A club on course for the Premier League title must employ a variety of means. Manchester City, beaten at Chelsea in their last outing, could not show all of their previous wealth of creativity against a good and stubborn Arsenal side, but they did prevail deservedly through a David Silva goal and returned to the Premier League summit. Arsenal themselves were determined despite being pinned down for periods. City had twitches late in the match when the ball came off the arm of Micah Richards inside their penalty area, but the contact had been accidental.
There was greater alarm for the hosts when Thomas Vermaelen's fine drive from the edge of the penalty area had to be put over the bar with an outstanding save by Joe Hart in the 90th minute. Despite that, the gravity of this fixture had mostly prevented spirits from soaring. Each team looked as if it was burdened by seriousness. City strove to underline their intent all over again after the woe at Stamford Bridge and Arsenal wanted to show the effectiveness that has characterised them after the troubled start to the campaign.
It ought not to have been a surprise that, at the interval, there had been three bookings but no goals. If Arsenal had two of those yellow cards it reflected the fact that the pressure was on them, if only because City were bent on proving that they could recreate their fluency after that first league defeat at Chelsea. City did that to an extent, but Arsenal had more persistence than anticipated in defence even if the lack of available full-backs required Johan Djourou and Vermaelen, customarily centre-backs, to fill those posts.
It was the contribution of the goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, that did most to leave the match goalless at the interval when he blocked an effort after Mario Balotelli had got behind the Arsenal centre-back Per Mertesacker in the 24th minute. The visitors, unlike City, remain in the Champions League and perhaps the endurance shown in the early exchanges helps to explain that. Arsenal also found moments of encouragement, but much of their energy still went into defending.
The goalkeeping was repeatedly excellent, but City could not be denied indefinitely. After 52 minutes, Balotelli was unmarked on the left and ran free for a drive into the six-yard box that broke free for Silva to escape the close attentions of Vermaelen and put City into the lead from close range.
Samir Nasri, facing his former club, could not quite set up chances, but that hardly mattered. Pablo Zabaleta came close to providing a second goal for City when hitting the post in the 67th minute. City, however, were ultimately relieved just to come through a late onslaught to instantly regain their place at the top of the table from Manchester United.