Arsenal came out on top in the battle of Premier League title favourites as goals from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud beat Manchester City 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium.
Leicester City will top the table at Christmas, but Monday’s clash could be pivotal in the title race as Arsene Wenger’s side moved clear of City in second.
Walcott’s stunning effort – Arsenal’s first shot on target – lit up a cagey first period, and Giroud neatly converted their second on the stroke of half-time to give the hosts a comfortable cushion.
Sergio Aguero was subdued on his return to lead the City attack, lasting 63 minutes on his first outing in five games.
Yaya Toure reduced the arrears with 10 minutes to go with an astonishing strike, but City’s late charge fell flat and they have now failed to win any of their last five away games in the league.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side host Sunderland on Boxing Day before what now looks a daunting trip to Leicester two days later with their hopes of regaining the Premier League now flagging.
City ought to have taken the lead in the opening period and will likely look back at two Kevin De Bruyne chances as the game slipped from their grasp.
De Bruyne was in the thick of the action as City routinely threatened on the counter attack, but Petr Cech got down to his left to deny the Belgium international, who ought to have done better shortly afterwards as Aguero’s neat pass released him in the right channel, but he fired wide from an angle, ignoring the unmarked Silva in the middle.
Arsenal immediately made the visitors pay for De Bruyne’s misses, with Walcott opening the scoring in sublime fashion. Mesut Ozil fed the winger near the left-hand corner of the penalty box and the England man cut onto his right foot before beating Joe Hart with a curled strike into the far corner.
Wenger’s men doubled their lead in first-half stoppage time after Eliaquim Mangala lost possession inside his own half and Ozil punished slack marking to send Giroud into the penalty area with his 15th Premier League assist of the season, the Frenchman evading Nicolas Otamendi’s tackle before finding the net with a powerful finish through Hart’s legs.
Again impressive on the right flank in the absence of Alexis Sanchez, Joel Campbell should have made it three shortly after the break as he burst into the penalty area, but Hart kept City’s hopes alive, sticking his right leg out to thwart the Costa Rica winger.
The Manchester City goalkeeper was again called into action at the hour mark after a slick Arsenal move involving Ozil, Campbell and Aaron Ramsey and did a fine job to deny the latter from close range.
Toure fired City back in it with a superb finish into the top corner, which Cech could only watch drift into the top-left corner, but the hosts were rarely troubled as the visitors’ attempts to salvage a draw fizzled out.