LONDON (AP) — In what has become a stroll to the expected Premier League title, Manchester City is still finding ways of producing the unexpected.
Raheem Sterling is scoring from headers.
He took only 80 seconds to meet Riyad Mahrez’s cross at Arsenal to clinch a 1-0 victory on Sunday.
“I’m 5 foot 7 and a half,” Sterling said, “and every time I score a headed goal, it’s an extra buzz.”
His last two goals — in a season tally that’s reached 13 — have come from his head after helping City to a victory at Liverpool two weeks ago.
And they are helping City dethrone Liverpool as champions and regain the trophy won in 2018 and 2019. When City beat Arsenal in the reverse fixture in October — provided by Sterling’s foot — Pep Guardiola’s side was in ninth place.
Now, with 13 games to go, City has a 10-point lead over Manchester United and Leicester after winning an 18th successive game in all competitions.
“We had a difficult start to the season, something we’re not used to,” Sterling said. “It’s a credit to the team, we started to dig results out. We need to keep our focus and move on to the next one.”
The next one is a Champions League game at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Wednesday with the start of the knockout phase as City looks to lift the European Cup for the first time.
Although the scoreline at the Emirates Stadium was slender and City was not a constant threat for Arsenal, the 10th-place hosts could find no way past the central defensive duo of John Stones and Ruben Dias.
“It was harder than we expected it to be,” City manager Pep Guardiola said. “We adjusted our pressing in the second half. We didn’t create chances, but (we did) enough to win the game.”
Just as City has been doing since Dec. 19 — beating every opponent, to leave City in pursuit of four trophies.
“When everyone is suffering in this world, all the teams in the league are dropping points,” Guardiola said, “we were consistent over the past two months and I did not expect (that).
“We cannot forget we won at Anfield, we won against Tottenham, at Goodison Park and here — three incredibly tough away games in this period, which is why I’m more than pleased to win just 1-0.”
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta was left to rue the early lapse.
“To concede against them is tough because it puts the game exactly where they want it,” he said. “We lacked the quality in those situations, so we struggled. We got something wrong, we talked about something and we didn’t do it in the first five or 10 minutes.
“It was a tactical thing that we prepared and we were unable to read it in the game and that cost us because we were disorganized.”
For Arsenal, the season hinges on the Europa League, which provides a route to the Champions League by winning the second-tier competition.
Arsenal was held 1-1 by Benfica in the first leg in the round of 32 last week and now has to fly more than three hours to play its home game in Athens on Thursday due to coronavirus restrictions.
“We have to sleep, eat and we won’t have time to train then we fly to Greece,” Arteta said.
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