Arsenal did its London neighbor and Premier League leader Chelsea a big favor by posting an impressive 2-0 victory at second-place Manchester City on Sunday.
Santi Cazorla converted a penalty kick awarded for a foul on City captain Vincent Kompany, who like most of his teammates labored to match the Gunners’ pace and zeal, and midway through the second half Olivier Giroud headed home a Cazorla free kick to seal the outcome.
The result keeps City five points behind Chelsea and pushes Arsenal to fifth, two points ahead of Tottenham and one behind Manchester United. City plays at Chelsea Jan. 31.
Arsenal started the match sharply and Kompany’s clumsy attempt to block left back Nacho Monreal as he ran onto a return pass from Giroud exemplified City’s sluggish start. City keeper Joe Hart picked the correct direction but still couldn’t reach Cazorla’s penalty driven to the goalie’s left side.
The halftime substitution of Stevan Jovetic for James Milner and a change of formation revived City’s attack, but keeper David Ospina parried a shot from Jesus Navas, who also produced a cross that Sergio Aguero would have turned into the net had not Laurent Koscielny intervened. Arsenal regained its foothold and clinched the win with a free kick from the right flank that Cazorla curled into a gap for Giroud to tuck away.
Here are three takeaways from Manchester City’s first league loss in 15 games:
1. Santi is the star.
The game matched the two most productive players in the Premier League this season: Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez (12 goals, seven assists) and Sergio Aguero (14 goals, three assists). City rolled up an incredible 65-35 percent edge in possession but couldn’t contain Cazorla, whose goal and assist were the exclamation points of an excellent display.
Aaron Ramsey worked tirelessly side-to-side to open up space for Cazorla, whose sharp runs and one-touch passes fed a steady supply of balls. Cazorla continually confused City by tucking in behind Giroud as a second forward or drifting wide to link up with right mid Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Monreal on the opposite side.
The guile and fluidity of Arsenal’s play outwitted a City team that sorely missed the fire and range of Yaya Toure, who is playing for Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations. Sanchez won the free kick that set up the clinching goal when Jovetic, just into the match, mistimed a tackle.
2. Coquelin, revamped defense frustrate City.
Five weeks ago, Arsenal recalled defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin from his loan to Charlton when a hamstring injury sidelined Ramsey for the hectic holiday schedule. Manager Arsene Wenger often prefers to use Mathieu Flamini as the defensive midfielder, but his choice of Coquelin proved to be an inspired one.
Coquelin’s energy and fury blunted much of what City attempted to generate and shielded a patchwork bunch behind him. Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder) was one of six regulars ruled out by injury. Monreal was starting his first game after missing the last five. Right-back Hector Bellerin (fourth Premier League start) and Ospina (second) ignored their inexperience to work effectively and calmly.
Rather than charge downfield as soon as it took possession, Arsenal kept the ball through poised passing and intelligent movement. When Oxlade-Chamberlain and Monreal pushed well upfield, they did so with defensive cover in support and options ahead of them. When City came out of the back, Sanchez dropped deeper to form a line of five across midfield that only rarely did the defending champion breach with through balls.
Bellerin’s blotting of Milner led to the latter’s substitution. Navas had more success on City’s right side but most of his serves were cleared out of danger by Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. None of Ospina’s four saves were difficult.
3. No heroics for Frank Lampard.
A week after the announcement that Lampard had finally signed an MLS contract -- it takes effect July 1 -- he came on as a sub in the 63rd minute but wasn’t able to conjure up any late-game heroics as he has several times this season.
He’s scored four of his five Premier League goals as a substitute. Shortly after his entry, Arsenal scored its second goal, and against a tightened-up defense Lampard committed a foul and won a free kick. He didn’t take any shots.
TRIVIA. Arsenal came into the match with a dismal away record against the Manchester clubs and Chelsea: two wins and seven ties in 21 games since 2011 (all competitions).
Jan. 18 in
Man. City 0, Arsenal 2. Cazorla (pen.) 24, Giroud 67.
Man. City -- Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernando, Milner (Jovetic, 46) Fernandinho (Lampard, 63), Navas (Dzeko, 76), Silva, Aguero.
Arsenal -- Ospina; Monreal, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Bellerin, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Rosicky, 66), Coquelin, Ramsey (Flamini, 84), Cazorla, Sanchez (Gibbs, 84), Giroud.