Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger felt his team had produced a fine response to their critics after claiming a superb victory at champions Manchester City.
Scorers: Arsenal - Cazorla (pen 24), Giroud (67)
Goals by the impressive Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud gave the Gunners an unexpected 2-0 success at the Etihad Stadium and considerably enhanced their Barclays Premier League top-four prospects.
It has generally been a mixed campaign for the London side but Wenger feels his men, whose recent struggles against top-four sides have been well-documented, have now shown what they are capable of.
Wenger said: “I felt that we were well-disciplined, well-organised, had a good solidarity and overall we kept a good control of the game. We could even have done better on counter-attacks.
“People are very quick on their judgment – you forget that we had many defenders out all season. As you saw today the centre-backs are a good partnership and it takes time to get back to that level.
“It’s down to everybody doing their job. The first goal dictates the way of the game in these big games and today we scored first.
“We looked in control away from home and we finally got a big win in a big game away from home. What is pleasing is that reinforces the belief of the team. To feel that you can do well is very important. The five months in front are very important in the lifespan of our team. They will determine our season.”
City controlled possession throughout but lacked creativity despite the return of top scorer Sergio Aguero to their starting line-up. Arsenal looked the more dangerous on the ball and created the better chances, although it needed a penalty for them to go ahead after Vincent Kompany was adjudged to have impeded Nacho Monreal.
“My initial reaction from the bench was penalty,” said Wenger in his post-match press conference. “Somebody told me we were a little bit fortunate but I have to watch it again.
“The confidence of the team is high and some players are in good form. When we scored the first goal it was easier for us to control and we looked always dangerous when we won the ball. We had good solidarity and compactness.
“The regret is we didn’t always take advantage of the situations we created in the final third. We had opportunities to score more goals.”
The win lifted Arsenal within a point of fourth-placed Manchester United but for City, it was another agonising result.
Having completely wiped out the eight-point advantage leaders Chelsea once held over them over Christmas, the champions now find themselves trailing by five points again.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini now accepts his side’s trip to Chelsea in a fortnight is vital to their hopes of retaining the title. He said: “The game we must play at Stamford Bridge is a very important game. We must close the gap to two points.
“I hope we are going to recover and play the way we have been playing so far.”
Pellegrini felt City were not their usual attacking selves. The Chilean, whose side are now heading to Abu Dhabi for a warm-weather training camp, said: “With the ball we didn’t have clear ideas. I think we didn’t play a good game.
“We ran a lot and had a lot of possession but we didn’t have creative ideas to try and find the space against a team that defend very well.
“We conceded two goals from set-pieces. I doubt it was a penalty but after the penalty we had enough time and we didn’t create many chances to score.”
City are currently without the services of midfielder Yaya Toure due to the African Nations Cup and his absence – as it has during previous editions of the tournament – was noted.
City have also not won a Premier League game without the Ivorian in their ranks since April. Pellegrini said: “I think Yaya is a very important player but I never have excuses. We play other games without Yaya and can win also. I never have excuses with one or two players why we don’t win.”
Arsenal looked the more incisive of the teams from the start at times and fit-again City captain Kompany was made to look rusty.
Kompany’s defensive partner Martin Demichelis also had some moments of uncertainty and Arsenal went close to taking the lead from one of them.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seized on a weak Demichelis header and burst down the right before whipping in an inviting cross for Giroud but the Frenchman glanced his header wide.
The Gunners broke through five minutes later as Monreal attempted to play a one-two with Giroud and was impeded by Kompany as he continued his run into the box.
The Spaniard may have gone to ground easily but referee Mike Dean was in no doubt about the contact and Cazorla took full advantage from the spot.
City were unable to muster a dangerous response despite controlling plenty of the ball. One good Pablo Zabaleta break yielded nothing and Aguero was off-target with a header from a James Milner cross.
Kompany’s frustrating afternoon continued as he was booked for a heavy challenge on Giroud.
Pellegrini reverted to his default 4-4-2 set-up after the break as Stevan Jovetic replaced Milner and moved alongside Aguero. The change of approach initially appeared to work and Aguero had their first serious shot with an effort that deflected wide.
But the game also opened up and Sanchez curled an effort across goal after turning Zabaleta out wide.
Arsenal applied the killer touch on 67 minutes after Sanchez was fouled by Jovetic. Cazorla clipped a free kick into the area and Giroud reacted quickest, losing his marker Fernando to head home in simple fashion.
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernandinho (Lampard 63), Fernando, Jesus Navas (Dzeko 76), Silva, Milner (Jovetic 46), Aguero. Subs Not Used: Sagna, Kolarov, Caballero, Mangala.
Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Rosicky 66), Ramsey (Flamini 84), Cazorla, Sanchez (Gibbs 84), Giroud. Subs Not Used: Szczesny, Ozil, Walcott, Chambers.