Mesut Özil was once again delicately dominant when it mattered against
Manchester City, his two assists taking his Premier League tally to 15 for the season.

Barney Ronay in London/The Guardian

For Arsenal fans filing through the drizzle outside the Emirates stadium before kick-off the display in the windows of the club megastore offered a stirring festive spectacle. Through the Armoury’s double doors a whole platoon of mannequins could be seen arranged shoulder to shoulder in floor-length Arsène Wenger-style quilted overcoats, part merchandising tribute, part down-insulated Wenger-themed nativity scene.
With Manchester City in town, and with Arsenal’s fellow Premier League heavyweights all in a degree of managerial flux, it felt like a fitting seasonal tribute.
Wenger may be in the legacy phase of his career, his destiny over the next season and a half still finely poised. But on a night when Arsenal moved four points clear of a sluggish City thanks to well-executed 2-1 victory it wasn’t hard to see the benefits of a little high-end continuity.
All change! Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini may no longer be the oldest managers in the Premier League, after Guus Hiddink’s return. But they are now the only current ones to have won it. Indeed, with Pellegrini’s hopes of lasting into the summer menaced by the availability of Pep Guardiola and Louis van Gaal seeming to deflate a little more with every public appearance, slumped in his touchline chair like a giant, sad, proud, quietly withering bathroom duck, a tantalising outcome is just about within Wenger’s grasp.
Right now, however briefly, it is just about conceivable Arsenal could end up winning the league in a year when every one of their heavyweight title rivals changes manager.
When the Premier League spent £859m on summer transfers and Arsenal just £10m on Petr Cech. And when, as here, Wenger can send out a team to beat his most likely rivals in the spring with a starting XI that cost the same as City’s bench. Steady there, Arsène. Deep breaths.
Of course, this Peak Wenger scenario is a distant prospect with the real slog of the season still to come. Here, though, pretty much every one of the manager’s calls seemed to pay off. Aaron Ramsey was energetic and disciplined in central midfield, adding a degree of running power that is a step up on the first-choice pair of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla.
The defence was resilient and poised as City showed their champion will at the end and might have snatched an equaliser in the closing moments after Yaya Touré’s brilliant goal.
Theo Walcott was a threat cutting in off the left. Olivier Giroud continued his transformation since September from great wandering wardrobe of a No9 to a slow motion, own-brand version of the complete centre-forward.
Most tellingly Mesut Özil, Wenger’s post-austerity record signing, was again delicately dominant when it mattered.
Alongside Riyad Mahrez, Özil has been the season’s most notable creative attacking presence, a player who, like his opposite number here, David Silva, has learnt to cope with the concussive speed of the Premier League and accept its corollary, the pockets of space to find the telling pass.
Silva was a regal, orderly presence in the opening 20 minutes. He should have been given the chance to open the scoring just after the half hour when Kevin De Bruyne shot past the post with Silva unmarked in exactly the right pocket of space.
It was a tipping point. A minute later Arsenal scored a goal borne out of a piece of explosive brilliance from Walcott and a lovely moment of evasion from Arsenal’s conductor.
Taking Özil’s pass, Walcott cut back and curled a thrilling shot into the far corner, the ball passing over Özil’s head as he felt its breath and ducked just enough, an assist by omission. Ducking out of the way isn’t one of the more widely celebrated skills in English football’s robust history. But as ducks go it was right up there.
On half-time the score was 2-0: another goal, another Özil assist. This was more conventional as a weak cross-field pass from Eliaquim Mangala was intercepted and the ball fed to Özil, who has a way of making these velvet-toed scoring passes down the side of the defence look disarmingly easy.
Giroud didn’t have to break stride. He shot low and hard through Joe Hart’s legs.
Much has been made of Özil’s gold-standard service this season and the current run now stands at 15 Premier League assists. At the right time, too: Özil has now made goals against every other club currently in the top six of the Premier League. There may have been more light-touch, gossamer periods of creative dominance in an English top-tier season. But none that springs to mind.
At the end it seemed fitting Özil should wander off the pitch and down the tunnel dressed in a Wenger-gown of his own: still juggling a ball, still – even in floor-length quilted nylon – the coolest man in the stadium. With five months to go to the season’s climax Arsenal will now be favourites to win the title. What is certain is this team has what Wenger described as “a great life” in it and a deeper range of variation, an ability to defend and play without the ball. In a week of flux elsewhere, it was a model night for Arsenal’s master of longevity.