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A crucial deflection, and maybe a diversion in the fortune of many of those involved in this growing fixture. Arsenal claimed their first Premier League victory over Manchester City since December 2015, and the first points for Mikel Arteta against his old employers.
The Gunners came into the match facing the prospect of 13 losses in a row against the champions, but it was instead Arsenal that enjoyed the luck as the numbers finally changed.
City themselves have lost two successive league games for the first time since December 2018, after Gabriel Martinelli’s opportunistic effort cannoned off the head of Nathan Ake and past Ederson for a win that may yet prove significant in the burgeoning title race.
That shouldn’t just be dismissed as fortune, though, since Arteta’s side forced it. He had quite a telling intervention himself. At a key moment, the Basque introduced Kai Havertz, who offered a moment that may well prove a turning point in his early Arsenal career.
It was the midfielder’s presence of mind and spatial awareness that set up Martinelli.
It was also precisely the area that Rodri usually patrols, which ensured that these two league defeats in a row also made it three defeats from three without the defensive midfielder commonly seen as the best in the world now.
That in turn made City look less than the European and English champions they are. They can admittedly point to other absences, but Arsenal were themselves missing Bukayo Saka to go with lesser depth.
This will give the north Londoners much more substance, certainly from a psychological perspective. They won’t feel inferior any more. That could be seen in Declan Rice’s raucous reaction after the match, having put in a superb individual performance.
It was more than deserved. City had never really been at it. Erling Haaland again went without scoring.
One of City’s most productive periods of attacking was actually in the opening few minutes, only to be shut down by Rice. That was to become a theme. This moment was much more box-office than all the steadier work he did, as the midfielder headed a bouncing Josko Gvardiol strike off the line. It was in this period that City were closest to the Arsenal goal – if not necessarily any closer to a goal than that – as Julian Alvarez had evidently been instructed to hound David Raya for every touch. One quickfire interception was so close that it seemed like it rippled the inside of the net rather than the side. It felt like something that could end up proving influential, as did Michael Oliver’s first big refereeing decision.
Rice and Jorginho did an awful lot to steady the general element of chaos about the Arsenal defending and get their side much higher up the pitch, and that evidently frustrated Mateo Kovacic. The Croatian went in wildly with two challenges.
If Kovacic was fortunate the first wasn’t given as a red, it was simply remarkable it wasn’t two bookings.
That just summed up how something wasn’t quite right about City. They weren’t always the only team like that, too.
For a long time, it felt like it could be destined for a 0-0, amid that sense it was a game between the top two that came that bit too early in the season. There was a lot of frantic action but not that much focus or purpose. It was as if there was initially a subconscious awareness there was so much more football to come, lessening the stakes as well as the intensity. Neither of the managers felt like that, mind. They were watching in increasing agitation, looking to affect something.
Arteta did so first. Arsenal did admittedly recover from their erratic start to assert themselves but most of their attacks were Gabriel Jesus or Martin Odegaard trying to dribble through. It was really as if Arsenal were missing Saka’s intensity.
With a quarter of the match remaining, Alvarez was taken off for Jeremy Doku but City persisted with getting on Raya any time he got on the ball.
Arsenal responded by introducing Havertz.
It was to prove inspired, in a subtle way, which was a bit like how to describe the onfield product of that change. On 86 minutes, with the game looking like it was going to peter out in a stalemate but with Arsenal still pushing, the German found a bit of space around the area to also find Martinelli.
The Brazilian forward took his chance and the shot, to claim the reward. He got some luck, but he had made that luck.
It now completely changes Arsenal’s outlook for the season, as well as the very profile of the title race. Just nine days ago, after all, City had a 100 per cent record and looked like they could just roll to a record four titles in a row.
They are now back in third, two behind both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, and one ahead of Liverpool. It is enticingly tight, even if it is still early.
Arsenal’s late winner brought that feeling, as well as so much more emotion around the stadium. The significance of this was all too palpable, for the team, as well as so many individuals involved. This time, after that shot, it fell for them.