Arsenal moved to within two points of surprise Premier League leaders Leicester City with victory over Manchester City at Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners – without a title triumph since 2004 – showed the sort of impressive drive, cutting edge and resilience that will lead manager Arsene Wenger to believe Arsenal can finally end that barren spell.
City dominated early possession but Kevin de Bruyne wasted a good chance and Theo Walcott punished the visitors with a right-foot finish from 20 yards in the 33rd minute.
Eliaquim Mangala’s dreadful clearance allowed Mesut Ozil’s 15th assist of the season as he set up Olivier Giroud for an angled finish in first-half stoppage time. Yaya Toure’s clever shot from outside the area set up a tense finale which saw both Toure and substitute Wilfried Bony waste chances to equalise.
Wenger’s side have often been accused of having a soft centre when the pressure is on – but here, faced with the team many believe will still emerge as their closest title rivals, they showed a ruthless streak.
City may have dominated possession and territory for the first half hour but it was Arsenal who made it count at the business end. Their tally for the opening 45 minutes read two shots on target and two goals. For a manager who prides himself on efficiency, Wenger will have been delighted.
The Gunners were impressive at the back too, where goalkeeper Petr Cech was the epitome of safe handling and security, proving once more what a significant signing he has been.
Arsenal’s defenders were in the mood too, with two crunching tackles from full-back Nacho Monreal drawing a high-five from fellow defender Per Mertesacker.
Walcott grows in stature
For a player often criticised for his lack of end product, Walcott looks to be evolving into the complete striker at the age of 26.
Walcott’s goal, wonderfully accomplished as he turned inside before curling a perfect finish beyond the stretching City keeper Joe Hart, was his 13th in his last 17 league appearances and delivered further evidence of his development into a consistent and reliable goalscorer.
He, and indeed Arsenal, are receiving plenty of help from the Premier League’s current creator supreme Ozil, who had a hand in both goals and received a standing ovation when he was replaced late on.
Add in Giroud’s current golden sequence of 12 goals in his last 14 matches in all competitions, and Arsenal will believe they possess the potency to carry them all the way.
Manchester City come up short again
Aside from a dominant opening half and a late rally after Toure’s goal, this was another poor performance from Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
City were too often laboured and the sight of captain Vincent Kompany sitting in the stand watching on forlornly pointed to where many of the problems lie.
Pellegrini may have signed Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi for fees in excess of £60m, but they are still not the same and markedly less assured.
And with Sergio Aguero still not fully fit and substituted, City are currently well short of their best.