’s rally was stymied after two second-half goals from City, including this nail in the coffin by Erling Haaland late in the game.
Erling Haaland is BACK on the scoresheet and doubles Manchester City’s lead!
Peep the celebration. 👀
📺: @peacock #MyPLMorning | #ARSMCI pic.twitter.com/DjPc1rNifU
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) February 15, 2023
After the match: What managers, players said
Arsenal coach Mikel Areta, on the loss: “Psychologically there is a marathon still out there. So psychologically [the title] is very far. I said it three months ago and I said it today, it’s about tomorrow. The most important thing is how we are tomorrow and focus on that because the rest of the things, we don’t know what is going to happen.
Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola, on the title race: “[Arsenal] have played one game less so I consider they are top of the league. There are still many games to play, the Champions League is coming, the Europa League is coming. Many, many difficulties for everyone.”
Manchester City’s Erling Haaland, on the team’s performance: “City are, ‘we’ not me, are the champions so you can say [that it was a champions’ performance], yeah.
Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard, on the loss: “It is football. Sometimes chances go in, sometimes not. But that is where we need to improve and be more clinical and defend our box. That is not just about one player, but the whole team.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– When Bukayo Saka scores in a Premier League match it often means a win for Arsenal. Tuesday’s defeat is only the third such result when Saka finds the net, the other two being against Manchester City (Sept. 4, 2022) and Manchester United (Jan. 1, 2022).
– Man City have won their past 11 Premier League meetings vs. Arsenal by a combined score of 29-4; this is Arsenal’s longest league losing streak vs. a single opponent. City are also the first away team to beat Arsenal seven straight times.
– Fear not Erling Haaland fans, he’s back in form. His goal is his 26th this Premier League season — tying Sergio Agüero’s Manchester City record from the 2014-15 season. It also snaps a three-game goalless streak, the longest he’s had since joining the team last summer.
Arsenal: Have to rebound after the tough loss by traveling to Aston Villa on Saturday, and then a rare full week off from matches ahead of a visit to Leicester City on Feb. 25.
Manchester City: A busy stretch across three competitions for the rest of the month. They travel to Nottingham Forest on Saturday before turning attention the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 clash against RB Leipzig on Feb. 22. Then AFC Bournemouth on Feb. 25 in league action followed by a trip to Bristol City on Feb. 28 for a FA Cup fifth-round matchup.