Man City give Arsenal ominous message in Premier League title race

BRIGHTON & HOVE, England — Manchester City have been here before. No team responds to their rivals’ results in a tight Premier League title run-in like Pep Guardiola’s side, and they ensured that there will be at least one team pushing league leaders Arsenal right to the finish line with a ruthless 4-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium.

Erling Haaland may have missed the trip to the south coast through injury, but it barely mattered. A goal each for Kevin De Bruyne and Julián Álvarez and two from Phil Foden, who turned in another imperious performance, sent City into second place above Liverpool, after they faltered in a 2-0 loss at Everton on Wednesday, and one point behind Arsenal with a game in hand over the Gunners after their resounding 5-0 win the previous night.

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The reigning champions are seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive English league title, and they put aside the disappointment of last week’s Champions League exit by recapturing the ruthless domestic winning form which secured them their previous three titles. Last term they won 13 straight games to secure the first part of their historic treble, while the previous season saw them won nine of their last 12 to win the title on the final day of the campaign.

Despite his second season in England failing to live up to the impossibly high standards of his first, the absence of a striker of Haaland’s calibre could have been enough to set nerves on edge among lesser teams. But, this being City, there was no sign of such weakness. Álvarez may have come into the starting lineup for the Norwegian, yet he was anything but a direct replacement, forming a fluid front three with Foden, and De Bruyne that gave Brighton’s players a torrid evening.

Although Guardiola would surely have preferred to have his big center-forward available, City actually have a better win percentage with Haaland out of the team this season. They have claimed victories in 87% of their 15 matches without him in all competitions, compared to 66% of their 38 games with the Premier League’s joint-top scorer leading the line.

Foden has emerged as City’s key player in this key stage of this season, and he was the instigator for his team’s opener after a quarter of an hour at the Amex. The England international slipped the ball out wide for Kyle Walker to cross into the area where De Bruyne sent a diving header looping over goalkeeper Jason Steele. It was the Belgian’s 18th goal involvement (six goals, 12 assists) in all competitions since the turn of the year, with only Chelsea‘s Cole Palmer registering more in that time. It looked certain to be the only the first of the evening.

Midway through the first half, Foden took a free kick which he had won himself on the edge of the area, and his strike was deflected in off the back of the unfortunate Pascal Gross. If there was a slice of fortune about that goal for Foden, his next 10 minutes later was the result of he and his teammates’ tireless work on a night when they could have taken it easy. City pressed and hustled Brighton into playing the ball back into their own area and, after they continuously failed to clear it, Valentín Barco ultimately relinquished possession to Silva and Foden stroked home for City’s third goal of the night and his 24th of the season.

Guardiola said: “It’s the quality they have [that allows them to play this way]. Phil can play in more positions than Kevin, but the way [Brighton] defend, we decided today to play in that way … and they did really well.”

At half-time, Brighton welcomed onto the pitch local boy Russ Cook, the self-dubbed “Hardest Geezer” who recently completed a year-long solo run up through the length of Africa, but the Seagulls’ own grueling feat of endurance was far from over. Any hopes of salvaging a result that would send them into the top half of the table with a European place still mathematically possible — and earn manager Roberto De Zerbi a full set of victories over the Premier League’s big six clubs — were extinguished just after the hour mark.

Éderson‘s long kick sent Walker scampering away down the right and he turned 19-year-old Barco — making his first start for Brighton — inside-out before teeing up Álvarez for a clinical finish which reduced Arsenal’s goal-difference advantage in the league table to eight.

With Rodri as pivotal in midfield as ever alongside Mateo Kovacic, Brighton were left mostly feeding off scraps whenever they managed to get out of their own half. The home side did have credible appeals for a penalty when Joao Pedro fell under contact from Josko Gvardiol, but referee Jarred Gillett ignored them and the VAR agreed. The home crowd’s chants of “De Zerbi’s right, the refs are s—e” was just the latest example of fans across the country continuing to rail against a perceived lack of fairness in video reviews.

But one thing that everyone in the ground could agree is that City looked as much like champions as ever. They have now scored 17 goals in their last four league games, and it is getting on for five months since they last lost a match in any competition, a 1-0 loss at Aston Villa on Dec. 6 last year. Not that Guardiola is taking anything for granted, despite City’s fate being in their hands.

Guardiola said: “Of course the pressure is there, otherwise we cannot perform that well. We have five games left, on to the next.

“Just because it happened [winning the title] in the past doesn’t mean it will happen in the future. To do it again, you have to make it happen. I would love to say that [because] you won the last three Premier Leagues you are going to win 4-0 here, but it doesn’t happen [like that].”

With five games left to play before they face Manchester United in the FA Cup final (stream LIVE on May 25 on ESPN+), five victories will guarantee City yet another Premier League title and with it the status as the most dominant team in English football since the league was founded in 1888.

But of course, there is no need to tell them that. They have been here before.