Manchester City delivered a masterclass to overwhelm Premier League leaders Arsenal and strike a huge psychological blow in the title race at Etihad Stadium.
The confrontation billed as a potential title-decider turned into an embarrassingly one-sided affair.
Pep Guardiola’s side, now two points behind Arsenal with two games in hand, were inspired by the devastating partnership of Erling Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne.
Haaland sent De Bruyne away for a silky opener after seven minutes, and Arsenal then survived a constant bombardment of attacks before John Stones headed home from a corner in first-half stoppage time, the goal given by VAR after originally being ruled offside.
City goal machine Haaland was outstanding throughout and again set up De Bruyne for the third in the 54th minute, the Belgian passing a classy finish between the legs of Gunners defender Rob Holding.
Holding pulled one back for Arsenal late on before Haaland, denied four times by Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale earlier in the match, sealed a memorable night with his 49th City goal.
City can go top with victory at Fulham on Sunday while Arsenal must somehow pull out of a slump that has seen them go four league games without a win at a crucial stage of the season.
City look unstoppable
City still have work to do to retain their title but, in the biggest game of the Premier League season, they delivered a brutal message.
Guardiola was as fired up as his players in the early stages, raging in his technical area, even giving an animated lecture to goalkeeper Ederson after De Bruyne put them ahead.
City were at their magnificent best as they tore holes in the Arsenal rearguard, the Gunners miraculously surviving all manner of close shaves after the opener before Stones’ header gave them the cushion they deserved.
Haaland had a rare night when his golden touch in front of goal deserted him until virtually the last kick of the game – although Ramsdale played his part in that – but the Norwegian demonstrated just how much his all-round game has improved under Guardiola by giving an exhibition in link-up play, twice assisting for De Bruyne and playing with an air of constant menace.
And De Bruyne once more showed his enduring class with two precision finishes.
The title is not run yet and no-one at City will be complacent, but this performance carried all the hallmarks of a side on a mission to keep their crown and who now have all the momentum with them.
Another missed opportunity for the Gunners
It was only a few short weeks ago that Arsenal’s title challenge looked like it might well end with a first Premier League triumph since 2003-04.
But that was before they carelessly threw away a two-goal lead at Liverpool, repeated the failing at West Ham and then faltered at home in a 3-3 draw with struggling Southampton.
City presented the toughest of tests but also an opportunity to reassert themselves at the Premier League summit – but instead Mikel Arteta’s team found themselves on the receiving end of a chastening beating.
Arsenal looked nervous in the face of City’s intensity and threat, the gap between the sides resembling a chasm right up to the final seconds when Haaland finally got on the scoresheet.
The Gunners have desperately missed the authority of injured William Saliba in defence while they barely mounted an attack worthy of the name until it was too late.
Arsenal have been outstanding this season and there will be no shame in coming up just short against this City team.
If they do miss out – and remember, there is still hope – their recent dip in form will unquestionably leave them rueing a massive missed opportunity.
If they are to somehow regroup from this mauling, they must do it quickly while also hoping City slip up somewhere along the line.
On this evidence, however, that looks highly unlikely.
- 3Rúben DiasBooked at 45mins
- 17De BruyneSubstituted forÁlvarezat 80′minutes
- 16RodriBooked at 88mins
- 8GündoganSubstituted forMahrezat 72′minutes
- 20Bernardo Silva
- 10GrealishBooked at 75minsSubstituted forFodenat 87′minutes
- 8ØdegaardSubstituted forSmith Roweat 71′minutes
- 5ParteyBooked at 76mins
- 34XhakaSubstituted forJorginhoat 60′minutes
- 7SakaSubstituted forNelsonat 80′minutes
- 9Gabriel JesusSubstituted forNketiahat 80′minutes
- 11MartinelliSubstituted forTrossardat 60′minutes
- 10Smith Rowe
- 21Fábio Vieira
- Michael Oliver
Match ends, Manchester City 4, Arsenal 1.
Second Half ends, Manchester City 4, Arsenal 1.
Goal! Manchester City 4, Arsenal 1. Erling Haaland (Manchester City) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Phil Foden.
Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Oleksandr Zinchenko (Arsenal).
Foul by Julián Álvarez (Manchester City).
Reiss Nelson (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Erling Haaland (Manchester City) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Thomas Partey (Arsenal).
Rodri (Manchester City) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Rodri (Manchester City).
Reiss Nelson (Arsenal) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Substitution, Manchester City. Phil Foden replaces Jack Grealish.
Goal! Manchester City 3, Arsenal 1. Rob Holding (Arsenal) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Leandro Trossard following a corner.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Manuel Akanji.
Substitution, Arsenal. Eddie Nketiah replaces Gabriel Jesus.
Substitution, Manchester City. Julián Álvarez replaces Kevin De Bruyne.
Substitution, Arsenal. Reiss Nelson replaces Bukayo Saka.
Attempt missed. Bukayo Saka (Arsenal) left footed shot from outside the box is just a bit too high from a direct free kick.
Hand ball by Rodri (Manchester City).
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