By Chris Harris at Etihad Stadium
Another 1-0 lead; another 2-1 defeat.
For the second time in five days we’ve lost in the north west after taking an early grip on a tough away trip.
This time Theo Walcott put us ahead with a cool finish after Alexis had threaded a pass through the Manchester City defence.
But our advantage was rubbed out right at the start of the second half and Leroy Sane’s equaliser was followed by Raheem Sterling’s winner.
In fairness, Sterling should have scored a minute after Walcott’s opener but squandered a golden chance from close range.
But our frustration comes from letting slip another lead - and it leaves us nine points behind leaders Chelsea.
Two home games are next up, starting with the Boxing Day visit of West Bromwich Albion. After this setback, it’s a game we must win.
SETTING THE SCENE
Things can change quickly in the Premier League: just eight days after reaching the summit with a win over Stoke City, we were nine points adrift of Chelsea going into a huge game at the Etihad.
According to Arsene Wenger, how we responded to our own midweek defeat at Everton would define our season.
Our recent history against City - unbeaten in six - was encouraging, and there was a sense that we needed a head-turning result to match our 2-0 win in Manchester at the start of last year.
The boss made one change, Alex Iwobi replacing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Alexis, directly involved in 27 goals in his last 27 games, got the nod over Olivier Giroud.
Pep Guardiola’s team were just as desperate for three points with Chelsea threatening to disappear over the horizon. They were without the injured Ilkay Gundogan and the suspended Sergio Aguero.
A wealth of attacking talent plus two progressive managers equals an enthralling football match.
This game started at a fair lick and the tempo didn’t drop for the first 25 minutes. By then, we had drawn first blood.
Alexis was the creator, spotting Walcott’s smart run into the box and threading a pass through a gap in the City defence. Walcott took one touch to control, a second to set himself and a third to roll the ball past Claudio Bravo.
It was ruthless from the visitors, but City should have levelled within a minute. Kevin De Bruyne swung in a perfect cross from the left and Sterling headed a yard wide from six yards out.
The manager had asked for strong defending and assertiveness in possession. He got both.
Alexis and Mesut Ozil worked their way from the halfway line to the byline with a series of passes but Alexis’ cross was headed away. Walcott had a half-chance which he volleyed over after good work from Granit Xhaka and Ozil. And Hector Bellerin lashed a shot over the bar.
City kept Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel busy. De Bruyne’s delivery from the left was dangerous, David Silva probed and Sterling dropped deep and drifted wide to keep our defenders guessing.
City almost got lucky when Gabriel’s clearance cannoned off Bellerin’s head and called Cech into action, but we saw it through until the break.
This was a huge 45 minutes in the context of the season and it started incredibly badly.
Sane, who had switched to the left flank, made a burst towards the centre and got the wrong side of our back four to meet Silva’s clipped pass. Sane beat Cech and our hard-earned advantage was gone.
City scented blood and stayed on the front foot. For a while they didn’t create much in the way of danger. We kept our shape, kept our discipline and looked for opportunities to break.
But City continued to press. Cech denied Sane after Fernando beat Ozil to a ball in midfield, and Sterling fizzed a shot just wide. Then Cech plunged to his right to brilliantly tip away a low drive from De Bruyne that took a wicked deflection.
The pressure told 19 minutes from time. De Bruyne’s raking pass found Sterling and he advanced into the box, making room to lash a low shot past Cech at his near post.
On came Oxlade-Chamberlain but he was soon forced off with an injury. On came Giroud but De Bruyne almost made it three before the Frenchman had got a touch. The post came to our rescue.
Walcott had a glimpse of goal but chipped beyond the far post, and that was as close as we came to an equaliser.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
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