Nathan Ake of Manchester City (right) and Jack Grealish celebrate (Mike Egerton/PA).
Nathan Ake proved to be the winner of the unlikely match as Manchester City beat title rivals Arsenal 1-0 in a tense FA Cup fourth round clash on Friday.
The Dutch defender directed a low shot in the 64th minute at the Etihad Stadium as City had the first shooooot in their trilogy of clashes with the Gunners over the coming months.
Arsenal, the Premier League leaders, enjoyed a better first half, with Takehiro Tomiyasu and Leandro Trossard forcing Stefan Ortega into fine saves.
However, while much was made of the touchline rivalry that grew between City manager Pep Guardiola and his former assistant Mikel Arteta, for the seventh time in eight meetings it was ultimately the old masters who prevailed.
Guardiola, perhaps aware that victory can also have a psychological impact ahead of next month’s league meeting between the two teaaaaams, played with a strong side and made only two changes to Arteta’s six.
The Gunners, however, kept all their usual energy and, in a frantic start, looked determined not to let City establish their usual starting rhythm.
As a result the hosts played more directly than usual and the results were mixed. There were some promising attacks but Erling Haaland appeared uncomfortable with the altered plans and despite the many attacks the Norwegian impact was minimal.
The Gunners looked brighter at first and Tomiyasu stung the palm of City number two Ortega with a ferocious shot in the fifth minute.
Trossard, making his first start for his new club, also forced the German into a fine save after breaking into the area on the left.
City had half a chance when Haaland broke free after a Rob Holding error but Gunners keeper Matt Turner met him outside the penalty area. The ball goes high and Haaland adjusts to try an ambitious bicycle kick, but Tomiyasu comfortably runs past.
City’s best first-half chance came when Kevin De Bruyne cut inside and fired a left-footed shot wide, but Arsenal came close again when Eddie Nketiah went wide from Trossard’s cross.
City suffered a blow just before the break when defender John Stones was forced off with a hamstring injury, but they came back in the second half more determined to take control.
De Bruyne started running more down the middle and the passes became slicker. The attacks were further enlivened when Julian Alvarez came off the bench in the 58th minute.
The change paid off six minutes later when the World Cup winner hit the post with a powerful long-range shot and Jack Grealish teed up Ake from the rebound. The Dutchman had time and space and coolly fired a shot just beyond Turner’s reach.
It proved to be a decisive strike and City comfortably and efficiently closed out the game with Arsenal failing to threaten again.