Spanish midfielder Rodri scored in injury time to give City a hard-fought and unlikely three points as they came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium.
Bukayo Saka had given the home side a deserved lead at half-time, but a penalty by Riyad Mahrez, awarded after Bernardo Silva was adjudged to have been fouled in the area, levelled the scores early in the second half.
It was City’s second trip to the capital in four days, after beating Brentford 1-0 on Wednesday evening and the blues third match of the Christmas period, having won their Boxing Day match at home to Leicester. By comparison, the match was Arsenal’s first game since beating Norwich 5-0 at Carrow Road on Boxing Day, having seen their home clash with Wolves postponed due to Covid-19.
The blues were without Phil Foden and Oleksandr Zinchenko, both rumoured to have contracted Covid-19, which will no doubt please Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, with Nathan Ake stepping into the centre of defence. Jack Grealish took a place on the bench, while Gabriel Jesus moved from the wing into a central role to allow Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez to start the match.
City started brightly but the home side began gradually putting pressure on the blues. They were denied a penalty in the first half when Ederson appeared to bring down Martin Odegaard. But, after a lengthy VAR check, referee Stuart Atwell gave just a corner.
But the Gunners pressure eventually paid off when they took a deserved lead on 31 minutes. Saka finished off an Arsenal move from just inside the penalty area with a sweet finish. Ake lost track of the England man and Saka swept the ball past Ederson to give the Gunners a 1-0 half-time lead.
The blues didn’t start the second half well and Arsenal had a couple of opportunities to increase their lead, and manager Mikel Arteta, watching from home due to contracting Covid for a second time, would have been tearing out his hair as the Gunners failed to take their chances.
And the former City assistant would be left to rue the missed chances as City drew level in controversial circumstances. Silva went down in the box under a challenge from Granit Xhaka, and at first, the referee was uninterested. VAR got involved and recommended referee Atwell view the monitor. On second look, Atwell decided Xhaka had tugged the shirt of Bernardo and awarded the spot-kick, much to the anger of the home side and their supporters.
Riyad Mahrez, who has assumed the penalty taking responsibilities, stepped up and blasted the spot-kick beyond the keeper to level the scores. Arsenal will have rightly been aggrieved by the decision to view the pitchside monitor, as it hadn’t been suggested for Ederson’s earlier challenge on Odegaard.
Moment later, Arsenal would have been back in front, had it not been for a superb goal-line clearance from Nathan Ake and a terrible follow up shot by Gabriel Martinelli. An Arsenal attack ended with the ball looping over Ederson and looking destined to hit the back of the goal, but Dutch international Ake got back brilliantly to clear off the line. With the goal at his mercy, Martinelli somehow managed to hit the woodwork and behind for a goal kick when it seemed easier to score.
That was the Gunners best chance of the match, and their job of inflicting a first defeat of 2022 on the champions became that much harder when defender Gabriel got himself sent off. His first offence came when he tried to scuff the penalty spot before Mahrez took the spot-kick, but moment later, he brought down Gabriel Jesus to receive his marching orders.
City began to push for what was looking like an unlikely and possibly undeserved winner, and in the third minute of injury time, the goal to end Arsenal’s recent good run arrived. Kevin de Bruyne swung the ball into the area towards Rodri. His flick-on to Aymeric Laporte saw the Spanish international’s shot blocked, but the rebound fell to Rodri, who fired home past the despairing dive of the keeper.
Rodri got himself into the referee’s book for taking his shirt off in celebration, but he won’t care too much as the blues came away from a difficult match with the three points.
No doubt questions will be asked about VAR and the refereeing of the match, but the blues navigated a difficult match to start 2022 off with a bang.
Final Score: Arsenal 1-2 Manchester City