Mikel Arteta believes Arsenal have broken a significant barrier in their bid to win the Premier League after Gabriel Martinelli’s late goal sealed a cathartic 1-0 victory against Manchester City. Arteta’s side had lost their previous 12 league meetings with City before Martinelli’s 86th minute strike deflected off Nathan Ake to spark wild celebrations at the Emirates Stadium. For the first time since December 2015, the Gunners could savour a victory over City and they embraced the moment amid jubilant scenes on the pitch and among the 60,000 sell-out crowd.
Arsenal had already beaten City on penalties in the Community Shield at Wembley in August, a success they celebrated with almost as much vigour as Sunday’s.
But this was a far more important result, coming not in a glorified friendly but in the red-hot atmosphere of a crucial clash between the champions and their closest rivals last season.
Arsenal held an eight-point lead at the top of the table in April, only to collapse in the final furlong as City lifted a third successive title en route to an incredible treble.
Rather than let the pain from that meltdown break them, Arteta and his players are using it as fuel to land the club’s first title in 20 years.
It was instructive to see Arsenal tigerishly push City back in the closing stages of the second half as they searched for a winner with the champions appearing content with a point.
Arsenal’s hunger was rewarded and Arteta is convinced it could be a defining moment in their development.
“It’s a great feeling. You could sense it. It’s been so many years without beating them, but now we have beaten the best team in the world without a question of doubt,” he said.
“We have done it in a great way because there were moments we had to suffer. It sends a message to our team to keep believing in what they are doing.
“I don’t know if it was a barrier, but it was something we needed to go through.
“We lost in two different ways to them last season. But the team showed a real maturity today and that comes from experiences.”
– ‘Everyone was dancing’ –
Second-placed Arsenal head into the international break two points above third-placed City, with leaders Tottenham above their north London rivals on goals scored.
The bitter memories of 15 league games without a win over City can be consigned to history as Arsenal showed they can go toe to toe with Guardiola’s star-studded team.
They restricted City to only four shots and never let the visitors establish their trademark passing and movement.
“City are constantly asking you questions, they threaten you in certain areas. You have to be really aware. Emotionally it is not easy to chase for 15 or 20 minutes,” he said.
“I thought the players were excellent, everyone was dancing in the dressing room afterwards!”
City have now lost two successive league games for the first time since December 2018, with three defeats in their last four matches in all competitions.
Asked why City have suddenly dipped after winning their first six league games this term, Guardiola pointed to the absence of suspended midfielder Rodri.
The Spaniard missed each of City’s recent defeats and, tellingly, they won when he was available for the midweek Champions League tie against Leipzig.
“That is a stat. We cannot deny it. We put players to control more passes but Arsenal are aggressive in these areas,” Guardiola said.
“Rodri is an important player but he is not there for the reason everyone knows.”
Guardiola sees no harm in coming from behind in the title race after his team overhauled Arsenal last season.
“No team has ever won four in a row in the Premier League. We are in October. Maybe it is good to be behind and try to catch them. Last season we were far behind,” he said.
“I know these players for many years and what we have done together. It is (an) honour and privilege to seem them running and fighting.”