Top Gunners: Walcott rocket fires Gunners' quest for glory
Arsenal 2 Man City 1
Published 22/12/2015 | 02:30
Grit and determination, two qualities not usually associated with Arsenal, carried Arsène Wenger's team over the line to a seismic victory against Manchester City.
The question now is whether the same combination, allied with the flair of Mesut Özil, can carry them to the Premier League title.
Leicester City, two points clear at the top of the table, may have something to say about that, but this win for Arsenal was about more than Theo Walcott's breathtaking opening goal and Olivier Giroud's neat finish for the second.
Özil was the creator for both and the German is making the difference, but the biggest plus from this victory was the resolve displayed by Arsenal as they withstood a late City siege following Yaya Touré's late goal.
The huge cheer at the end and embraces of Wenger's players said it all. This was a big win and one which proves that Arsenal are genuine title contenders.
Arsenal's 2-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium in January proved a key moment of last season for Wenger's players, with the win banishing all those doubts about their ability to deliver against the strongest opponents.
Sometimes it requires a blow to be struck against a weighty rival for belief to grow and Arsenal certainly became a force to be reckoned with after emerging from east Manchester with all three points.
It is why they began this season as title challengers but, as the campaign approaches its halfway stage, the sceptics continue to question Arsenal's ability to end their 12-year title drought, even though they began this game ahead of City, second only to surprise leaders Leicester.
Perhaps it is Arsenal's unpredictability when the heat is on that ensures they still prompt raised eyebrows from those assessing the title contenders, but despite obliterating Manchester United in a destructive 20-minute spell here in October, Wenger's team have also lost at Chelsea and failed to beat Tottenham and Liverpool on home turf.
They remain an enigma, a team who can save their Champions League skins against Olympiakos in Greece but still throw away points at West Bromwich Albion or Norwich City.
But Arsenal remain alive in the title race because all of their traditional rivals are suffering from the same inconsistencies and failings, with City being the perfect example of a big hitter failing to punch their weight.
Manuel Pellegrini's team arrived at the Emirates having failed to win away in the league since mid-September, with no goals scored in any of their last three Premier League games away from the Etihad.
In any other season, City's title hopes would be over as a consequence of such a poor return, but victory here would have moved them into second and they began the game last night playing like the champions many expect them to be in May.
City appeared to possess too much experience and nous in the early stages, with Touré and Fernandinho dominating the midfield, David Silva dictating the tempo in the Arsenal half and Kevin de Bruyne tearing the home side apart down the right flank.
Silva and Fernandinho both shot narrowly over from 20 yards before Silva and De Bruyne had goalbound efforts blocked inside the opening 20 minutes.
When Petr Cech palmed another De Bruyne effort around the post on 23 minutes, it seemed only a matter of time before City would take the lead.
But Arsenal made the breakthrough, in spectacular style, when Walcott scored a stunning goal just seconds after De Bruyne had selfishly denied Silva the opportunity of scoring for City. No wonder Pellegrini threw his hands in the air on the touchline.
Having been released by Sergio Aguero's first-time ball from Nicolas Otamendi's pass, De Bruyne powered down the right and broke into the penalty area with Silva unmarked 10 yards to his left.
But rather than play the square ball for Silva to tap in, De Bruyne took the shot himself - and fired his shot wide.
Arsenal survived, mounted an attack of their own and, having received the ball from Özil, Walcott turned and curled a right-foot shot beyond Joe Hart to put Arsenal ahead with their first chance.
De Bruyne skulked away to the far side, probably feeling the glares of his team-mates in the back of his head as he trudged back into position.
Then again, the same could be said of Eliaquim Mangala following his part in Arsenal's second goal on the stroke of half-time.
The Frenchman's careless clearance was too high for Fernandinho to control, enabling Nacho Monreal to intercept and thread the ball to Özil.
Once again, the German picked a hole in the City defence, releasing Giroud, who struck the ball through Hart's legs to make it 2-0.
Pellegrini replaced Fabian Delph with Raheem Sterling at half-time, but the former Liverpool player's first contribution was to be outmuscled by Walcott in a rare tussle for the ball near the opposition penalty area. It got no better for Sterling, who once again flattered to deceive.
The same accusation used to be levelled at Arsenal's flair players, but not on this occasion. Every one of them ran the extra mile, including Özil, and after struggling to get to grips with the game in the first-half, they hauled the pendulum back in their favour and pressed for a third goal.
Arsenal twice went close through Joel Campbell before Hart kept out an Aaron Ramsey effort with his face after the Welshman had been teed up by Campbell.
City then substituted Aguero after a robust challenge by Monreal and the Argentine's departure seemed to raise the white flag until Touré's stunning 82nd-minute lofted strike from the edge of the area signalled a late, desperate surge.
But they are under-performing and under-achieving. Unless they find their form quickly, they will see Arsenal and Leicester disappear over the horizon in the title race.
Arsenal can go into 2016 truly believing that the championship can be theirs. © Independent News Service.