The Premier League title race is shaping up to be an exciting run-in after leaders Arsenal and second-placed Manchester City’s latest away victories.
The Gunners saw off Leicester City with a hard-fought 1-0 win, while City were in imperious form as they despatched Bournemouth 4-1 on the south coast.
Arsenal can extend their lead over City to five points if they beat Everton at Emirates Stadium in their next outing on Wednesday, 1 March, after which both title contenders will have played 25 games.
City’s Rico Lewis said the victory at Bournemouth – their 200th away win in the Premier League – “sends a message” to the league leaders, and with the season about two-thirds over, matters are intriguingly poised.
Arsenal ‘have title-winning credentials’
Late January and early February saw the Gunners endure a four-game winless run bookended by defeats by City, first in the FA Cup and then in the league.
They also dropped points in a 1-0 defeat by Everton and a 1-1 draw with Brentford, but wins on the road at Aston Villa and Leicester have ensured Mikel Arteta stays just ahead of his one-time mentor Pep Guardiola.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta told BBC Match of the Day: “I am really pleased with the performance. We dominated the game, we attacked a lot, we were high up the pitch but we didn’t manage to create enough big opportunities.
“To win away at Villa, then at Leicester, in the Premier League is extremely difficult to do and we deserved to win both games.”
Former City defender Nedum Onuoha believes Arsenal still hold the upper hand despite his old club recently inflicting Arsenal’s third league defeat of the season.
“A few questions were being asked of them, people were backing Man City,” he told the BBC. “For them to come back against Villa was a huge boost. The celebrations showed what it meant – it steadied the ship. It feels like Arsenal are back in total control of the title race because if they win their game in hand it would be five points clear and that is a big advantage.”
Glenn Murray, former Crystal Palace and Brighton striker, thinks while both teams are still involved in European competition, Arsenal’s desire for a first title since 2003-04 will be their focus.
“There will be twists and turns in the title race. It is about who will hold their nerve,” he said. “City may take their eyes off the ball, Arsenal will prioritise the Premier League, but Manchester City obviously really want the Champions League. It is going to be an extremely exciting watch.”
Arsenal’s resurgence following the wobble that included the defeat by City has impressed former Swansea and Wales defender Ashley Williams.
“You’re always going to have setbacks, and I think they’ve shown a capacity to overcome adversity,” he said.
“Arteta is so driven and you can see that starting to come out now. Over the course of the season, if you’re going to win the Premier League, you need to deal with the good and the bad. They are showing they’ve got the credentials to get it done in the end.”
Imperious City staying on Arsenal’s coat-tails
City’s 3-1 win at Arsenal sent them back to the top of the Premier League table, but a disappointing draw at Nottingham Forest three days later coupled with the Gunners’ win at Aston Villa saw Guardiola slip behind his former Manchester City assistant Arteta.
One factor that could swing the title race in City’s favour is the prolific form of Erling Haaland. The Norway striker scored his 27th league goal of the season against Bournemouth, taking him past Sergio Aguero’s record for most Premier League goals in a season for City.
“Erling Haaland, his impact has been incredible,” said Guardiola. “We love him and he is helping us. Today we found him more and he is an incredible threat.
“We are still going to be fighting for the Premier League and we have a tough contender [in Arsenal], but many things could happen.”
City defender Lewis told Sky Sports: “The best thing to do to come back from a few poor results is to win. We are gutted not to get a clean sheet but it sends out a message. The early goal set the tone and we could have had more in the end.”
But the Blues’ comfortable win impressed former Bournemouth manager Tony Pulis, who told BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra: “A very comprehensive performance from Manchester City. They could have turned up and been sloppy but they were fabulous.”