LONDON: Manchester City extended their lead at the top with a win at Arsenal, before Tottenham beat Watford and West Ham held on for three points at Palace.

No club have ever held such a commanding Premier League lead at New Year as Manchester City and not gone on to win the title. Liverpool squandered a seven-point lead in 2019 and again in 2021. But Pep Guardiola’s City possess the crucial ability of being able to win matches even when not playing well.

They proved the point in recovering from a goal down to beat Arsenal 2:1 in north London. City manager Guardiola and all his players conceded that Arsenal had been the better team. Arsenal were angry with referee Stuart Attwell and VAR official Jarred Gillett but in truth they had only themselves to blame for allowing victory to escape after finishing with 10 men.

The Gunners took a deserved lead after 31 minutes through Bukayo Saka but were angry that referee Attwell had denied them a penalty for a tackle by Ederson on Martin Odegaard after a long VAR check. City equalised in the 57th minute with a Riyad Mahrez penalty after Bernardo Silva had been brought down by Granit Xhaka. This time Attwell changed his initial decision after being advised to view the pitchside monitor.

Centre-back Gabriel was shown a yellow card for protesting to Attwell. Gabriel’s undisciplined outburst proved doubly costly two minutes later when he was shown a second yellow card, and thus red, for a foul in midfield on fellow Brazilian Gabriel Jesus. Asenal thus became the first club in Premier League history to receive 100 red cards.

City were encouraged by their numerical superiority to press forward and Rodri scored a stoppage-time winning goal. He exacerbated Arsenal anger by celebrating in front of Gunners’ fans who responded with a hail of missiles – plastic bottles, toilet rolls and a half-eaten pie (!).

The leaders have not lost in the league since October and dedicated the win to fullback Joao Cancelo. He played despite the shock of being attacked in his home during the week by four burglars who threatened his partner and their two-year-old daughter before stealing jewellery.

Guardiola was relieved and delighted with an 11th successive league win. He was especially pleased because City were playing only two days after winning at Brentford. He said: “Arsenal were better. We had no energy. We were incredibly tired, mentally and physically. We have had many cases of Covid and injuries. Look at our bench: it was four guys from the academy.”

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta missed the match because of Covid. Guardiola’s former City assistant would have been upset at the refereeing controversies but pleased with his team’s overall performance.

Thomas Partey in midfield and Saka and Gabriel Martinelli in attack were all outstanding in the first half when Arsenal should have scored more than one goal. Alexandre Lacazette led the attack intelligently to fuel speculation about a Newcastle transfer for out-of-favour Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Albert Stuivenberg, Arteta’s assistant, disagreed with the Odegaard penalty refusal and was mystified by Gabriel’s first yellow card but did not dispute the second.

The Dutchman said: “Gabriel told me he made a normal remark to the referee about the first penalty moment of Odegaard, what happened there. No dirty language was used. Just the comment. The second yellow card was inexperienced defending.” Stuivenberg also recognised the positives, saying: “Competing against one of the best teams in the world and having the courage to play is something we can build on.”

Even so, Arteta’s Arsenal have lost all five of their Premier meetings against Guardiola.