Runaway Premier League leaders Arsenal suffered their third defeat of the season in the hands of Manchester City on Saturday.
Theo Walcott’s brace in his first start for the ‘Gunners’ since September 18 was not enough to avert a 6-3 loss after 90 minutes of end-to-end football at the Etihad Stadium.
Per Mertesacker grabbed an injury-time consolation for the visitors who failed to highlight their title credentials in the first of a three-week period of test.
Sergio Aguero’s partnership with Alvaro Negredo once more proved effective as the duo grabbed the hosts’ first two goal eight minutes after the half-hour mark. Paulinho scored a brace, David Silva and Yaya Toure (penalty) completed scoring for the Manchester club, who now lies second on the log, three points behind the leaders with Liverpool and Chelsea having a game in hand.
Right-back Bacary Sagna and Nacho Monreal returned to Arsene Wenger’s starting lineup as Mathieu Flamini came into the midfield.
Manuel Pellegrini left out Joe Hart from his starting lineup, still keeping his faith with Costel Pantilimon in goal while Aguero, who did not play in City’s 3-2 win over European champions Bayern Munich on Tuesday, returned to the side.
It was always going to be a battle between the league’s best home and away team and City, who has not lost in eight league matches at the Etihad, started the match with great intent and pace upfront.
Aguero scored his 13th league goal of the season to put Pellegrini’s men ahead on 13 minutes. Martin Demichelis flicked on a Samir Nasri corner and the Argentine striker caught the ball sweetly on the volley from six yards, with the ball flying past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
City almost grabbed a second nine minutes later when captain Vincent Kompany slid the ball through to Negredo, only for the striker to fail in his bid to beat Szczesny at the near post instead of shooting past the goalkeeper.
Toure in the midfield undermined Flamini and Aaron Ramsey’s presence in the middle of the pack for the Gunners. The Ivorian had a shot at goal in the 29th minute, but couldn’t keep his effort down.
Walcott equalised against the run of play in the 31st minute, eluding Demichelis to meet Mesut Ozil’s square pass and then left an unsighted Pantilimon rooted to the spot with his deceptive effort. The forward’s baby-rocking celebration was interpreted as a gesture relating to the first child he and wife Mel announced on Friday they are expecting.
Negredo failed to put City back in the ascendancy almost immediately, shooting wide when he only had Szczesny to beat.
The Spaniard paid for his wasted efforts in the 38th minute, sliding in on a Pablo Zabaleta pass from the right to prod home from close range.
Arsenal were lucky to be 2-1 down at the interval and the restart started in a similar fashion as the first period with City increasing the margin withing five minutes.
Ozil gave the ball away and it fell to Fernandinho, who was allowed to run ti within 25 yards of goal due to Arsenal defenders’ inability close in on the Brazilian, he placed a side-footed curling shot past Szczesny to leave scores at 3-2.
Olivier Giroud failed to score on two occasions, first shooting harmlessly wide before letting his diving header from a Sagna cross go narrowly off target.
Walcott scored his second goal of the encounter in the 63rd minutes after he and his teammate had an appeal for a penalty fall into referee Martin Atkinson’s ears.
He curled the ball into the top corner of the net after sighting Pantilimon off his line from a Ramsey assist.
City restored their two-goal lead three minutes later when second-half substitute Jesus Navas squeezed a low cross into the area and Silva reacted quickest to finish from eight yards.
Fernandinho completed his brace two minutes to the dead following a careful linkup play between him and Samir Nasri. He took the ball off Jack Wilshere and played it to Nasri, the Frenchman unselfishly returned it to Fernandinho, whose shot went in off the post for City’s fifth.
Substitute Niklas Bendtner thought he had scored three minutes later but was disappointing to see the offside flag up.
German defender Mertesacker grabbed a consolation from a diving header in injury-time, only for Szczesny’s clumsy challenge on Negredo at the other end to present Toure an opportunity to score from the spot.
Toure capped off a sensational game by sending his penalty down the middle with the Polish goalkeeper diving out of the way.