REUTERS - Manchester City fans were probably still discussing the wisdom of Pep Guardiola leaving out John Stones when their central defence was sliced open by Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez’s precise pass for Theo Walcott’s fifth-minute opener.
A minute later they may also have been questioning the manager’s surprising decision to play England winger Raheem Sterling through the middle when he headed a cross wide of the post instead of into the net from close range.
Anything less than a win in Sunday’s Premier League clash, which City achieved 2-1 after a thrilling second-half comeback, would have risked continuing the discussion about the Spaniard’s tactics and methodology well beyond the final whistle.
Guardiola has been under real scrutiny since last week’s 4-2 trouncing at struggling champions Leicester City.
Home wins over Watford in midweek and now Arsenal were essential for everyone to keep the faith, and City will believe the seven points that separate them from league leaders Chelsea can be clawed back over the next few months.
“It’s important now we are second - we make a good game from the beginning to the end - we deserved our win,” said Guardiola.
”When another team scores first it is not easy, what I ask to the players is simple: to keep the spirit to play for our people, our fans. They stayed till the end of the game, normally they leave 10 or 15 minutes before the end.
”We were lucky in the first minute of the second half to get the goal back but Arsenal were lucky in the first minute of the first half (with the Walcott goal).
“Of course, (the result) will give us belief. There are brilliant teams (in the Premier League), it is going to be tough to qualify for the Champions League next season even.”
Guardiola’s case has not been helped by the suspensions of Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho, who were sent off for their moments of madness against Chelsea at the start of the month.
Serious injuries to midfielder Ilkay Gundogan and defender Pablo Zabaleta, who was taken off at halftime on Sunday with suspected ligament damage to his left knee, are also a setback.
In their absence, attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne delivered an impressive second-half performance capped by a superb cross-field ball to set up Sterling for the winner.
While the Belgium international’s influence increased, Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil looked a fading second-half force as City’s midfield, with Yaya Toure also impressing his manager, steamrollered to victory.
“It was about tactics and desire,” said Toure, emphasising the conjunction as if to make the point that Guardiola’s teams are not all about pretty patterns. They battle too.
Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Ken Ferris