The Citizens looked every inch this year’s champions as they played with control and creativity, determined to take advantage of Chelsea’s shock defeat at Crystal Palace earlier in the day.
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David Silva had the run of the park, dictating the game in pockets of space between the lines as City opened up Arsenal while looking resilient in defense.
But City was not ruthless enough. It was almost as though the first half had been too easy. The second period was a different story. Manuel Pellegrini’s side was rattled by Arsenal’s sheer will and heart.
It might still win the league, but the greatest champions do not let this kind of opportunity slip away. City could and should have been at least a couple of goals ahead by the time the teams went in at the break.
On the back of a convincing Manchester derby victory, it was the chance to produce another statement victory and demoralize Chelsea and Liverpool.
“It’s a good week to get four points from away games against Manchester United and Arsenal,” reflected Pellegrini. “We had chances to win, we were a little bit unlucky. Arsenal had a better second half but they had no chances to score apart from the goal. In the first 20 minutes we had at least four clear chances to score.
“It’s not easy to come to Arsenal’s home and win. We produced a good performance against a good team.
“There will be four teams fighting until the end. All four teams will drop points between now and the end of the season.”
Pellegrini’s stance is philosophical and probably accurate, but he must be ruing his side’s lack of killer instinct and he will almost certainly be wishing that Sergio Aguero can return next week having missed virtually the whole of the second half of the season.
A win here would have put City at the top of the table with games in hand over its two main title rivals.
Now the winner of the day is Liverpool, which can move to the summit with a victory over Tottenham on Sunday with home games to come against Chelsea and City.
City will still be considered the favorite for the title and mathematically it is, if it wins all eight of its remaining games.
Yet here it was frankly overwhelmed by Arsenal, which was the better side after the equalizer by Matthieu Flamini and looked more likely to find the winner.
Yaya Toure, so often a big-game player, was particularly quiet in central midfield, going through the motions with a one-paced performance, while Edin Dzeko lacked the killer instinct in the box that he showed at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Next up for City is a home clash with Southampton, but the trip to Anfield on April 13 increasingly looks like being the pivotal game in this year’s title race.
And if it loses on Merseyside, City will regret even more the missed opportunity in north London.