MAN CITY 1, ARSENAL 0
Manchester City took little over four hours to regain top spot in the Barclays Premier League following a hard-earned win against Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium.
David Silva was City’s matchwinner as they overhauled United who had taken over pole position following their lunchtime victory at Queens Park Rangers.
It was a measure of how hard the Gunners pushed City, however, that their goalkeeper Joe Hart was named Sky’s man of the match.
City, who extended their unbeaten home record in 2011 to 28 matches, can rarely have been stretched so much in the last 12 months on their home patch.
Manager Roberto Mancini was delighted with the hard-earned victory saying: “After losing at Chelsea, it was important to win the game. We are delighted to have won and to be top of the table.
“I think we deserved to win as we had all the chances. I know Joe Hart made one or two important saves, but so did their keeper.”
Mancini was asked about the prospect of City being top at Christmas for the first time since 1929.
“We want to stay at the top of the table not only at Christmas. It is important to be there at the end of the season.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger described it as a must-win game as they now trail City by 12 points.
“It was a game which could have gone either way. We were unlucky and decisions went against us – Robin van Persie was 100-per-cent adamant it was handball by Micah Richards – but we have to take it on the chin,” he said
Wenger added: “There were a lot of positives and the team has made a lot of progress since August.
“It was encouraging, but we also need points. We only got encouragement today.”
It was a very un-like Arsenal display in the opening period as they hunted in packs and closed down City who were restricted to few clear-cut openings.
Sergio Aguero found himself through on goal in the ninth minute but inexplicably blazed over when it looked as though he could not miss.
Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczensy was also quick off his line to make a brilliant block at the feet of Mario Balotelli.
That was as good as it got for City who were not afforded the time and space to hurt their opponents.
City keeper Hart was just as busy as Szczensy making a couple of important saves.
First he kept out an angled shot from Gervinho which squirmed off him for corner and then moments later pulled off an even better one to turn Aaron Ramsey’s shot, which took a wicked deflection off Theo Walcott, round the post for a corner.
The deadlock was finally broke in the 52nd minute after Balotelli opened the Gunners’ defence cutting in from the left. Szczensy could only parry his low shot, Aguero headed the rebound sideways for Silva to convert at the far post from three yards for his sixth goal of the season.
The goal sparked an immediate response from Arsenal as Hart had to be alert to turn over a shot from Walcott and then deny Robin van Persie who also had an effort ruled out after straying offside.
Suddenly the game, so tight in the opening half, became more open and expansive as Aguero also fired agonisingly wide while Pablo Zabelata’s drive struck an upright with Szczensy beaten hands down.
As Arsenal threw on Andrey Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh to bolster their strikeforce to four in a do-or-die move, the final 20 minutes became even more frenetic.
Thomas Vermaelen’s free kick was deflected narrowly wide for a corner while Arshavin fired into the side netting.
Aguero had angled shot beaten away by Szczensy while Richards shot wide when clean through.
There was further drama at the death as Vermaelen had two great chances to snatch a point.
Mikel Arteta cut back a free kick to defender Vermaelen who was on the edge of the box as his drive was superbly tipped over by Hart.
Then in the fourth minute of added time, Vermaelen curled a shot agonisingly wide of the upright. Hart, beaten hands down, lay on the floor blowing his cheeks in relief. That image illustrated just how hard Arsenal had pushed City who ground out their first 1-0 Premier League win of the campaign.