Arsenal has displayed recent mastery over Manchester City and other Top Four challengers, and they happily kept that going in the first of their four matches over the next two-and-a-half weeks.
Mesut Özil was brilliant again, assisting both Arsenal goals, and the entire team put in a solid defensive effort in the final thirteen minutes of the match to hold onto all three points -- and second place in the table -- with a 2-1 win over Manchester City today.
The first half devolved, for a while, into a game of (1) "How many cardable fouls can Andre Marriner dimly register before remembering he's an FA referee with the option of going to his pocket?" (Answer: About 12, before David Silva finally received a yellow in the 31st minute after all kinds of ludicrous fouls -- as Kolarov vs. Campbell in the 36th minute would show us, face elbows and rampant pushing is within the Marriner code of conduct) and (2) "How many times can Kevin De Bruyne get past Nacho Monreal?" (Answer: Also 12, including a 32nd minute run that led to a just-wide De Bruyne shot that stood as the best chance of the game . . . until in the 33rd minute.)
In minute 33, Özil led Theo Walcott (today's left winger thanks to a complication involving Alexis Sanchez's hamstring) toward the box with a fantastic pass, and Walcott shot a screamer that nearly hit a running-toward-goal Özil on its way to the back of the net, for a 1-0 lead.
In first-half stoppage time, after more rampant City fouling, Arsenal turned a careless City turnover into another Özil assist (second on the day, 15th on the season) by curling a pass around the entire shuffling bulk of Nicolas Otamendi to find a sprinting world-class finisher, Olivier Giroud, who coolly finished for his 10th goal of the year and a 2-0 halftime lead.
The second half featured two Joel Campbell misses that shifted the Costa Rican from invisible mode to "painfully visible" mode -- converting an Aaron Ramsey pass in front of goal into a Row Z ball, and missing a one-on-one opportunity. Right before the hour mark, Ramsey forced Manchester City goalkeeper into a face-save in front of net (off what would have been, to give him credit, a nice Campbell assist). Along the way, City players indulged in more elbows to the park and other sundry fouls, with only Otamendi collecting a yellow card.
Yaya Toure made things interesting with an 82-minute goal -- a nonchalant flick of his left leg from the 18 that curved into the far top corner of the goal, which Petr Cech could only watch slide in -- and then, after a near-miss by Ramsey at the other end a moment later, nearly equalized in the 87th minute on a rare run into goal. Thanks to a late-game temporarily-scary knock Olivier Giroud suffered while tackling Otamendi, the four minutes of extra time became five minutes of extra time, but Arsenal was able to hold on for the win (with Calum Chambers brought on to spy Toure for the last few minutes).
Arsenal will face Southampton in the late game on Boxing Day (11:45 am PT / 2:45 pm ET), knowing if they can vault to first place (over a Leicester team who will play Liverpool earlier in the day, and will be vault-able if Liverpool manages a result) by kickoff.