Billed as a Premier League title decider, it was barely even a contest as Manchester City thrashed Arsenal 4-1 on Wednesday to close in on becoming English champions for the fifth time in six years.
City have not even hit top spot yet as Arsenal remain two points in front.
But the momentum of the title race looks to have decisively swung the way of Pep Guardiola’s men as they have the chance to pull away into the distance with two games in hand.
The Gunners have only lost four games all season but tellingly two of them have come when faced with the ultimate test in City.
A 3-1 home defeat when the sides met in February was at least a game decided by fine margins. This time round it was a rout.
“We lost in a very different way at the Emirates,”
“Today the quality in the performance was very far away from what we are capable of.”Said Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta.
A brittle Arsenal defence, shorn of the reassuring presence of William Saliba, could not contain the power of Erling Haaland, even if it did take until the final attack of the game for the Norwegian to score his 49th goal of the season.
Haaland instead turned provider, twice, for Kevin De Bruyne to fire home early in each half.
In between times, Arsenal’s weakness at defending set-pieces was exposed as John Stones rose highest to head home De Bruyne’s free-kick in first half stoppage time.
Guardiola heaped praise on his former assistant Arteta before the game for raising the standards at Arsenal to bring them back into contention for a first Premier League title in 19 years.
But Arteta still cannot find the antidote to beat his former boss as Arsenal have now lost 12 consecutive league games against City.
Damage of three draws
Arsenal’s title challenge was unexpected and arguably premature for the youngest squad in the league.
They have not even qualified for the Champions League for the past six years, something which they are already assured of for next season.
Yet that cannot mask the disappointment of having crumbled once the pressure was ramped up on the run-in.
Arguably the damage was done even before Arsenal set foot on the Etihad with three consecutive draws.
Twice Arteta’s men blew a 2-0 lead to drop points at Liverpool and West Ham before being held 3-3 at home by bottom-of-the-table Southampton.
Those results had already sowed the seeds of doubt and City capitalised with a masterclass that put the young Gunners back in their place.
De Bruyne and Haaland struck up a special connection from day one of the season, but the normal roles were reversed as Haaland bagged two assists and the Belgian was lethal in front of goal.
“The connection between Kevin and Erling is extraordinary,”
“Today we tried to use it as much as possible.”Said Guardiola.
Arteta admitted the margin of defeat could have been much worse had Haaland not been held at bay by a series of saves by Aaron Ramsdale.
Haaland finally found a way through in stoppage time, by which point he had fittingly let his hair down.
There remains work to do for City, not just to retain their title but potentially become just the second English team to complete the treble of Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup in the same season.
Conquering Europe for the first time remains the biggest challenge, especially with holders Real Madrid waiting in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Manchester United will also have their shot at denying their local rivals matching the historic feat of Alex Ferguson’s side in the 1998/99 season in the FA Cup final.
But on this form City will take some stopping.