London: Manchester City exposed the first cracks in Arsenal’s title challenge, beating the Premier League leaders 6-3 at the Etihad Stadium as their attacking talents cut loose in another free-scoring home display on Saturday.
City’s stylish showmen sealed their eighth consecutive home league success by out-punching Arsenal, whose lead at the top of the table was cut to two points after Chelsea snuck a 2-1 win at home to Crystal Palace.
Everton also kept their noses in the title-race trough with a 4-1 win at home to Fulham moving them fourth, while at the bottom of the table West Ham United and Sunderland played out a 0-0 draw that was little use to either side.
Cardiff City beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0, while Newcastle United and Southampton drew 1-1.
Arsenal’s previously watertight defence was prised open at will by the hosts’ marauding all-out attack.
It was the third time this season that City scored six or more, after they dished out similarly crushing blows to Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City and moved them to third within three points of the leaders.
The win also put down a light blue marker in a now-congested title race that could have turned decisively in Arsenal’s favour had they managed to conjure a win.
“At times the tempo was frightening,” City captain Vincent Kompany said.
“We looked to be in control of the game for most of it. There were no standout individual performances but collectively we’ve done incredibly well. It is a real fortress here.”
City, whose early opener from Sergio Aguero was cancelled out by Theo Walcott, opened up a two-goal lead with Alvaro Negredo and Fernandinho efforts either side of halftime.
Arsenal briefly rallied with a superb second from Walcott, but David Silva restored the two-goal lead from close range and Fernandinho poked home his second to maintain City’s 100 percent home league record.
Even Per Mertesacker’s late consolation for Arsenal was trumped by City as Yaya Toure stroked in a stoppage time penalty.
Fifth-placed Liverpool can move back into second if they beat sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini said two-goal hero Fernandinho had “a perfect game”.
The Brazilian capped another strong performance with his first league goals for City. He followed up a curling effort early in the second half with a deft chip over Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after a fast break involving Samir Nasri.
“Fernandinho played a perfect game in all senses, not just his two goals but he recovered a lot of balls and had a lot of pace,” Pellegrini told reporters.
“I am very happy for him but you will see how good he is over the season — he will get better every week. Yaya (Toure), Samir and David (Silva) all played very well today, too. The four in the midfield are very difficult to play against — the strikers can score a lot of goals with them behind them.
“He (Fernandinho) is a typical Brazilian midfielder, he plays very well with the ball, he has a lot of pace — he gets forward well. He’s doing very good work with Yaya Toure and I’m very happy for him.”
Capped five times by Brazil, but only an outside chance of making the side for the 2014 World Cup, Pellegrini said the midfielder was showing why he was worth splashing such a high transfer fee on.
“Important players aren’t cheap.”
Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere faces the possibility of a Football Association (FA) ban after appearing to make an obscene gesture at City fans. The Arsenal midfielder could face a one-match ban, a fine or — more likely — a warning over his future behaviour if he is charged with improper conduct.
The FA will wait for referee Martin Atkinson to submit his report before deciding whether to take any action against the 21-year-old and will have to be sure of their case.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sought to pass the defeat off as a bad day in office, without any knock-on effects for what is to come in the title race. Yet Arsenal fans, who have become used to seeing the wheels come off at various points of previous seasons will be crossing fingers that it is not a sign they are about to suffer another damaging slump.
“It is not beyond a bad day, it is a bad day,” Wenger said after the match.
“We conceded six goals, we lost our discipline at the end and were too open when I took Mathieu Flamini off.
“Out of the six goals we gave them five and when we came back to 2-1, we had a chance but could not take it.
“They scored the goals and you cannot say they did not deserve them. We have to come back to reality and it's about us defending together and we have not done that.”
The result raised both eyebrows and temperatures at the Etihad stadium, with the final whistle prompting a verbal scuffle between Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil.
Arsenal’s two Germany internationals came together for a bout of finger pointing seemingly due to Ozil’s failure to applaud the travelling fans.
As those fans boarded trains to head back to London, the topic of debate was likely to be whether it was a sign of things to come.
It came on the back of a difficult week for Wenger’s team, who also dropped points at home to Everton last weekend and fell to a 0-2 defeat to Napoli in the Champions league on Wednesday that left facing a daunting draw in the last 16.
In recent seasons, periods of inconsistency have effectively ended Arsenal’s hopes of competing for silverware.