David Silva scored the only goal of a high-quality contest in the 53rd minute after Mario Balotelli cut in from the left and let fly with a powerful low shot that Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny did well to save but could not hold.

Sergio Aguero followed up and, as the ball came loose on the right, Silva pounced to score from close range.

City missed several chances to double their lead and were almost made to pay when in-form Arsenal striker Robin van Persie received the ball just eight yards out only to shoot weakly at England goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Then Argentina defender Pablo Zabaleta nearly made it 2-0 to the hosts when his shot beat Szczesny only to bounce off the keeper’s right post.

Hart then preserved City’s lead in the 90th minute when he tipped over a shot from Thomas Vermaelen that came through a crowd of players. In stoppage time, another Vermaelen strike curled just wide.

Defeat meant Arsenal, beaten for the first time in nine games, stayed fifth in the table, 12 points behind City.

Earlier on Sunday, Manchester United returned to the summit for a couple of hours after a 2-0 win away to Queens Park Rangers.

Wayne Rooney needed fewer than 60 seconds to open the scoring at Loftus Road before Michael Carrick made the game safe for the visitors in the 56th minute.

“We should have put the game to bed after about half an hour,” United manager Sir Alex Ferguson told the BBC.

Meanwhile Tottenham moved into third place, leapfrogging Chelsea to become London’s top club, with a 1-0 win at home to strugglers Sunderland.

Russia striker Roman Pavlyuchenko scored the only goal of the game at White Hart Lane just after the hour mark.

Liverpool went above Newcastle and into sixth spot with a 2-0 win away to Aston Villa.

Both their goals came from corners, with Craig Bellamy forcing the ball home from close range in the 11th minute.

And four minutes later, the unmarked Martin Skrtel rose highest to head in past American keeper Brad Guzan.

“We passed the ball and moved it and hit the bar twice — I think it was well deserved three points for us,” Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish told Sky Sports.