MANCHESTER — Manchester City took charge of the Premier League title race on Wednesday after thrashing Arsenal 4-1 at Etihad Stadium.
Kevin De Bruyne scored once in each half either side of John Stones’ 45th-minute header before Erling Haaland added a fourth in stoppage time to cut the Gunners’ lead at the top to just two points, with Pep Guardiola’s side still possessing two games in hand.
– Report: Man City thrash Arsenal to take charge of title race
City grabbed the initiative in the seventh minute when Erling Haaland fed De Bruyne in space and the Belgian playmaker curled home a fine effort from 20 yards. Haaland continued to cause Arsenal all manner of problems as goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was called into action on several occasions before the Gunners were undone by a set-piece on the stroke of half-time.
De Bruyne swung in a free-kick that Stones met at the far post with a header back across Ramsdale, a goal which was initially ruled out for offside before VAR David Coote intervened.
City remained in almost total control after half-time with Haaland and De Bruyne combining again for the home side’s third on 54 minutes. Holding briefly gave Arsenal hope with a side-footed finish from inside the box on 86 minutes but Haaland eventually got his goal at the death, collecting substitute Phil Foden’s deflected pass before firing left-footed past Ramsdale.
City can move above Arsenal on Sunday with victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage.
1. Man City make an emphatic statement
This was supposed to be a titanic tussle between the two best sides in England, only it ended up being men against boys. City were utterly dominant from the first whistle in a one-sided contest that felt like a restoration of the natural order given Pep Guardiola’s side have won four of the last five Premier Leagues. They are now strong favourites to make it five league titles in six years given that Arsenal’s lead has been cut to just two points despite having played two games more.
It would be harsh on this young Gunners side to suggest they’ve collapsed under the pressure given the high benchmark City set every season, but the freedom and confidence in their play of the last nine months or so has given way to inhibition and doubt.
City were a class apart here in a manner that will be demoralising to an Arsenal squad that has lost momentum and confidence at precisely the wrong time. They responded brilliantly to losing at home to City, winning seven consecutive League matches, and they’ll likely have to go on a similar run now to have any chance of avoiding finishing in second place.
2. Haaland dominates Holding as De Bruyne runs riot
All evening, Haaland and De Bruyne’s combination play was simply too much for Arsenal to handle. City went more direct than usual, perhaps targeting an Arsenal centre-back partnership weakened by the absence of William Saliba due to a back injury. Gabriel Magalhaes has looked noticeably shakier in Saliba’s absence while Holding has started just six League matches all season — it’s worth noting here that Arsenal have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of them.
Haaland bullied Holding on Wednesday night, most obviously for the opening goal when shielding possession from his rival before finding De Bruyne for the opening goal. It was a complete performance from the Norway international: this win marked the second time Haaland has registered more than one assist in a City match, the other coming in October’s 6-3 win over Manchester United.
De Bruyne was allowed to run in behind Arsenal’s midfield with almost embarrassing ease, with only the acrobatics of Ramsdale keeping the score respectable. Holding’s late consolation goal was well-taken, but it should not mask what went before, especially given it came in a phase of the game where City began conserving personnel and energy for the challenges that lie ahead.
In the end, Haaland deserved his goal for sheer perseverance, taking his tally to 33 in the league and a staggering 49 in all competitions.
3. Pupil Arteta put in his place by teacher Guardiola
The longstanding affection Guardiola and Arteta have will remain undiminished by Wednesday’s heavy loss, but the sheer gulf between the two sides here leaves no doubt as to who remains the best manager in the Premier League, with a big gap to everyone else.
Arteta is usually a bundle of energy on the touchline during Arsenal games, but he spent a sustained period in the first half sat in consultation with his coaches, seemingly trying to work out an idea of how to stop wave after wave of City’s attacks. In hindsight, he may regret deploying Holding at centre-back and pursuing a 4-3-3 shape in which De Bruyne in particular found it far too easy to drift into midfield space.
Arteta’s know-how — together with former City players Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko 00 was talked up beforehand as a possible advantage for Arsenal, but City simply looked unstoppable and the Arsenal boss was out-thought by Guardiola. Haaland dropped deep to link the play in a way they seemingly failed to anticipate, finishing the game with 36 touches — notably more than his average of 28 in matches against the Big Six this season.
Arteta has improved Arsenal immeasurably this season, but Wednesday was a reminder of the distance left to travel. — James Olley
GK Ederson, GK, 7: He got an ear-bashing from Pep Guardiola while everyone else was celebrating City’s first goal but otherwise had a quiet night as Arsenal struggled to create a meaningful chance.
DF Kyle Walker, 8: A surprise inclusion ahead of Aymeric Laporte, he kept Gabriel Martinelli so quiet that he barely had a touch of the ball before being substituted early.
DF Manuel Akanji, 8: Asked to play at left-back in the absence of Nathan Ake. It was a tough job to mark Arsenal’s best player in Bukayo Saka but he won his duel.
DF John Stones, 8: Moved to centre-back from right-back to accommodate Walker, he scored with a header which looped inside the far post having initially been ruled out for offside.
DF Ruben Dias, 7: Booked for kicking out at Ben White but apart from that he defended so well that Arsenal only really looked like scoring when the game was already done and dusted.
MF Rodri, 7: The Spain international helped City win the battle in midfield and he made an important block in his own penalty area from Rob Holding just after the third goal.
MF Ilkay Gundogan, 7: The German was so calm in midfield and barely gave the ball away. His discipline and positioning allowed De Bruyne the freedom to roam forward and hurt Arsenal.
MF Kevin De Bruyne, 9: In a huge game, City’s main man stepped up, scoring twice and setting up another. Arsenal had no answer to his runs from deep and he could have had a hat-trick.
FW Bernardo Silva, 9: Started on the right wing and finished the game in the centre of midfield. He does a lot of the unseen dirty work against the best teams which is why he’s Guardiola’s big-game player.
FW Jack Grealish, 7: As usual, he took a lot of knocks but also kept Ben White pinned back in his own half. Impressive work rate saw him take the ball off Bukayo Saka in his own box.
FW Erling Haaland, 8: It was a good night for Haaland in that he was involved in City’s build up and had assists for both of De Bruyne’s goals. He eventually got his customary goal with his sixth chance of the night.
MF Riyad Mahrez (for Ilkay Gundogan 70), 6: Sensible on the ball as City played out the game.
FW Julian Alvarez (for Kevin De Bruyne 80): Too late to mark.
FW Phil Foden (for Jack Grealish, 87): Too late to mark.
Not used: Stefan Ortega, Kalvin Phillips, Aymeric Laporte, Sergio Gomez, Cole Palmer, Rico Lewis.
GK Aaron Ramsdale, 6: He made a mess of a cross from Jack Grealish early on and should have done better with De Bruyne’s first goal, which came shot from 20 yards. Made two good saves from Erling Haaland later on.
DF Ben White, 6: He saved Arsenal when De Bruyne ran through for a second time in the first half, producing a full-length block to keep the score at 1-0, but then played Stones onside for his goal.
DF Oleks Zinchenko, 6: The former City full-back did his best to give Arsenal an outlet down the left but he was up against Kyle Walker, who looked back to his best.
DF Gabriel, 5: De Bruyne isn’t the quickest, but he blew past Gabriel to score his goal which put Arsenal on the back foot after just seven minutes.
DF Rob Holding, 5: Arsenal’s weak link was bullied by Erling Haaland in the build-up to City’s first goal. By the time he got Arsenal’s consolation goal, it was already too late.
MF Thomas Partey, 6: Lucky that he didn’t concede an early penalty for a clumsy challenge on Kevin De Bruyne. Went close with Arsenal’s first real chance after 35 minutes.
MF Granit Xhaka, 5: It didn’t reflect well on the Switzerland midfielder that time and time again, City steamrollered right through the centre of Arsenal and when Mikel Arteta made his first changes in the second half, he came off.
MF Martin Odegaard, 5: Stopped from having any real influence on the game by Rodri and needlessly gave the ball away in midfield in the build up to De Bruyne’s second goal which killed the game.
FW Bukayo Saka, 6: The England winger would have expected to get the better of Manuel Akanji, a central defender playing out of position at left-back, but aside from a couple of runs in the first half he rarely threatened.
FW Gabriel Martinelli, 5: The Brazilian was up against Walker down Arsenal’s left but only managed 10 touches in the first half and it wasn’t a surprise when he was substituted before an hour had been played.
FW Gabriel Jesus, 5: It was a chastening night on his return to City with the Brazilian striker failing to muster even one shot before he was substituted with the game already lost.
FW Leandro Trossard (for Martinelli, 59), 6: Couldn’t turn the tide for Arsenal.
MF Jorginho (for Xhaka, 59), 6: Had a better night than Xhaka.
FW Emile Smith Rowe (for Odegaard, 70), 6: Looked rusty but didn’t see much of the ball.
FW Eddie Nketiah (for Gabriel Jesus, 80), NR : Too late to mark.
Reiss Nelson (for Bakayo Saka, 80), NR : Too late to mark.
Not used: Matt Turner, Kieran Tierney, Jakub Kiwior, Fabio Vieira. — Rob Dawson
Highlights and notable moments
THE CHAMPIONS STRIKE FIRST!
📺: @peacock | #MCIARS pic.twitter.com/UjokfdUCqh
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 26, 2023
ERLING HAALAND BREAKS MO SALAH’S 38-MATCH RECORD!#ManCity pic.twitter.com/h0JyAlNmWu
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 26, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
“I think it’s a big game. It’s always important to win this game. A lot of people will say about the title but in our mind we had to perform well and we did. We still have seven games to play so there’s a lot going on. Man City midfielder Kevin de Bruyne, to BBC Sport
– Manchester City: improves to 23-4-4 (W-D-L) in Premier League this season; 2 points away from Arsenal with 2 games in hand
– Manchester City: 90% chance of winning Premier League, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index; entered Wednesday with 77% chance of winning Premier League
– Kevin De Bruyne (MNC): 2 Goals (7′, 54′), Ast; passes Yaya Touré for 3rd-most PL goals in club history; also ties Frank Lampard for 4th-most assists in Premier League history
– De Bruyne: 8 career goals against Arsenal, his most against any club
– Erling Haaland (MNC): Goal (90’+5), 2 Assists; 33 PL goals this season, 1 away from tying single-season PL record shared by 1994-95 Alan Shearer and 1993-94 Andy Cole (34 each)
– Haaland: 2nd game with 2 assists for Man City (had just 1 in all competitions with Dortmund)
– Haaland: 49 goals, 8 assists in all competitions this season; 15 more goal contributions than any othe player from Europe’s top 5 leagues (Mbappé: 42 – 34 G, 8 A)
– Arsenal: 8th straight road loss to Manchester City in all competitions, the club’s longest road losing streak against a single club since losing 8 straight on the road to Liverpool from 1981-88 (T-2nd longest road losing streak vs single club in team history)
Manchester City: The games don’t stop for Pep Guardiola’s side, with three Premier League fixtures over the next 10 days before they take on Real Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal (May 9). On Sunday, they visit Fulham followed by home dates with West Ham (May 3) and Leeds United (May 6).
Arsenal If Arteta’s side is to rally and win the league, they need a week with maximum points starting with a home game vs. Chelsea (May 2) and an away date at Newcastle (May 7).