Manchester City delivered a masterclass to overwhelm Premier League leaders Arsenal and strike a huge psychological 4-1 blow in the title race at Etihad Stadium.
The confrontation billed as a potential title-decider turned into an embarrassingly one-sided affair.
Pep Guardiola’s side, now two points behind Arsenal with two games in hand, were inspired by the devastating partnership of Erling Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne.
Haaland set De Bruyne away for a silky opener after seven minutes, and Arsenal then survived a constant bombardment of attacks before John Stones headed home from a corner in first-half stoppage time, the goal given by VAR after originally being ruled offside.
City goal machine Haaland was outstanding and again setting up De Bruyne for the third in the 54th minute, the Belgian passing a classy finish between the legs of Gunners defender Rob Holding.
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Holding pulled one back for Arsenal late on before Haaland, denied four times by Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale earlier in the match, sealed a memorable night with his 49th City goal.
City can go top with victory at Fulham on Sunday while Arsenal must somehow pull out of a slump that has seen them go four league games without a win at a crucial stage of the season.
City still have work to do to retain their title but, in the biggest game of the Premier League season, they delivered a brutal message.
Guardiola was as fired up as his players in the early stages, raging in his technical area, even giving an animated lecture to goalkeeper Ederson after De Bruyne put them ahead.
City were at their magnificent best as they tore holes in the Arsenal rearguard, the Gunners miraculously surviving all manner of close shaves after the opener before Stones’ header gave them the cushion they deserved.
Haaland had a rare night when his golden touch in front of goal deserted him until virtually the last kick of the game – although Ramsdale played his part in that – but the Norwegian demonstrated just how much his all-round game has improved under Guardiola by giving an exhibition in link-up play, twice assisting for De Bruyne and playing with an air of menace throughout.
And De Bruyne once more showed his enduring class with two classic precision finishes.
The title is not run yet and no-one at City will be complacent, but this performance carried all the hallmarks of a side on a mission to keep their crown and who now have all the momentum with them.