Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud on target as Arsenal beat Manchester City
Arsenal sealed their supporting role behind Leicester in the Barclays Premier League Christmas billing by beating fellow title hopefuls Manchester City 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night.
Arsene Wenger's side soaked up some early City pressure before Theo Walcott curled home just after the half-hour mark for his first league goal since he scored in the 5-2 win over the Foxes in September.
The Gunners even have their own answer to Leicester hot-shot Jamie Vardy as Olivier Giroud made it 12 goals in 14 games, doubling Arsenal's advantage on the stroke of half-time with Yaya Toure's late consolation not enough to prevent the hosts winning.
The victory leaves Arsenal two points behind leaders Leicester, while Manuel Pellegrini's City remain six points adrift as their indifferent form away from home continues.
Arsenal's 2-0 victory at City in January was a result Wenger said gave him and his players belief they could beat the big teams and challenge for the title.
And much of this performance was similar to that at the Etihad Stadium, and the recent Champions League victory over Bayern Munich here, as Wenger's side put in a professional and measured display rather than adopting a risky approach of all-out attack.
The momentum before the game appeared to be with the visitors who welcomed Sergio Aguero back into their side after a heel injury, while Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez had failed in his own attempt to be fit for the clash.
And the hosts started slowly with City's Kevin De Bruyne getting in the first meaningful shot of the game as he drew a save out of former Chelsea team-mate Petr Cech at the midway point of a first half.
It was then De Bruyne who was guilty of passing up the best chance of the half as Arsenal over-committed and were caught out on the counter-attack.
The winger broke down the right before cutting inside and arrowing a shot wide instead of passing inside to an onrushing David Silva.
Moments later a simple ball into Mesut Ozil allowed him to play in Walcott, who carried the ball back out of the penalty area before arching a superb finish past the despairing dive of his England team-mate Joe Hart.
And things got even better for Wenger's men on the stroke of half-time as Eliaquim Mangala gifted possession to the Gunners and Ozil again produced the assist, sliding in a pass for Giroud to finish between Hart's legs.
Pellegrini introduced Raheem Sterling at the break, but it was Joel Campbell who should have added a third soon after the restart - however, he could only sweep Nacho Monreal's cross over Hart's crossbar.
Aguero then made way for Wilfried Bony having lasted a little over an hour on his latest comeback from injury and Toure gave City a lifeline as he guided a measured left-foot finish past Cech with eight minutes remaining.
Bony then saw a shot deflected behind as Arsenal began to drop back further towards their own goal - inviting further efforts from Ivory Coast pair Bony and Toure towards the death.
But Arsenal hung on to take another vital three points and remain on the coat-tails of surprise leaders Leicester heading into the festive fixtures.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
@Joey7Barton: "If Pep goes to City, it's a 4-5 hundred million pound rebuilding job in current market? Is that possible with FFP?" Former Manchester City midfielder Joey Barton was not impressed with what he saw from Manuel Pellegrini's men.
Petr Cech: 6
Hector Bellerin: 6
Per Mertesacker: 7
Laurent Koscielny: 7
Nacho Monreal: 7
Mathieu Flamini: 6
Aaron Ramsey: 5
Theo Walcott: 7
Mesut Ozil: 8
Joel Campbell: 6
Olivier Giroud: 7
Kieran Gibbs: 5
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: 5
Calum Chambers: 5
Joe Hart: 6
Bacary Sagna: 5
Nicolas Otamendi: 5
Eliaquim Mangala: 5
Aleksandar Kolarov: 6
Yaya Toure: 7
Fabian Delph: 5
David Silva: 6
Sergio Aguero: 5
Kevin De Bruyne: 6
Wilfried Bony: 6
Jesus Navas: 6
Mesut Ozil: Another two assists from Arsenal's mercurial pass-master but the German international also put in a shift. Making challenges in his own box as well as finding the space to lay on goals for Walcott and Giroud - with the latter another perfectly-weighted pass into the run of a team-mate. He is making the game look easy at present and was given a deserved rest as he came off with 13 minutes remaining.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Theo Walcott: Injuries may have curtailed his first half of the season but the England forward opened the scoring at just the right time for Arsenal just moments after De Bruyne had missed a good chance for City. Walcott's confidence to take an Ozil pass and fire perfectly past Hart summed up the mood at the Emirates Stadium at the moment and set them on course for another big win.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Wenger was unable to call upon Sanchez but he did not need him. Despite what he brings to this Arsenal side, Giroud and Ozil are on fire at the moment and Walcott is getting back to his best. On the other hand, Pellegrini did opt to play his own talismanic forward in Aguero but the Argentinian was ineffectual as once again City's defence was shown up in the absence of Vincent Kompany.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Just what is wrong with City's form on the road? They have not won away from the Etihad Stadium since September 12 and it is damaging their title chances. Pellegrini's men never looked like addressing this worrying statistic today and their next away day comes at league-leaders Leicester on December 28.
WHO'S UP NEXT
Southampton v Arsenal (Barclays Premier League, Saturday, December 26)
Man City v Sunderland (Barclays Premier League, Saturday, December 26)
Arsenal boss Wenger hailed his side's spirit after their victory.
He told Sky Sports 1: "It was a very intense game at a high pace. I believe that we have shown our talents of spirit, organisation and brilliance all together and that gave us three points. When we had not the legs any more we relied on the spirit and that got us through in the end.
"You could see when the legs went - Ozil was sick all week - but they still keep going. That's fantastic to see.
"Our belief is strong. We have a bit more maturity in the side now, which you could see in the game when we were under pressure and we could deal with it.
"Every win strengthens the belief when it's a big game like that."
Opening goalscorer Walcott lavished praise on Ozil, who ended the game with another two assists.
He said: "The thing about Mesut is he sees things. He knows what you're going to do before you do it you just have to make that run. Again, when you've got special players on the pitch that provides special moments."
Ozil downplayed his role in the team's display.
He added: "I'm happy to help the team. You see on the pitch all my team-mates help me so I can play my game, so I try to help the team."
City boss Pellegrini bemoaned missed chances and errors in defence.
He said: "We played better than Arsenal in the first half. The first shot they had was the first goal. Before that we had a clear option to score and we didn't score.
"The second goal was very important, in the last minute, and it was a mistake from our team.
"In the second half we took more risks and had options to have at least a draw.
"I think we did better than Arsenal, we had more possession, more chances, but we didn't win the game. In this important game we can't make so many mistakes."
Toure added: "In the end we were a little bit unlucky, we had a couple of chances. It was quite disappointing. We were in control of the game but Arsenal were very clever and when we lost the ball they came forward quick.
"We need to bounce back on Saturday. The games are coming quick and we need to get all the players fit and try to do the business."