It was hardly an encouraging performance from Manchester City, but the result is all that matters.
City narrowly edged their way back toward the top of the Premier League with a 1-0 win over Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium. The surprise return of Sergio Agüero stole the headlines, but despite a very good opening 30 minutes, City dropped their level once again and were bailed out by Ederson after Raheem Sterling’s opener.
From there, neither side played particularly well, but Arsenal will be disappointed to walk away with nothing from what was a subpar City performance on the whole. Through four matches played, City have not looked at their best in any of them, and yet are now just three points behind Liverpool with a game in hand.
With Mikel Arteta returning to Manchester to face his former boss in Pep Guardiola, the two dueled out a less than brilliant spectacle after Guardiola’s side was thrown completely out of rhythm by his apprentice in the FA Cup last summer. City were less than convincing, but the result is objectively all that matters. They have looked nothing like the two title-winning teams of previous years, but perhaps the standard will not be so high this season.
Liverpool dropped points for the second straight match and lost star defender Virgil Van Dijk to what appears to be a serious knee injury, which could blow the race wide open. If Liverpool drop off anywhere near the manner in which City did last season without Aymeric Laporte, City could win the title with a number closer to 85 points than the 90+ Liverpool seemed destined for.
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This is well within the realm of possibility, but it creates an odd juxtaposition. City look to have much more in common with last year’s disappointment than the titles of 2017-18 and 2018-19, but are right in the thick of the title race. Perhaps the standard of perfection the Premier League’s duopoly has created over the last three seasons was always unsustainable, as 100, 98, and 99 points have been the requirement to win the league.
City must continue to get results, however. Liverpool are still dangerous enough to win games, and given the start teams such as Everton have made, anything seems possible in a year defined by parity.