Manchester City 2, Arsenal 1
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger compared referees to “lions in the zoo” after his team’s Premier League title hopes sustained a second swingeing blow in what he termed “a horrible week”.
The Gunners looked set to bounce back from midweek defeat at Everton when Theo Walcott fired them into an early lead but Leroy Sane levelled for City just after half-time and Raheem Sterling struck an increasingly inevitable winner on 71 minutes.
Wenger admitted that his side, who slipped to fourth, nine points behind Chelsea, dropped physically and mentally after the interval, and blamed a lack of rest afforded by four away trips in their last five fixtures.
But he reserved his strongest complaints for the officiating, insisting that both City goals should have been ruled out for offside – the first being a marginal call and the second a matter of interpretation.
He said: “Referees are protected very well, which is right, like the lions in the zoo, so we have to live with those decisions.
“I want them to be very well protected, I want them to be safe. But if they could make the decisions it would be even better.
“It’s difficult to lose a game of that stature on two offside goals. I can understand City looks very happy – I would be as well. But the goals are offside.
“I think we had a horrible week – absolutely horrible. What is worse is that out of two good performances we get zero points. And out of leading two games that of course is very disappointing.”
City manager Pep Guardiola said Arsenal had been “lucky” to take the lead but savoured a recovery that lifted them ahead of the Gunners and Liverpool into second – until Monday night, at least.
He added: “It means a lot to win against one of the best teams in the Premier League. It was a good comeback. We were unlucky in the first minutes when they scored the first goal.”
Walcott took Alexis Sanchez’s pass in his stride and finished low past Claudio Bravo to give Arsenal the ideal start, but they failed to capitalise on their other early chances as City regrouped.
Sane appeared to be fractionally offside when he scampered onto David Silva’s lobbed pass but play was allowed to continue and the £37m summer signing from Schalke tucked past Petr Cech for his first City goal.
Cech denied Sane a second and saved a deflected low shot from Kevin de Bruyne before the Belgian found Sterling with a booming diagonal pass and the England winger skipped inside Nacho Monreal before beating Arsenal’s goalkeeper – who may have been distracted by an offside Silva wafting a leg at the shot – at his near post.