Jose Antonio Reyes was only on the pitch for 20 minutes at Highbury yesterday but Arsenal's £17m recruit experienced the full panoply of his new club's entertainments: a wonder goal from Thierry Henry, a series of chances beautifully created but casually missed, a nervous finish and, of course, a mêlée ending in a red card.
In the event it was a former Arsenal player, Nicolas Anelka, who was dismissed, but Ashley Cole and Edu could easily have gone as well. The former caused the scrum, holding on to the ball after Anelka had pulled City back to 2-1 with a minute left. The latter charged in with arms raised, the offence for which the referee, Alan Wiley, dismissed Anelka.
The red card, which will cost City their leading striker for three matches, capped a series of marginal decisions which had gone against City. Both Arsenal goals, the first put through his own net by Michael Tarnat after 37 minutes, the second driven in by Henry seven minutes from time, had been preceded by possible fouls against City players.
Kevin Keegan, who has now overseen one win in 18 matches, said: "I thought the referee had a poor game. If some of those decisions had been against blue shirts rather than red they would have been given the other way. Nicolas said he had been elbowed. I don't know. But I do know I have never seen him retaliate in the two years he's been with us during which he's been kicked, hacked, and given some severe punishment. Something happened there that got him angry."
That something was probably Cole grabbing the ball, skipping round Robbie Fowler then throwing it away when apprehended by Anelka. The Frenchman raised his arms and pushed Cole in the face. Edu then came running in, arms raised, to grapple with Anelka.
Wenger was dismissive. "Ashley took the ball," he said. "We've seen that before without creating a national scandal. Nicolas was not happy and pushed him in his face. I don't think Edu did any more than separate players."
Given the weight of form and history ranged against them, City could have done with receiving the benefit of the doubt from Wiley. They have not beaten Arsenal anywhere since 1991, when Peter Reid and Gary Megson were in their XI, and had not won at Highbury since 1975. In the last nine meetings, home and away, they have conceded 27 goals, so it was hardly surprising even Keegan, the great adventurer, opted for a defensive formation with Anelka a lone striker.
Initially it seemed a flimsy construct as Arsenal, with Robert Pires prominent, sliced apart their left flank. After two crosses went begging from that side Lauren advanced down the right, exchanged a one-two with Freddie Ljungberg, and pulled back a cross which Henry steered against the post.
A deluge of goals as heavy as the torrent to come from the skies appeared inevitable, but Arsenal became complacent and City settled. The penetrative running of Shaun Wright-Phillips and the clever movement of Anelka caused problems and Jens Lehmann was called into action.
Then Anelka, in midfield, tried to cut inside Gilberto and fell. Was he clipped, or did he lose his footing in the mud? While City waited for the whistle Arsenal countered. Ray Parlour, who gave a dynamic performance, found Dennis Bergkamp. He released Henry, whose cross was turned in by Tarnat as Ljungberg lurked on his shoulder.
City went into the break angry and came out still simmering, Barton crunching Henry seconds into the half. They pushed for an equaliser with Richard Dunne and Sylvain Distin both testing Lehmann from set-pieces.
Arsenal needed invigorating and Wenger introduced Reyes. With his first touch he dummied Barton and Paul Bosvelt. The young Spaniard then had the chance to delight Highbury but, put clear by Pires, saw his shot hit David James in the face. The England goalkeeper also denied Gilberto but then another key decision went against City as Fowler fell under Campbell's challenge. Arsenal swept the ball from right-back to left-wing where Henry drilled a stunning shot inside the far post.
"For the second goal Sol got a touch on the ball," Wenger said. "For the first - there are 10 such incidents which do not lead to a goal. Do we now have to kneel down and apologise every time we score as somewhere on the pitch there may have been a push from an Arsenal player?"
The win carried Arsenal back to the Premiership summit but, as with Manchester United and Chelsea's weekend victories, the effort it required suggests there will be many twists to come.
Goals: Tarnat og (39) 1-0; Henry (83) 2-0: Anelka (89) 2-1.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann 5; Lauren 6, Touré 6, Campbell 7, Cole 4; Ljungberg 5 (Edu 5, 58), Parlour 8, Gilberto 7, Pires 7 (Cygan, 83); Bergkamp 6 (Reyes 6, 69), Henry 8. Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Bentley.
Manchester City (4-5-1): James 5; Sun Jihai 5, Dunne 5, Distin 6, Tarnat 5; Wright-Phillips 7, Bosvelt 5 (Fowler, 76), Barton 6, Reyna 5 (McManaman, 76), Sinclair 4; Anelka 6. Substitutes not used: Arason (gk), Macken, Sibierski.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffs) 3.
Bookings: Arsenal: Cole. Manchester City: Barton, Sinclair. Sending-off: Anelka.
Man of the match: Henry.
Attendance: 38,103.Reuse content