Nathan Ake proved the unlikely match-winner as Manchester City edged out title rivals Arsenal 1-0 in a tense FA Cup fourth-round tie on Friday.
The Netherlands defender steered home a low shot in the 64th minute at the Etihad Stadium as City landed the first blow in their trilogy of clashes with the Gunners over the coming months.
Arsenal, the Premier League leaders, had enjoyed the better of the first half, with Takehiro Tomiyasu and Leandro Trossard both forcing good saves from Stefan Ortega.
Yet, while much had been made of the growing touchline rivalry between City manager Pep Guardiola and his former assistant Mikel Arteta, for a seventh time in eight meetings it was ultimately the old master who prevailed.
Guardiola, perhaps aware that a victory could also have a psychological impact heading into next month’s league encounter between the sides, went with a strong side and made just two changes to Arteta’s six.
The Gunners, however, retained all their usual energy and, in a frantic start, seemed determined not to allow City to establish their customary early rhythm.
As a result the hosts played more direct than normal and the results were mixed. There were some promising attacks, but Erling Haaland seemed uncomfortable with the altered plan and, despite plenty of touches, the Norwegian’s impact was minimal.
The Gunners initially looked the brighter team and Tomiyasu stung the palms of City’s number two goalkeeper Ortega with a ferocious shot in the fifth minute.
Trossard, making his first start for his new club, also forced a good save from the German after breaking into the area on the left.
City had a half-chance when Haaland broke clear after a Rob Holding miskick, but Gunners keeper Matt Turner met him outside the area. The ball looped into the air and Haaland adjusted to attempt an ambitious overhead kick, but Tomiyasu comfortably cleared.
City’s best chance of the first half came when Kevin De Bruyne cut inside and curled a left-foot effort narrowly wide, but Arsenal went close again when Eddie Nketiah poked wide from a Trossard cross.
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 27, 2023
City suffered a blow just before the interval when defender John Stones was forced off with an apparent hamstring injury, but they returned for the second half more determined to take control.
De Bruyne began to run through the middle more and passes became slicker. The attack was enlivened further when Julian Alvarez came off the bench in the 58th minute.
The change paid off six minutes later when the World Cup winner thumped the base of the post with a powerful long-range drive and Jack Grealish laid off to Ake from the rebound. The Dutchman had time and space and calmly placed a shot beyond the reach of Turner.
It proved a decisive strike and City comfortably and efficiently closed out the game with Arsenal failing to threaten again.