Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City: Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud fire Gunners to victory
Arsenal sealed their supporting role behind Leicester in the Barclays Premier League Christmas billing by beating fellow title hopefuls Manchester City 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night.
Arsene Wenger's side soaked up some early City pressure before Theo Walcott curled home just after the half-hour mark for his first league goal since he scored in the 5-2 win over the Foxes in September.
The Gunners even have their own answer to Leicester hot-shot Jamie Vardy as Olivier Giroud made it 12 goals in 14 games, doubling Arsenal's advantage on the stroke of half-time with Yaya Toure's late consolation not enough to prevent the hosts winning.
The victory leaves Arsenal two points behind leaders Leicester, while Manuel Pellegrini's City remain six points adrift as their indifferent form away from home continues.
Arsenal's 2-0 victory at City in January was a result Wenger said gave him and his players belief they could beat the big teams and challenge for the title.
And much of this performance was similar to that at the Etihad Stadium, and the recent Champions League victory over Bayern Munich here, as Wenger's side put in a professional and measured display rather than adopting a risky approach of all-out attack.
The momentum before the game appeared to be with the visitors who welcomed Sergio Aguero back into their side after a heel injury, while Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez had failed in his own attempt to be fit for the clash.
And the hosts started slowly with City's Kevin De Bruyne getting in the first meaningful shot of the game as he drew a save out of former Chelsea team-mate Petr Cech at the midway point of a first half.
It was then De Bruyne who was guilty of passing up the best chance of the half as Arsenal over-committed and were caught out on the counter-attack.
The winger broke down the right before cutting inside and arrowing a shot wide instead of passing inside to an onrushing David Silva.
Moments later a simple ball into Mesut Ozil allowed him to play in Walcott, who carried the ball back out of the penalty area before arching a superb finish past the despairing dive of his England team-mate Joe Hart.
And things got even better for Wenger's men on the stroke of half-time as Eliaquim Mangala gifted possession to the Gunners and Ozil again produced the assist, sliding in a pass for Giroud to finish between Hart's legs.
Pellegrini introduced Raheem Sterling at the break, but it was Joel Campbell who should have added a third soon after the restart - however, he could only sweep Nacho Monreal's cross over Hart's crossbar.
Aguero then made way for Wilfried Bony having lasted a little over an hour on his latest comeback from injury and Toure gave City a lifeline as he guided a measured left-foot finish past Cech with eight minutes remaining.
Bony then saw a shot deflected behind as Arsenal began to drop back further towards their own goal - inviting further efforts from Ivory Coast pair Bony and Toure towards the death.
But Arsenal hung on to take another vital three points and remain on the coat-tails of surprise leaders Leicester heading into the festive fixtures.
Talking points ahead of game
Arsenal host Manchester City on Monday in an eagerly-anticipated Barclays Premier League clash that could shed further light on each side's title credentials. We look at some talking points ahead of the game.
How much of a bearing will this have on the title race?
These two sides may be the Premier League favourites with the bookies but this can hardly be described as a title decider. The form of current leaders Leicester and the close proximity of a handful of other teams has seen to that. But their squads do look the best equipped for the long haul and the game is a chance for either side to steal a march on the other and perhaps land a psychological blow.
Will the good or bad Arsenal/City teams turn up?
It is difficult to say because both sides have played some excellent football this season but lacked the consistency to really take charge of a title race they have the capability to command. City are particularly culpable in this regard, but it is also true that both clubs have had to deal with lengthy injury lists. Recent form and home advantage suggest Arsenal could have the upper hand - but it could be very different if City are on song.
What are the chances of Alexis Sanchez and Sergio Aguero playing?
Arsenal are hopeful Chile forward Sanchez, after three games out with a hamstring problem, will be fit after returning to training this week. City tend to be cautious over star striker Aguero, who has had numerous injury issues during his time at the club and has sat out the past five games with a heel problem. But the Argentinian has also been back training for a week and manager Manuel Pellegrini's latest update was positive.
Can City keep a clean sheet without Vincent Kompany?
The statistics suggest not. In eight Premier League games with the influential Belgian at the heart of their defence this season City have kept seven clean sheets. They have not managed one in any of the eight he has missed. With the City skipper still out with a calf problem, the chances of Arsenal scoring seem high.
Will City be affected by continuing Pep Guardiola speculation?
Pellegrini has had to put up with rumours linking Guardiola with his job throughout his tenure and he claims it does not bother him. Things seem to have been ramped up, however, as an announcement over Guardiola's future at Bayern Munich has drawn nearer. If Guardiola is to be available from the end of the season, speculation will not go away until his next destination is known. That could have the potential to undermine Pellegrini's work.
Belfast Telegraph Digital