Manchester City teach Arsenal a title-chasing lesson, but will Arteta learn?

LONDON -- If Arsenal did not know it before, they do now: the Premier League title race is a test of nerve.

Manchester City demonstrated their durability for the task at hand with a 3-1 win at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night, secured not as a consequence of a huge gulf in class but through a maturity in execution when the pressure became most acute. The Gunners simply have to handle these moments better in the weeks ahead or their title challenge could quickly fade.

They should take encouragement from their ability to match their more vaunted rivals, but the fine margins in mentality here underlined why one of these teams is going for a fifth title in six years and the other is in the midst of a 19-year wait. These are the highest stakes Arsenal have played at for years. They must find the resolve to keep doing everything that has gotten them into this position, and questions over whether they can do so will grow louder now.

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Arsenal dropped seven points in their first 19 games of the season. They have now dropped eight in the past three games, comprising defeat at Everton, a home draw against Brentford and Wednesday's loss to City.

There were mitigating factors in all three: the new manager bounce Sean Dyche provided at Goodison Park, the formal apology that came after a VAR error allowed Brentford's equaliser to stand, Thomas Partey's muscle injury robbing them of their key midfielder hours before kick-off against City, who could have been down to 10 men after Ederson fouled Eddie Nketiah in the box while already on a yellow card.

But, by and large, these are the type of punches title-winning teams have to roll with, and Arsenal winced as they took the shots City delivered here. They have a game in hand, but City moving to the top of the Premier League for the first time since Nov. 5 is a body blow.

"Psychologically there is a marathon still out there," said Arteta in response to the mental effect of dropping to second place. "So psychologically it's very far.

"I said it three months ago and I said it today, it's about tomorrow. The most important thing is how we are tomorrow and focus on that because the rest of the things, we don't know what is going to happen."

Saturday's trip to Aston Villa and a reunion with former manager Unai Emery takes on huge importance now. They will not face the same quality City possess every week, but this young and largely inexperienced group must find a way to handle the big moments in matches with more poise.

There was a spell in the second half at 1-1 when Wednesday's game reached critical mass. City had improved notably, particularly for the introduction of Manuel Akanji for Riyad Mahrez, freeing Bernardo Silva from the purgatory of marking Bukayo Saka as a part-time left-back.

Arsenal, to their credit, attempted to continue playing out from the back in a manner that has enabled them to exceed all expectations this season. But mistakes crept into their play, and a crowd previously unambiguous in its support suddenly became edgy, perhaps with the memory of old scars still lingering in the mind.

Oleksandr Zinchenko gave the ball away close to his own box. Aaron Ramsdale fumbled a Rodri header that led to a chance for Akanji, which Jorginho cleared off the line.

Gabriel Magalhaes was the player guilty of making one mistake too many. He lost the ball cheaply. Silva fed Erling Haaland, who in turn found Ilkay Gundogan, and he slipped in Jack Grealish to finish past Ramsdale via a Takehiro Tomiyasu deflection.

Tomiyasu had earlier been guilty of gifting City their opening goal with a poor back pass, although Kevin De Bruyne capitalised with a stunningly ruthless swing of his left boot to lift a finish over Ramsdale.

The decision to start Tomiyasu was informed in part by a hope history would repeat itself. In October, Arteta suddenly started Tomiyasu after just 70 minutes of football to mark Mohamed Salah against Liverpool. It proved a masterstroke. Here, it was a decision that backfired. Arteta might also reflect on persevering with Gabriel Martinelli after another subdued showing, giving Leandro Trossard just 14 minutes to make an impact as a substitute.

And just as defensive mistakes undermined their ability to compete, Arsenal were wasteful in front of goal; Nketiah has never been scrutinised like he will be when leading the line in a team challenging for the title and, in that context, two bad misses proved costly.

Arteta is the driving force of Arsenal's improvement in recent seasons, but this was an occasion when it felt as though both his inexperience and that of his team told against Guardiola, who has now masterminded 11 consecutive league victories over Arsenal.

Guardiola laced his usual praise for his friend and former colleague Arteta with a poignant comment about the title race.

"They have [played] one game less, so I consider them top of the league," Guardiola said.

City have form for peaking at the right time. Their medals prove as much. Arsenal need to find the same upward curve from here.