A clinical first half display from Arsenal wherein they scored twice from the two chances they created helped the Gunners open up a crucial four point cushion over title rivals Manchester City with what was in the end a rather nervy 2-1 win over the Citizens.
Mesut Ozil was the architect for Arsenal once again as his simple pass was curled home beautifully by Theo Walcott to give Arsenal the lead, before the German playmaker picked out Olivier Giroud, who lashed home between Joe Hart’s legs in injury time at the end of the first half to make it 2-0 for the Gunners. Arsenal sat back in the second half and played largely on the counter attack, but Joel Campbell missed two gilt edged chances before Hart saved a Ramsey shot inadvertently with his face to deny Arsenal a goal that would have killed the game as a contest.
It almost came back to haunt Arsenal as Yaya Toure scored a sumptuous goal to halve the deficit with 8 minutes plus injury time left in the contest and the Gunners, under the cosh till the very end, held on rather nervously to pick up three massive points against their most likely title rivals.
The first half was a bit of a slow burner with both sides taking their time to size up the opposition. Manchester City bossed the ball, but weren’t really creating all that much with it, while Arsenal were playing largely on the counter and looking threatening everytime they went forward, but weren’t really testing Joe Hart in the Man City goal.
Kevin de Bruyne had City’s best opportunity of the half as he played through on goal down the right wing by Sergio Aguero with a pass on the half-way line. The Belgian burst towards the box and shot at goal, but put his effort agonizingly wide of the target. De Bruyne had David Silva in the middle to cross to, perhaps for a tap-in, and the Spanish playmaker was far from happy at not being found.
That miss proved costly as Arsenal went right up the other end and scored. Arsenal made some headway down the left wing and Mesut Ozil found himself in some space just outside the box. The German was perhaps looking for the overlapping run of Nacho Monreal, but Theo Walcott intercepted the ball and shot instantly, beating Joe Hart with a gorgeous curler. The City defence though was partly at fault for the goal with Kolarov and Mangala playing Walcott onside.
Arsenal got a crucial second in injury time at the end of the half as Walcott latched on to Mangala’s poor clearance from the back and found Ozil once again in some space. The German played a perfectly weighted pass for Olivier Giroud to run onto, and the big Frenchman smashed it goalwards, beating Hart for pace.
The second half was a very different spectacle with Manchester City enjoying even more possession than the 60% they had in the first period, but it was they who were hanging on as Arsenal created 6 chances, all of them from which they would feel they should have scored. Campbell had a terrific chance to kill the game early on as he raced onto Monreal’s cross, and with the goal at his mercy, he lifted it over the bar.
The Costa Rican, who worked tremendously hard in the game, had another chance come his way moments later as a long ball from Laurent Koscielny played him through over the top, but Campbell only got a toe on the ball as he broke through and Hart made a good save with his right boot.
The chances then came Aaron Ramsey’s way with the Welshman played through on goal this time by Campbell, but Joe Hart raced off his line and Ramsey’s control let him down, allowing Hart to make the save (albeit with his face).
Campbell and Ozil were withdrawn by Arsene Wenger as he looked to protect his players ahead of another game coming up in a couple of days, and that appeared to hurt Arsenal as the fluency from their game disappeared and the ball kept coming back at them with increasing urgency.
Yaya Toure produced a touch of magic to slice the ball into the top corner in the 82nd minute with his left foot to set up a nervy finish.
Arsenal had a chance to answer back immediately as Ramsey went through again, but his attempt to chip Hart went just wide, when the Welshman might have been better off squaring the ball to Walcott, who was in a better position to score.
That was to be Arsenal’s last real chance as City threw the kitchen sink at the Gunners in the last 10 minutes or so and had enough chances to grab an equalizer with Jesus Navas choosing to pass when he should have shot, while Bony and Toure failed to hit the target with half chances.
In the end, Arsenal were able to see out the game and grab three crucial points to close the deficit to League leaders Leicester City to just a couple of points. The Gunners though do have their work cutout for them as their small squad face the challenge of a tough trip to Southampton on Boxing Day.
Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Flamini, Ramsey, Ozil (Oxlade-Chamberlain 76′), Walcott (Chambers 88′), Campbell (Gibbs 70′), Giroud.
Subs: Ospina, Chambers, Gabriel, Gibbs, Reine-Adelaide, Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Kolarov, Mangala, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Delph (Sterling 46′), Toure, Silva (Navas 73′), De Bruyne, Aguero (Bony 63′).
Subs: Caballero, Clichy, Demichelis, Navas, Sterling, Iheanacho, Bony.
Final Score: Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City (Walcott 33′, Giroud 45+1′, Toure 82′)