Manchester City romped to an 11-point lead at the top of the English Premier League standings to ring in a perfect start to the new year for the defending champions.
However, it looked like it was going to be a very different story until Arsenal capitulated at the Etihad.
The Gunners were without their coach Mikel Arteta in the dugout, who was isolating due to Covid-19. But assistant Albert Stuivenberg was doing a great job on the touchline and Arsenal came out all guns blazing to make sure Pep Guardiola’s men knew they would not get things their own way.
City came into the match and 2022 on a 10-match winning streak, but Arteta’s Arsenal were on a run of their own — five wins on the bounce taking them up to fourth in the table after a poor start to their campaign.
After the usual onset of City waves of attack, Arsenal stamped their authority on the match in front of an impassioned crows in London that knew what this match meant. The home side were well deserving their 1-0 lead at the break after youngster Bukayo Saka made the visitors pay after a period of pressure and slotted home past Ederson in the City goal. Questions were being asked in the City backline as they — one of the few teams to compete a full Christmas schedule of fixtures — looked tired and a little out of sorts.
It could and should have been 2-0 to Arsenal by that point as VAR once again got things wrong by denying the home side a penalty in the opening 10 minutes, ruling against Martin Odegaard, who seemed to have been fouled by goalkeeper Ederson in the area.
However, an injured lion can be at its most dangerous and City — behind in a league match for the first time since October — did not take it lying down. They came out roaring in the second 45 and dominated possession. They balanced their usual patience with assertive and aggressive attacks — and made Arsenal pay.
The home side lost their cool and the tackles flew in. A tug of the shirt on Bernardo Silva by Granit Xhaka and we were all square. City’s best friend — for once — was the VAR booth as referee Stuart Attwell overturned his initial decision of no penalty after listening to the boys upstairs and viewing his pitchside monitor.
Riyad Mahrez levelled from the spot amid much consternation from the Arsenal ranks. Minutes after the restart, Gabriel saw red for a hand to the face of namesake Gabriel Jesus and he walked.
Cue 30-odd minutes of relentless pressure and an inevitable winner, courtesy of Spanish striker Rodri in the 93rd minute (cutting it fine), and City had 11 wins and an 11-point cushion.
With closest contenders Liverpool and Chelsea facing each other on Sunday, City will take some stopping now.
No team has ever failed to win the EPL crown when kicking off the new year with a lead as big as City’s, and given their form — plus three titles in the past four seasons under Guardiola, we could be looking at yet another stroll to the title.