Arsenal loss to leader Man City sees grip on 4th loosened

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Manchester City’s Rodrigo, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring his sides second goal during the Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium, in London, England, Saturday Jan. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON (AP) — Watching an electrifying first half and wowed by Bukayo Saka’s goal, Arsenal fans were euphoric with the display against Manchester City.

For 45 minutes, Arsenal made the runaway Premier League leader look average. Then the second half brought an all-too familiar Arsenal capitulation to hand City a 2-1 win Saturday.

There was a 100th red card for Arsenal in the three decades of the Premier League — more than any other team — when Gabriel was sent off in the 59th minute. It was for a needless second booking for grabbing at Gabriel Jesus near the halfway line. The first yellow card had only been shown two minutes earlier for trying to scuff the penalty spot before Riyad Mahrez leveled.

The penalty had been awarded after Granit Xhaka brought down Bernardo Silva with a trailing leg and a tug at the City midfielder’s shirt.

Frustratingly for the Gunners, they had been denied a first-half penalty before Saka swept in the 31st-minute opener after Martin Odegaard fell when caught by Ederson’s left boot but the goalkeeper did appear to get the ball first.

And even after conceding the penalty in the 57th — which referee Stuart Attwell initially waved off before changing his mind after reviewing replays on a pitchside monitor — the hosts had a chance to retake the lead right away.

City defender Nathan Ake’s hooked, scrambling goal-line clearance prevented an own goal from Aymeric Laporte after he headed over goalkeeper Ederson. The ball fell to Arsenal forward Gabriel Martinelli who missed an open net and hit the post.

Then Arsenal was reduced to 10 men within a minute and Arsenal’s attempts to cling on to the point were thwarted by Laporte’s deflected shot reaching Rodri to score. As Rodri slid across the field to celebrate, joined by his City teammates, they were pelted with plastic water bottles and toilet rolls.

With an 11th straight win, City moved 11 points in front of Chelsea, which hosts Liverpool on Sunday in a meeting of second and third.

“This period today we were incredibly tired, mentally and physically,” City manager Pep Guardiola said. “Arsenal were better today, but football happens in these situations, sometimes it comes on our side.”

Arsenal — without coronavirus isolating manager Mikel Arteta — saw its grip on fourth place loosened. West Ham went within a point of Arsenal by beating Crystal Palace 3-2. Tottenham is a point further behind after winning 1-0 at Watford but with two games in hand on both Arsenal and West Ham.

“I’m upset that we don’t end up with three points in this game, that is the most frustrating part,” Arsenal assistant manager Albert Stuivenberg said. “At the same time we are very proud about the performance of the players, there are some moments that decided the game.

“The moment with Odegaard, I think it is a clear penalty but at least a moment for the referee to check. It happened in the second half with their penalty which is not really consistent and then of course the sending off was an important moment after that.”

TOTTENHAM STRIKES LATE

After being held 1-1 by 10-man Southampton on Tuesday, Tottenham only avoided further frustration at Watford when Davinson Sanchez scored in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

Having enjoyed 74% possession and with eight shots on target until that point, Tottenham had long been pressing to find a winner.

“When you create these chances to score you have to try to destroy these chances,” Tottenham manager Antonio Conte said. “Especially in this type of game and against this type of opponent, who is well organized with the nine or 10 players behind the ball and it is not easy.

“I think that we have a team that is very good and we found space to attack, when we find a team that they are very narrow and they defend very well with all the team. We need to improve.”

It was sixth successive loss for Watford, which is two points above the drop zone having played two more games than Burnley in the final relegation place.

HAMMERS HOLD ON

West Ham was cruising at 3-0 by halftime at Crystal Palace.

Michail Antonio met Said Benrahma’s cross for the opener in the 22nd and Declan Rice set up Manuel Lanzini in the 25th. When a bouncing ball flicked the arm of Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic, a penalty was awarded and converted by Lanzini in first-half stoppage time.

But there was a tense finish after Odsonne Edouard pulled one back in the 83rd and Michael Olise netted in the 90th.

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