Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-1 on Monday at the Emirates Stadium with the Gunners putting in a perfect counter-attacking display to boost their title credentials against a surprisingly lackluster City.
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Theo Walcott and Oliver Giroud grabbed the goals to keep Arsenal second — with Yaya Toure curling in a late goal for Man City — and put them just two points behind league leaders Leicester City.
Here’s three things we learned from the battle between two title contenders.
CLINICAL GUNNERS GO BACK TO THE FUTURE
Arsenal were at their ruthless best for a clinical stretch at the end of the first half as Mesut Ozil — more on him below — set up both Walcott and Giroud to score in the final 12 minutes of the half. Despite sitting back and defending for large patches of the game, Arsenal did the damage when they needed to and this mature display over a fellow title contender mirrored their win at the Etihad Stadium back in January 2015 when a switch seemed to click in the heads of the players and manager Arsene Wenger. Going back to that game — where I asked Wenger about the beauty of Francis Couqelin’s display in the post-game presser — Arsenal found a way to win without dominating possession and used their pace on the counter to deliver heavy blows at crucial moments. Now, almost 12 months on from that new-found defensive blueprint they followed so successfully at City, they can roll out that kind of performance at home, just like they did earlier this season in a 3-0 win over Manchester United, as Arsenal had less possession but did more when they had it.
In the first 45 minutes the Gunners only had two shots on target and scored with both of them. The final possession stats read 63 percent for Man City and 37 percent for Arsenal. In truth, Arsenal could have won more convincingly but Joel Campbell lifted the ball over when he should have scored in the 53rd minute, then Joe Hart‘s face made a big save on Aaron Ramsey when clean through, plus Campbell forced Hart into another save in the 66th minute as his toe-poke was saved down low. Add in another chipped shot from Ramsey which he should have done better with and Arsenal certainly produced enough chances to win handsomely. Despite a late wobble they held on to win and made a big statement in the title race.
OZIL IS AN ASSIST MACHINE
Mesut Ozil has oozed class all season long. In his third season with Arsenal the German playmaker has sprung into life and is now producing magic assists on a regular basis. After setting up both of Arsenal’s goals on Monday Ozil, 27, now has 15 assists in the Premier League this season and in each of his last 11 games he has either assisted or scored. He’s rolling.
Both of Ozil’s assists against City weren’t wonderfully pleasing on the eye but his delicate passes into Walcott and Giroud teed them up perfectly and he found pockets of space in the center of City’s midfield where Yaya Toure was sleeping in the first half. Walcott curled home a lovely finish for the first and Giroud slammed home another with Ozil instrumental in the game-winning moments. That $60 million Arsenal paid Real Madrid for Ozil in 2013 is looking like pretty good business right about now.
Elsewhere in Arsenal’s midfield Mathieu Flamini and Ramsey (who should’ve scored but put in a tireless shift) held down the central spots superbly with the injured duo of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin missing. If Arsenal are to win the Premier League title for the first time in over a decade there is no doubt they will need contributions from their entire squad. There is also no doubt that Ozil will link everything together seamlessly with his silky skills.
It took Manchester City until the final 30 minutes to wake up, but when they did they looked menacing. In the first half Kevin De Bruyne skinned Nacho Monreal on the inside and fired his shot to near post which Petr Cech saved, then the Belgian had a gilt-edged chanced in the 32nd minute when he went clean through after a mix-up in the Arsenal defense but instead of squaring to David Silva he flashed a shot wide of the far post. 60 seconds later Arsenal went ahead as a game-changing minute arrived. Despite having plenty of the ball, City were wasteful when they did get in and around the box as they lost for the third time in five games and are without a win in their last five Premier Leagu away games.
It took a moment of predictable laidback brilliance from Toure — who had been asleep for most of this game — to get City on the scoreboard and after that he took over the game with Toure stabbing a shot just wide and Wilfried Bony having an effort deflected wide. It was too little too late for City who missed Vincent Kompany terribly at the back, once again, and Sergio Aguero returned from injury but looked rusty in attack. With plenty of speculation around Manuel Pellegrini‘s future as City’s manager with Pep Guardiola said to be close to agreeing a move to take charge in the summer, being six points off the top on Christmas Day is far from ideal as the big bucks City spent in the summer aren’t showing on the pitch.