MANCHESTER — Arsenal dealt Manchester City’s title hopes a large blow on Sunday, as the Gunners strolled into the Etihad Stadium and left with all three points after a convincing and professional display.
[ TIMELINE: Sanchez vs. Aguero ]
The Gunners strangled City’s offense, as Arsene Wenger’s men pushed in on their pursuit of a top four finish.
[ RELATED: Wenger hails Cazorla ]
We learned a lot about City’s title credentials and Arsenal’s resurgence.
But here’s three things.
CAZORLA IS A MAGICIAN, BACK TO HIS BEST
As Santi Cazorla hobbled off the pitch at the end of the match with the Arsenal fans chanting his name, the Spaniard had a huge grin on his face as he entered the tunnel. He scored the opener and set up the second. So, it’s clear to see he had a huge impact on the game. But apart from those two instances, Cazorla ran the show in midfield. Flicks, feints and guile, Cazorla dictated the tempo of the match. Whenever he grabbed the ball he made something happen and the 30-year-old rolled back the clock as he suffered a stop-start 2013-14 season where he scored just seven goals in 49 matches. Cazorla has seven this season already, as he’s recapturing the form he displayed in his debut season for the Gunners in 2012-13 A late dragged back and back hell around Gael Clichy put an exclamation mark on his audaciousness. A player who was influential during Manuel Pellegrini’s reign at both Villarreal and Malaga, Cazorla came back to taunt his old boss in a splendid display that summed up the difference between the two teams. Cazorla’s style trumped City’s stalling substance.
TOURE’S ABSENCE CRUCIAL, GUNNERS CONTROL ENGINE ROOM
Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin controlled the engine room for the Gunners, as City’s midfielders did not press high enough the entire game. Fernandinho and Fernando played sideways passes galore but failed to penetrated the Gunners backline as Yaya Toure was missed badly. The Ivorian midfielder is on Africa Cup of Nations duty and you could tell. The link between City’s midfield and attack had been completely severed in his absence. That was in part due to their slow tempo and lack of incision but also down to yet another composed display from young Frenchman Coquelin.
Last week against Stoke he put in an assured display, more on that here, and the former Charlton Athletic loanee was at it again. In the 80th minute came a perfect example of how Arsenal controlled the midfield, as Coquelin broke up the play with a thunderous tackle and cleared on the edge of his own box. The Frenchman had a total of 11 clearances and won eight of his nine aerial duels. His coming of age may give Arsene Wenger a reason to kick his heels in the pursuit of a new holding midfielder in the immediate future. Overall, the Gunners put in a solid defensive display as they looked incredible dangerous on the break.
Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany both returned to make their first starts for City in over a month. Their rustiness showed. City’s captain and leading scorer were both lackluster, at best, as Kompany gave away the penalty kick, after a needless barge on Nacho Monreal for Arsenal’s first goal, while Aguero barely touched the ball in the first half and only had one decent glimpse at goal in the second. Where they rushed back too soon? Aguero was lacking his usual energy, while Kompany and Martin Demichelis weren’t able to handle Olivier Giroud and looked shaky. When your two best players are off color, most teams in the PL will falter.
That’s exactly what happened to City, as their next Premier League game against Chelsea on Jan. 31 has become critical. Lose that match at Stamford Bridge and the Citizens could be eight points behind the league leaders. That could be unassailable.