The paths of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Adebayor never crossed in North London in the middle years of the last decade, but the 30-yard pass which Manchester City's new recruit lofted for the striker to take on his chest and crash in on the volley provided a belief that they can reach for the heights of that Arsenal era, even if the pinnacle is a distance off.
Fielding five of Arsène Wenger's old players helped that impression – City's Kolo Touré, Sylvinho and reserve goalkeeper Stuart Taylor were joined by Bolton's Fabrice Muamba and debutante Jack Wilshere with that common heritage – and though the quality of the football was nothing like that of Arsenal's dominant period, the sheer range of talents on offer is enough to cause a flinch of apprehension in fourth-placed Liverpool, marginally ahead of City on goal difference this morning having played one more game.
Vieira was last night's object of fascination on his full debut and manager Roberto Mancini admitted he is anticipating much more. "I know Patrick and he knows he can play better," Mancini said. The French midfielder looked less than pleased when questioned again about his age last night but Mancini grinned. "I played until 36, played well and won a scudetto in my last season," he said.
Wilshere offered promise, though it was left to the least celebrated of the new boys to make the night his own. Mancini's predecessor Mark Hughes was not overly enthusiastic when Adam Johnson's name was put to him in November as a possible transfer target. But it is a sign of the versatility Mancini already sees in Johnson that he first deployed him at the tip of a midfield diamond but took barely 15 minutes to discern that he was not being allowed much space and relocate him to the right flank.
It was a decision which destroyed the Bolton left-back Paul Robinson's night as Johnson showed that his own prime asset – pace – is married with an uncommon ability in English right wingers: crossing accurately. Soon, feinting this way and that, he forced Robinson to stick out a leg and trip him for the 31st-minute penalty which Carlos Tevez cannoned in off Jussi Jaaskelainen's thigh.
Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, protested against the penalty decision, part of a strange analysis of the match that included the observations that "if City are honest they would say they were lucky" against a Bolton side which "made them look ordinary". But even he accepted Johnson was the night's star.
Bolton offered so little that you feel that two Owen Coyle sides could conceivably go down in one season. Sam Ricketts' two errors – nodding Wayne Bridge's lofted ball into Adebayor's path for an easy, spurned first-half chance, then misjudging Vieira's pass for Adebayor's goal, rammed home the impact of Gary Cahill's probable absence for the rest of the season.
Mancini, who expects to have Craig Bellamy fit to face Stoke next Tuesday, believes an upcoming hard run – after the Potteries, it is Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham – will tell him how far they can go. "Three difficult games where we see if we can arrive there," he said.
Manchester City (4-1-2-1-2): Given; Zabaleta, Touré (Lescott, 55), Kompany, Bridge (Wright-Phillips, 68); De Jong; Vieira, Barry; Johnson (Sylvinho, 84); Tevez, Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Onuoha, Ireland, Taylor (gk), Petrov.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Knight, Ricketts, Robinson; Lee, Wilshere (Taylor, 78), Muamba, Cohen (Davies, 74); Davies, Elmander. Substitutes not used: Samuel, Gardner, Al Habsi (gk), Basham, O'Brien.
Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).
Booked: Bolton Wanderers Muamba, Robinson.
Man of the match: Johnson.