Manager Pep Guardiola called Nathan Ake an “exceptional guy” after he sent Manchester City into the FA Cup fifth round with the winning goal in a narrow victory over Premier League title rivals Arsenal.

The Gunners have established an impressive lead in the league but it was City who shaded a tight contest thanks to Ake’s precise 64th-minute finish after good work from Jack Grealish.

Arsenal had chances of their own, especially in the first half when City goalkeeper Stefan Ortega, deputising for Ederson, saved well from Takehiro Tomiyasu and new signing Leandro Trossard.

There was little to choose between the sides and their Premier League battle will come into focus once more when they meet at Emirates Stadium on 15 February.

“We were definitely better in the second half. Arsenal have taken a step forward. It was a tight game and you realise how good a side they are,” Guardiola said.

“What a season he [Ake] is playing. He controlled one of the toughest opponents in the Premier League because Bukayo Saka is in an incredible moment. He is really good in the duels in the box, defending the far post and set-pieces is an extra bonus.

“He is an exceptional guy, there was a period where he didn’t play and he never complained once. As a manager you want players like Nathan. He deserves all the good things in life.”

City have the edge

City will view this as a psychological blow aimed in the direction of Arsenal, who manager Pep Guardiola has publicly recognised as the biggest threat to their hopes of retaining their title.

City were again short of their fluid best but have a squad so rich in quality and versatility that there is invariably a match-winning moment, on this occasion provided by Grealish’s weaving run into the area and a clever finish from Ake.

Erling Haaland was quiet but the fact that City got over the line against opponents who have become so formidable, and who have lost only one league game this season, will delight Guardiola.

It was victory that came at a cost, however, with defender John Stones – so outstanding for his club this season and for England at the World Cup – forced off on the stroke of half-time after pulling up clutching his hamstring.

Stones has been an influential presence for City and Guardiola will hope the medical bulletin does not present a long-term problem.

Kesh Awefada

Kesh Awefada

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