By Toby Davis
LONDON (Reuters) - There would have been mutterings of "I told you so" among those who doubted Arsenal's ability to stay the course in the title race as Manchester City hit top gear on Saturday.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sought to pass a crushing 6-3 defeat off as a bad day at the office, without any knock-on effects for what is to come in the title race.
Yet Arsenal fans who have become used to seeing the wheels come off at various points of previous seasons will be crossing fingers that it is not a sign they are about to suffer another damaging slump.
"It is not beyond a bad day, it is a bad day," Wenger said on BT Sport.
"We conceded six goals, we lost our discipline at the end and were too open when I took (Mathieu) Flamini off.
"Out of the six goals we gave them five and when we came back to 2-1, we had a chance but could not take it.
"They scored the goals and you cannot say they did not deserve them. We have to come back to reality and it's about us defending together and we have not done that today."
The result raised both eyebrows and temperatures at the Etihad stadium, with the final whistle prompting a verbal scuffle between Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil.
Arsenal's two Germany internationals came together for a bout of finger pointing seemingly due to Ozil's failure to applaud the travelling fans.
As those fans boarded trains to head back to London, the topic of debate was likely to be whether it was a sign of things to come.
It came on the back of a difficult week for Wenger's team, who also dropped points at home to Everton last weekend and fell to a 2-0 defeat to Napoli in the Champions league on Wednesday that left facing a daunting draw in the last 16.
In recent seasons, periods of inconsistency have effectively ended Arsenal's hopes of competing for silverware.
Last season they came unstuck between October and February, exiting every cup competition they were in and dropping too far off the pace in the Premier League.
Defeat at home to Chelsea next weekend would see them shunted off the top of the table.
Arsenal fell behind after just 14 minutes as Sergio Aguero met a flick on from Martin Demichelis at the far post, arched his back and with balletic agility flashed a waist-height volley into the back of the net for his 13th league goal of the season.
Theo Walcott, making his first start since mid-September, side-footed the leveler thanks to a slight deflection from Demichelis, but Alvaro Negredo put City back ahead.
The Spaniard prodded home Pablo Zabaleta's cross from the right and Fernandinho capitalized when Arsenal gave away the ball at the back with a superb curling finish into the far corner to make it 3-1.
Walcott reduced the deficit with a curling effort, but David Silva sidefooted home a cross from the right to make it 4-2 and Fernandinho added a fifth with a delicately chipped finish.
After Per Mertesacker notched a consolation, Yaya Toure reconfirmed City's dominance from the penalty spot.
If Wenger was upset by his side opening the floodgates and conceding six, his City counterpart was disappointed that his team let in half that amount.
"To score six goals against Arsenal, the best defense and best team, is good, but to concede three goals is too much and that is something that we need to improve," Pellegrini said.
"We will always try to win the title. We have not had great results away from home but we are finding a style of play and we will try to continue a style of play. At the end of the year we will see who is the best team."
The only worry for City was an injury to Aguero who was forced off early in the second half.
"Sergio will see the doctor, it appears a problem with his calf but I don't know how many weeks."
(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Martyn Herman)