City thrashes Arsenal 6-3 to throw open title race
(AP Photo/Jon Super)
By STEVE DOUGLAS
AP Sports Writer
MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester City delivered another devastating attacking display to beat Premier League leader Arsenal 6-3 in a wild shootout on Saturday, leaving the chastened leaders in range of the chasing pack in the title race.
After putting four goals past Manchester United and six past Tottenham at Etihad Stadium this season, City dismantled another of its main rivals for an eighth straight home win that showed just why Manuel Pellegrini's freescoring team is most pundits' favorites for the title.
Arsenal, weary after a grueling Champions League defeat at Napoli on Wednesday, was breached by prolific strikers Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo in the first half and disintegrated after the break as Fernandinho (two), David Silva and Yaya Toure plundered more goals.
Pellegrini's players are living up to their tag as the Premier League's entertainers - they have scored 35 goals in eight matches at the Etihad and are now just three points off Arsenal.
"At times the tempo was frightening," City captain Vincent Kompany said. "It is a real fortress here."
Arsenal arrived in Manchester with the league's stingiest defense and left with its title credentials back under the microscope.
Theo Walcott scored twice, to make it 1-1 and 3-2, with Per Mertesacker grabbing the Gunners' other goal in second-half stoppage time. But they were ripped apart by City's sparkling forward department, reviving memories of their 8-2 loss at Manchester United in August 2011.
This was Arsenal's third high-intensity match in the space of seven days, having drawn 1-1 with Everton last weekend, and they have clearly taken their toll. Thankfully for the creaking leaders, they have a much-needed nine-day break before playing Chelsea next.
"Our strength until now was our defensive discipline and that went as the game went on," said Wenger, who refused to use the short turnaround from the Napoli game as an excuse.
"It was 6-3 but what hurts me more is that we had an opportunity to put Man City at nine points (behind). It's three tonight and that's difficult to swallow."
City's confidence couldn't be higher at the moment - even its second-choice team beat reigning champion Bayern Munich 3-2 in the Champions League in midweek. And goals are coming from all areas, with Brazilian defensive midfielder Fernandinho finding time to maraud forward and join the party here.
"For me, it's very important to be an entertaining team," City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. "There are managers who prefer to score one goal, hold their team back and try to counter attack. Our philosophy is to continue trying to score more goals. That's the best way to win."
With its away form slowly improving, City appears to be the team to beat in what is proving to be an open, exciting title race. The only negative was the sight of Aguero hobbling off with a right calf injury at the start of the second half. He will have a scan on Sunday.
The omens weren't good for Arsenal from the very first minutes, with the visitors pinned back in their own half and City's overpowering midfield sharper both in possession and off the ball.
Fernandinho delivered arguably his best performance since joining from Shakhtar Donetsk in the offseason and the return from injury of playmaker Silva added even more guile.
The last thing Arsenal's tired backline needed was to deal with a sprightly Aguero and the Argentina striker continued his brilliant scoring run by volleying in expertly in the 14th minute after Samir Nasri's corner was flicked in at the near post by Martin Demichelis. It was Aguero's 19th goal in 20 matches in all competitions.
Walcott equalized against the run of play in the 31st, meeting Mesut Ozil's cut-back with a sidefooted shot that took a slight deflection off Demichelis.
Back came City, though, Negredo guided home a cross by the galloping Pablo Zabaleta in the 39th. Worse for Arsenal, key defender Laurent Koscielny sustained a deep laceration to his left knee as he attempted to cut out the cross and was carried off on a stretcher.
Aguero hobbling off in the 48th didn't hamper City, with Fernandinho making it 3-1 within two minutes after Mathieu Flamini failed to collect Ozil's pass across the face of the area. The Brazilian seized on the mistake and curled in a fine finish from 25 yards for his first City goal.
Walcott, making his first start since September, curled a brilliant shot past Costel Pantilimon from an angle in the 63rd minute but City wasn't to be denied as Jesus Navas set up fellow Spaniard Silva for the fourth in the 66th and Fernandinho made it 5-2 in the 88th.
Mertesacker replied at the start of injury time with a header but Toure had the final say, sweeping home a penalty after James Milner was tripped by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Updated December 14, 2013