Rodri scored a stoppage-time winner as Manchester City beat 10-man Arsenal in an incident-packed encounter to move 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League.
That advantage will be cut to some extent on Sunday when second-placed Chelsea host third-placed Liverpool, although no team has failed to win the Premier League title when beginning the new year with a lead as big as City’s.
Arsenal looked to have held out for a draw, but Rodri steered in a loose ball in the 93rd minute to help City claim an 11th successive league win in a game that also had two major VAR incidents and an avoidable red card for Gunners defender Gabriel Magalhaes.
The hosts were the better side early on at Emirates Stadium, and Bukayo Saka swept in a deserved opener to finish off a slick move before the Gunners self-destructed after the break.
Riyad Mahrez levelled from the penalty spot after Bernardo Silva was brought down by Granit Xhaka, referee Stuart Attwell overturning his initial decision after viewing the pitchside monitor.
Arsenal felt aggrieved at that call after their own shouts for a penalty in the first half were denied following a long VAR check for Ederson’s tackle on Martin Odegaard.
But one minute after conceding from a penalty Gabriel was sent off for two yellow cards in quick succession, the first for trying to scuff up the spot and the second for a foul on Gabriel Jesus.
Arsenal, whose manager Mikel Arteta was forced to watch from home following a positive Covid-19 test, remain fourth in the table.
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City outlast improved Gunners
City are the blueprint for Arsenal in terms of their playing style and philosophy and, while a young Gunners side remain some way behind in their evolution under former City assistant manager Arteta, they showed how far they have come this season.
Pep Guardiola found his City team up against a completely different outfit to the one they dismantled 5-0 in August to briefly send Arsenal to the bottom of the table.
Guardiola said beforehand this would be the best Arsenal team he has faced during his time in England, despite Arteta – the Gunners’ “most important player”, according to Guardiola – having to watch this one unfold from home.
With assistant Albert Stuivenberg on the touchline, the energetic hosts swarmed and pressed in an electric opening half an hour.
They capitalised on their dominant start with a goal out of the leaders’ playbook, Ben White winning back possession and starting a swift counter-attack which ended when Kieran Tierney slid a ball weighted perfectly for Saka to send a first-time finish into the bottom corner.
It was only the second first-half goal Manchester City have conceded in the league this season.
An earlier slick move had put Martin Odegaard in behind the City defence only for goalkeeper Ederson to get a touch on the ball, with the video assistant referee taking a long look before agreeing with the on-field decision that it was not a penalty.
Perhaps that added to Arsenal’s frustration when they had a penalty awarded against them after VAR intervened, but a momentary loss of composure cost them.
Gabriel’s two yellow cards came either side of Gabriel Martinelli striking the bar in what was a frantic few minutes after Mahrez levelled from the spot.
Arsenal were forced to dig in and defend after that and looked to have done enough until a hopeful cross from the right dropped to midfielder Rodri, who poked the ball beyond Aaron Ramsdale.
Despite their improvement, it means Arsenal have lost all five of their Premier League meetings under Arteta against former mentor Guardiola.
A late blow for City’s title rivals
Guardiola’s domestic juggernauts racked up records for goals and points in 2021 and will finish New Year’s Day in 2022 with a lead that has only been bettered twice in the Premier League era.
Manchester United in 1993-94 and City themselves in 2017-18 – both of whom held 12-point leads – went on to win the competition and Rodri’s late goal must have left City’s title rivals feeling deflated this time round.
They did have early chances. Gabriel Jesus steered a header wide and Ruben Dias flicked another beyond the post, but the game turned in their favour after the break.
City have not lost in the league since October and have had to show resilience in their past two games to maintain their impressive winning run.
But, for all the goals and free-flowing football, it may just be the 1-0 win at Brentford on Wednesday and this victory – their latest winning goal in the league in more than three years – that gives City the edge come the end of the season.
Player of the match
with an average of 7.35
Squad number7Player nameSaka
Squad number5Player namePartey
Squad number3Player nameTierney
Squad number18Player nameTomiyasu
Squad number35Player nameGabriel Martinelli
Squad number8Player nameØdegaard
Squad number4Player nameWhite
Squad number9Player nameLacazette
Squad number32Player nameRamsdale
Squad number10Player nameSmith Rowe
Squad number16Player nameHolding
Squad number25Player nameMohamed Elneny
Squad number34Player nameXhaka
Squad number6Player nameGabriel Magalhães
Squad number26Player nameMahrez
Squad number16Player nameRodri
Squad number17Player nameDe Bruyne
Squad number31Player nameEderson
Squad number3Player nameRúben Dias
Squad number27Player nameJoão Cancelo
Squad number6Player nameAké
Squad number20Player nameBernardo Silva
Squad number8Player nameGündogan
Squad number14Player nameLaporte
Squad number9Player nameGabriel Jesus
Squad number7Player nameSterling
- 6GabrielBooked at 59mins
- 34XhakaBooked at 55mins
- 7SakaBooked at 63minsSubstituted forElnenyat 84′minutes
- 8ØdegaardSubstituted forHoldingat 63′minutesBooked at 68mins
- 9LacazetteSubstituted forSmith Roweat 71′minutes
- 10Smith Rowe
- 17Cédric Soares
- 23Sambi Lokonga
- 3Rúben Dias
- 20Bernardo SilvaBooked at 90mins
- 16RodriBooked at 90mins
- 17De Bruyne
- 9Gabriel JesusSubstituted forGündoganat 63′minutes
- Stuart Attwell
Match ends, Arsenal 1, Manchester City 2.
Second Half ends, Arsenal 1, Manchester City 2.
Foul by Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City).
Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Bernardo Silva (Manchester City) is shown the yellow card.
Offside, Manchester City. Raheem Sterling tries a through ball, but Kevin De Bruyne is caught offside.
Rodri (Manchester City) is shown the yellow card for excessive celebration.
Goal! Arsenal 1, Manchester City 2. Rodri (Manchester City) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal.
Attempt blocked. Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt blocked. João Cancelo (Manchester City) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Kevin De Bruyne.
João Cancelo (Manchester City) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Kieran Tierney (Arsenal).
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Nathan Aké.
Offside, Manchester City. Nathan Aké tries a through ball, but Rúben Dias is caught offside.
Corner, Manchester City. Conceded by Granit Xhaka.
Attempt blocked. Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the right is blocked. Assisted by João Cancelo.
Substitution, Arsenal. Mohamed Elneny replaces Bukayo Saka.
Hand ball by Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).
Attempt blocked. Rúben Dias (Manchester City) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
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