Grealish and Haaland put Manchester City top of table at Arsenal’s expense


It is threatening to become a Premier League truism. When Manchester City face Arsenal, they always win. But never in a meeting as loaded as this. City’s 11th straight victory over Arsenal in the competition carried them above their opponents on goal difference at the top of the table, although they have played an extra game. As a statement of intent about a fifth title in six years, it was red hot.

Arsenal were the better team in the first half, running on passion, showing character to recover from Kevin De Bruyne’s wonderful opener. It was Bukayo Saka who equalised with the second-most important penalty of his career, coolly rolled past Ederson and, at the interval, you would have backed Mikel Arteta’s team to emerge from their wobble – the loss at Everton followed by the draw at home against Brentford on Saturday.

City simply narrowed their focus and raised their level. The second half would belong to them, with Erling Haaland to the fore. When he started to hare around and barge people about, it was as if he had zapped bolts of chaos at the Arsenal defence and fear around the Emirates.

Haaland played a part in Jack Grealish’s goal for 2-1, taking a pass from Bernardo Silva after Gabriel Magalhães had given away possession and ushering in Ilkay Gündogan. Jack Grealish took over, finishing with his right foot via a slight deflection off Takehiro Tomiyasu.

It was Haaland who moved the game beyond Arsenal when he rammed home City’s third. Gündogan was involved and De Bruyne cut the ball back. Touch from Haaland, finish, game over. In the blink of an eye and with the latest demonstration of his explosiveness. Haaland has 26 league goals already this season.

The symbol of City’s chutzpah? De Bruyne walking around the pitch and eyeballing the Arsenal support after his 87th-minute substitution as they threw bottles at him.

De Bruyne had not scored in his previous 13 City appearances but he corrected that after an error by Tomiyasu, who Arteta had selected ahead of Ben White at right-back. Tomiyasu was facing his own goal, under pressure from Grealish, when he decided to go back to Aaron Ramsdale, which went horribly wrong. De Bruyne had started loosely but he read Tomiyasu’s intentions and, with Ramsdale off his line, he knew what he had to do. The first-time left-footed lob was perfection.

Guardiola, though, could see Arteta’s dodgy refereeing decision and raise it by a hundred or so Premier League charges for financial irregularities. The City manager has harnessed the mood of defiance and persecution at the Etihad. Happy flowers? Guardiola wants hungry fellas. Or something like that.

De Bruyne’s goal was a kick in the teeth for Arsenal because they ought to have been in front. Jorginho – in for the injured Thomas Partey – had intercepted a De Bruyne pass to release Eddie Nketiah, who saw his shot blocked by Rúben Dias, but the big chance came on 22 minutes when Oleksandr Zinchenko whipped over a cross from the left. Nketiah flashed a free header wide.

Haaland had nearly got around the back of Tomiyasu in the 16th minute but it was Arsenal who forced the issue, their press high and effective. Ederson would be booked for timewasting mainly because he could not see a pass out. By then, Tomiyasu had lifted a volley high, Saka been held up by Nathan Aké after a wonderful move and Nketiah miscontrolled following a Gabriel Martinelli flick. Arsenal bristled with energy; an equaliser was in the air.