Samir Nasri endured a hostile return to the Emirates last night which ended with a blazing row in the tunnel with his former Arsenal team-mate Emmanuel Frimpong after Sergio Aguero's goal gave Manchester City a place in the Carling Cup semi-finals.
The France international was barracked throughout the game by the home support and as he left the pitch, it was clear that he was exchanging words with Frimpong – the Arsenal player who proved the most unforgiving in the immediate aftermath of Nasri's departure in August. In the post-match press conference, the Arsenal director of communications, Mark Gonnella, denied reports that the two players had come to blows but confirmed there had been a row.
Gonella interjected during Arsène Wenger's post-match press conference: "I was there, there were some words exchanged and that was it. Just noise. No punches thrown." Later Gonnella described the altercation as "handbags".
Roberto Mancini conceded after the game that part of his reason for playing Nasri had been to take the sting out of his next visit to the stadium in the Premier League in April. In the end it was Aguero who rescued City with a beautifully taken goal seven minutes from time.
There was criticism from Wenger of his team's "naivety" in giving a goal away from a position in which they had an attacking corner. City swept upfield from their own area, Edin Dzeko playing in Adam Johnson through the middle and the England international steered the ball into the path of Aguero who scored his 12th City goal of the season.
Wenger said: "I felt we were a bit naive because it was a corner for us and [turned into] a goal for them. I knew we were in trouble and we didn't take enough time over it. Johan Djourou had come up for the corner and we didn't give him enough time to get back. Overall what is frustrating is that we lost a game when we were looking like we could win it."
Certainly Arsenal had the game's most exuberant attacking presence in 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who forced a good save from the City goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon.
The key disappointment for Wenger was the performances of Marouane Chamakh and Park Chu-young, both of whom had chances to score. The South Korean forced a good save from Pantilimon in the first half and Chamakh came up short when Frimpong crossed in the dying moments of the game.
Nevertheless, when it mattered, City produced the game's defining moment for their first win at either Highbury or the Emirates in 36 years. Asked whether there was a possibility that the team could win all three domestic trophies, Mancini said he would have a clearer idea after January. "December and January will be crucial because we play tough games and one every two days," he said. "After January we will be able to talk about winning something."
Mancini also said that he believed Nasri could play better than he did last night, although the Frenchman lasted 90 minutes during which every touch of his was booed. Mancini brought off Aleksandar Kolarov after just half an hour and replaced him with Aguero, later claiming that the Serb was injured.
Wenger said that Oxlade-Chamberlain had improved since a summer move from Southampton. "The experience for him shows it is good to be positive as well as patient," he said. "I have been very patient with him until now. I feel it is important to hold them back a little bit and keep them on the training ground and he has shown me he has improved a lot by the consistency of his game."
Oxlade-Chamberlain might represent the future but for this season, at least at Arsenal, their chances of winning their first trophy since 2005 slipped significantly last night. For Mancini's team, anything remains possible.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Fabianski; Djourou, Squillaci, Koscielny, Miquel (Vermaelen, 80); Frimpong, Coquelin, Benayoun; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arshavin, 87), Chamakh, Park (Gervinho, 67). Subs not used Mannone (gk), Eastmond, Ozyakup, Yennaris.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Pantilimon; Onuoha, K Touré, Savic, Zabaleta; De Jong, Hargreaves (Razak, 90); A Johnson, Nasri, Kolarov (Aguero, 31); Dzeko. Subs not used Richards, Bridge, Taylor (gk), Suarez, Rekik.
Referee L Probert (Wiltshire).