Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes a long-awaited triumph over one of their principal Premier League rivals could prove the turning point in a stuttering season.
Midfielder Santi Cazorla scored a penalty and set up Olivier Giroud to head the second as the Gunners inflicted a major dent on Manchester City’s title defence and did leaders Chelsea a huge favour.
Unusually for Arsenal in recent years, it was a win built on a solid defensive display as much as Cazorla’s attacking thrust, and suggested they had finally learned from humblings at Chelsea and Liverpool. It also ensured they kept pace with the rest of the top eight, City aside, who all won, and gave Wenger hope that his team can mount the winning run that has so far eluded them this term.
“Time will tell. What is for sure is that it increases the level of belief and confidence,” he said. “We have five months in front of us that are very important in the lifespan of the team and what you make of that will decide our season. Games like that can help you to do very well.”
Victory saw Wenger’s side reclaim fifth place from neighbours Tottenham, while City now trail Chelsea, who routed Swansea on Saturday, by five points and can ill afford defeat at Stamford Bridge later this month.
Arsenal’s record against their top-four rivals did not bode well for a trip to the Etihad Stadium, having taken just seven points from their last 16 league fixtures against City, Chelsea and Manchester United. Yet they looked sturdier, epitomised by Francis Coquelin’s unselfish and vital display in defensive midfield, which suffocated City playmaker David Silva.
The Gunners took the lead on 24 minutes when City captain Vincent Kompany, sluggish on his return from injury, checked Nacho Monreal in the box and Cazorla tucked a penalty past Joe Hart.
Mauricio Pellegrini’s men failed to penetrate Arsenal aside from a short spell after half-time, when Colombian keeper David Ospina, again preferred to Wojciech Szczesny, saved from Sergio Aguero and Jesus Navas and Laurent Koscielny had to clear a dangerous ball across the face of goal.
But the visitors tightened their grip on the match 23 minutes from time when an unchallenged Giroud took advantage of dozy City defending to nod Cazorla’s free-kick past Hart from close range.