Manchester City extended their winning run thanks to Raheem Sterling’s goal after just 79 seconds, as the away side retained their advantage on the chasing pack against a sluggish Arsenal.
City took control from the outset, with Arsenal’s slow start compounded by an attack that was completely nullified by the excellent defensive partnership of Ruben Dias and John Stones.
In truth, the game should have been over inside 10 minutes.
Not even 45 seconds had been played when the returning Ilkay Gundogan’s deep cross found an unmarked Raheem Sterling, but on his left foot the winger did an air shot and spurned the chance.
As it turned out, he did not have long to wait for another opportunity.
This time, Riyad Mahrez’s cross from the right found Sterling lurking between the two centre backs to nod a header into the far corner. With just 79 seconds played, City had the perfect start.
Minutes later, Mahrez again tied Kieran Tierney in knots before finding Kevin de Bruyne, who’s cutback just evaded Gundogan. Seconds later, de Bruyne played one of his inch-perfect through balls for Sterling, who instead of shooting tried to dribble round Bernd Leno and then Rob Holding before losing control of the ball.
Mahrez was the next to come close, turning past Pablo Mari brilliantly before his shot deflected just wide off Tierney. The corner then fell to de Bruyne on the edge of the box, but he scuffed the shot off target.
It was relentless.
Arsenal should have been at least three down inside those opening 10 minutes, but they slowly started to wake up as the half went on.
First, Bukayo Sako had a 20 yard shot hit an offside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while Tierney tried his luck from similar range but only found the gloves of Ederson.
City were still the more dangerous team, and another great opportunity was wasted after Fernandinho dispossessed the slumbering Granit Xhaka and fed Gundogan in on goal. Fortunately for Arsenal, the German’s touch was poor, and Holding just about managed to come across to block the shot.
Arsenal’s clearest chance came with a minute of the half remaining, as Nicolas Pepe dragged a shot wide of the near post from a tight angle, following a good spell of Arsenal possession. Having been so outplayed initially, it was the home side who had arguably finished the half the stronger.
Half time: Arsenal 0-1 Manchester City
City started the second half much like they had the first, with de Bruyne sending an audacious chip just wide of the post with Leno scrambling. Moments later, Sterling broke through the defensive line but was denied by a fantastic, last-ditch tackle by Holding.
The attacks kept coming for the away team, and another perfect de Bruyne through ball found Gundogan this time. Once again, the chance was completely wasted, as the German tried to drag the ball onto his right foot but instead missed it entirely.
After another desperate defensive tackle on Sterling, the ball broke for Gundogan to this time whip a shot towards the bottom corner from the edge of the box, with Leno diving across well to save.
Joao Cancelo and de Bruyne both had volleyed attempts shortly after which did not trouble the Arsenal goalkeeper, but again City had little show for an utter domination of the opening 15 minutes of the half.
Arsenal had been kept entirely at bay by City’s central defensive duo, so when Saka slipped while attempting to shoot from inside the box, it summed up their second half attempts at an equaliser.
The game had drifted since City’s frenetic start, but Cancelo should have made the game safe on 81 minutes as he slalomed round three defenders, exchanged passes with substitute Gabriel Jesus, but could then only send his shot inches wide when 1v1 with Leno.
The final 10 minutes saw the away side effectively run the clock down, with Arsenal not having so much as an attacking position, never mind a chance.
At full time, City had regained their 10 point advantage on Leicester and increased their successive wins record to 18 games. Arsenal remained 10th, with European qualification seeming a very distant shot.
Full time: Arsenal 0-1 Manchester City
Man of the Match: Ruben Dias
Both of Dias and Stones were immense, with the Portuguese also driving forward multiple times in attack later in the game as the more creative players stalled. What a signing he has been.