Second half goals by Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling fired strikerless Manchester City to a 2-1 win against title rivals Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium.
Arsenal looked like they were going to bounce back from their midweek defeat to Everton when Theo Walcott fired the Gunners ahead after just five minutes.
But Arsenal failed to impose themselves in the game as Manchester City came back stronger in the second half running riot at the north London club.
Seconds after the win Manchester City wished their fans a Merry Christmas with Sterling’s celebration the highlight of the message.
Etihad Stadium came alive after Sané ran on to a sweet pass from David Silva to score his first goal for Manchester City in the league since joining in the summer.
But it was Sterling that sent Etihad Stadium into overdrive with his solo strike after an exquisite pass from Kevin De Bruyne who had Belgium coach, Roberto Martinez watching from the stand.
Merry Christmas!! pic.twitter.com/OD8WPhlLcL
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 18, 2016
De Bruyne steps up as Ozil disappears
Manchester City needed their main man when they trailed at half-time – and in the absence of the suspended Sergio Aguero that role is assumed by De Bruyne.
And how the Belgian responded, delivering a virtuoso second-half performance crowned by that superb pass that led to Sterling’s winner.
De Bruyne was the driving force behind City’s second-half transformation that saw Pep Guardiola’s team wrestle control from Arsenal with a change of tempo and intensity that was simply too much for Arsenal to resist.
The same could not be said for Arsenal’s elite players and the main culprit was Mesut Ozil who, as in the fierce atmosphere of Goodison Park on Tuesday, shrank from the occasion and wandered around aimlessly and ineffectively on the game’s periphery.
Ozil is in the middle of what are likely to be very lucrative contract negotiations. Performances like this will diminish his hand in the bargaining rather than strengthen it.
Manchester City and Guardiola knew a lot was riding on two home games this week after the result, and the manner of the 4-2 defeat at Leicester City last Saturday.
City simply had to beat Watford and Arsenal, the stakes even higher after Chelsea stretched their lead to nine points with victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
A draw was no use to either side here – so the notion of defeat was even more unpalatable.
City were on the brink as they were behind at half-time but Guardiola responded by sending on Bacary Sagna for Pablo Zabaleta and Sane, who had been out on the wing, was soon racing through to score from a central position.
It was a win City needed desperately and its importance was illustrated by the celebrations at the final whistle.
Just when some of the old doubts about Arsenal’s resilience and resistance to pressure seemed to be receding, all the familiar questions will return after the way they have lost a lead and slumped to defeat at Everton and now at Manchester City.
Arsenal looked in calm control holding the advantage on both occasions but have twice found themselves broken by physical presence and the greater intensity of opponents who were simply prepared to dig deeper.
Wenger was wearing a familiar frustrated expression at the final whistle.
And at the back of many Arsenal minds will be the familiar tales and pain of previous seasons when promise and potential ended in title under-achievement.
Good week for Guardiola and Man City…