Report and free highlights as Pep Guardiola’s side continue march towards Premier League title; Raheem Sterling’s early header proves decisive; City 10 points ahead of Leicester at top
Sunday 21 February 2021 18:37, UK
Raheem Sterling scored the game’s only goal as runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City stretched their winning run to 18 games with a 1-0 victory at Arsenal.
Sterling leapt to meet a Riyad Mahrez cross with just two minutes on the clock and might have had a hat-trick during a strikingly mismatched opening period that suggested another emphatic afternoon’s work for Pep Guardiola’s side.
A second proved elusive but though Arsenal, whose European prospects take a blow, grew into the contest, they were unable to punish City’s second-half lethargy in attack, with Ruben Dias commanding once again in defence.
City remain 10 points clear of second-placed Leicester, whose own impressive run continued at Aston Villa, while Arsenal remain in mid-table, 11 points off fourth spot and six behind sixth-placed Liverpool.
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Both sides had made five changes amid the relentless schedule and though Kieran Tierney was back to boost Arsenal, Kevin De Bruyne’s return to the starting line-up – eight straight wins earned in his absence – was an ominous reminder of City’s riches.
There had been a slick give-and-go between De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan from the off but though Sterling swiped into air at the back post, he nodded City ahead moments later from a Mahrez cross that Ruben Dias had prompted with a raking diagonal.
Sterling should have had a swift second, Arsenal dizzy down Tierney’s flank, but after De Bruyne’s piercing pass left Hector Bellerin redundant, the England forward dribbled into trouble.
City were toying with their opponents, assertive on the ball and aggressive without it, and a rare first-half Arsenal attack saw Bukayo Saka unwittingly scuppered by an offside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. “They look demoralised,” said Gary Neville before the half-hour mark had even passed.
But Tierney, who fizzed a shot at Ederson from distance, was steadily growing in influence, and a half-time scoreline that belied City’s dominance offered home encouragement that seemed unlikely in the early stages.
De Bruyne clipped an effort dropped just wide of Bernd Leno’s goal after the restart, while Gundogan drew a strong hand from his countryman, but the contest took on a more even complexion as Arsenal squeezed up the pitch.
Guardiola introduced Gabriel Jesus for fresh forward presence with the game drifting, a Joao Cancelo shank thumped by Ederson towards Mohamed Elneny summing up the slackness, while Arteta called for his own reinforcements in Alexandre Lacazette and Emile Smith Rowe.
Cancelo lifted the monotony with an outside-of-the-boot attempt that went narrowly wide, Holding replaced by a concussion substitute in David Luiz as he tried to thwart the attack.
Dias, so impressive once again alongside John Stones, outmuscled Lacazette with ease, before Jesus blazed over in the penultimate minute but City’s early riser in Sterling kept them looking down by some distance on their rivals.
Man of the match – Ruben Dias
Man of the Match🍾: @ManCity's Ruben Dias
Most touches & passes completed 🥇
Joint most dribbles completed 🏃♂️
11th clean sheet in 13 @premierleague starts alongside John Stones ⛔
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville:
“Absolutely fantastic performance again. I thought that [Aymeric] Laporte would be the rock of this defence for many years to come but Dias is turning out to be the star man.
“We asked how they would replace [Vincent] Kompany. Well, watching Dias week-in, week-out, he’s so young, physically brilliant, great on the ball, and he’s got real leadership qualities. He was outstanding today.”
Both sides return to European competition before their next Premier League assignments.
Arsenal face Benfica in a Europa League last-32 decider – having drawn 1-1 in the first leg – on Thursday, before travelling to Leicester on Sunday for a lunchtime kick-off.
Manchester City take on Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday for their Champions League last 16 first leg, followed by in-form West Ham on Saturday.
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