Raheem Sterling scored the game’s only goal as runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City stretched their winning run to 18 games with a 1-0 victory at Arsenal.
Sterling leapt to meet a Riyad Mahrez cross with just two minutes on the clock and might have had a hat-trick during a strikingly mismatched opening period that suggested another emphatic afternoon’s work for Pep Guardiola’s side.
A second proved elusive but though Arsenal, whose European prospects take a blow, grew into the contest, they were unable to punish City’s second-half lethargy in attack and found Ruben Dias commanding again in defence.
City remain 10 points clear of second-placed Leicester, whose own impressive run continued at Aston Villa, while Arsenal stay in mid-table, 11 points off fourth spot and six behind sixth-placed Liverpool.
Arsenal: Leno (6), Bellerin (5), Holding (6), Mari (6), Tierney (6), Elneny (6), Xhaka (6), Saka (6), Odegaard (5), Pepe (5), Aubameyang (4)
Subs: Lacazette (5), Smith Rowe (5), Luiz (N/A), Ceballos (N/A).
Tottenham: Ederson (6), Cancelo (6), Dias (8), Stones (8), Zinchenko (7), Silva (7), Fernandinho (8), Gundogan (6), Mahrez (7), De Bruyne (7), Sterling (7).
Subs: Jesus (6).
Man of the Match: Ruben Dias
Both sides had made five changes amid the relentless schedule and though Kieran Tierney was back to boost Arsenal, Kevin De Bruyne’s return to the starting line-up – eight straight wins earned in his absence – was an ominous reminder of City’s riches.
There had been a slick give-and-go between De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan from the off but though Sterling swiped into air at the back post, he sprung superbly to nod City ahead moments later from a Mahrez cross that Dias had prompted with a raking diagonal.
- Kieran Tierney made his first Arsenal for five PL games, while Rob Holding, Pablo Mari, Mohamed Elneny and Nicolas Pepe returned.
- Kevin De Bruyne made his first Man City start in a month. Ilkay Gundogan, John Stones, Oleksandr Zinchenko and captain Fernandinho also came into the starting XI.
Sterling should have had a swift second, Arsenal dizzy down Tierney’s flank, but after De Bruyne’s piercing pass left Hector Bellerin redundant, the England forward dribbled into trouble.
City were toying with their opponents, assertive on the ball and aggressive without it, and a rare first-half Arsenal attack saw Bukayo Saka unwittingly scuppered by an offside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. “They look demoralised,” said Gary Neville before the half-hour mark had even passed.
But Tierney, who fizzed a shot at Ederson from distance, was steadily growing in influence, and a half-time scoreline that belied City’s dominance offered home encouragement that seemed unlikely in the early stages.
De Bruyne clipped an effort dropped just wide of Bernd Leno’s goal after the restart, while Gundogan drew a strong hand from his countryman, but the contest took on a more even complexion as Arsenal squeezed up the pitch.
Guardiola introduced Gabriel Jesus for fresh forward presence with the game drifting, a Joao Cancelo shank thumped by Ederson towards Mohamed Elneny summing up the slackness, while Arteta called for his own reinforcements in Alexandre Lacazette and Emile Smith Rowe.
Cancelo lifted the monotony with an outside-of-the-boot attempt that went narrowly wide, Rob Holding replaced by a concussion substitute in David Luiz as he tried to thwart the attack.
Dias, so impressive once again alongside John Stones, outmuscled Lacazette with ease, before Jesus blazed over in the penultimate minute but City’s early riser in Sterling kept them looking down by some distance on their rivals.
Man of the match – Ruben Dias
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville:
“Absolutely fantastic performance again. I thought that (Aymeric) Laporte would be the rock of this defence for many years to come but Dias is turning out to be the star man.
“We asked how they would replace (Vincent) Kompany. Well, watching Dias week-in, week-out, he’s so young, physically brilliant, great on the ball, and he’s got real leadership qualities. He was outstanding today.”
Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp:
“I don’t think anyone would have expected that Ruben Dias would make quite the impact he has. He’s a phenomenal player – a leader. Certain signings make such a difference in terms of leadership; Nemanja Matic at Manchester United, Vincent Kompany at Manchester City – they have such an effect on everyone at that club.”
What the managers said…
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta: “The way we conceded the goal after two minutes put us in a really difficult situation in the game. The team reacted really well; we started to generate chances and momentum but we lacked quality to score. We got something wrong, a tactical thing… we didn’t do it in the first five, 10 minutes – and they used the overloads. I thought we were really good on the ball against the press but we couldn’t pick the right pass.”
Man City boss Pep Guardiola: “It was as hard as we expected it to be. Playing against Mikel is so difficult – he’s so clever; I learn a lot watching his teams. That’s why I give incredible credit for this victory. People think, 18 wins in a row, it’s easy but you look around Europe, teams are dropping points. This consistency in the last month, honestly I didn’t expect it. I’m more than grateful for what these players are doing.”
Opta stats – So solid City
- Manchester City have equalled the record for consecutive away wins by an English top-flight team across all competitions (11), which was previously set by Pep Guardiola’s side between May and November 2017.
- Manchester City are unbeaten in their last 25 games across all competitions (W22 D3) – their second-longest run without defeat under Pep Guardiola, following a 28-game spell between April and December 2017.
- This was Manchester City’s 15th clean sheet in the Premier League this season – the most by a team after 25 games of a top-flight campaign since 2008-09, when both Manchester United (19) and Chelsea (15) had as many.
- Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling is the third player to score in three consecutive away games against Arsenal in the Premier League, after Nicolas Anelka (four games ending in May 2009) and Ian Harte (three games ending in May 2003).
- Manchester City’s opener after 75 seconds was the first time they’ve scored in the opening two minutes of a Premier League game since December 2019, which was also away at Arsenal (Kevin De Bruyne after 89 seconds).
- Arsenal have lost their last four Premier League games against Manchester City without scoring a goal. This is the first time in their history they have failed to score in four consecutive home league games against an opponent.
Both sides return to European competition before their next Premier League assignments.
Arsenal face Benfica in a Europa League last-32 decider – having drawn 1-1 in the first leg – on Thursday, before travelling to Leicester on Sunday for a lunchtime kick-off.
Manchester City take on Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday for their Champions League last 16 first leg, followed by in-form West Ham on Saturday.
www.skysports.com 2021-02-21 18:30:00