The question is, would Cristiano Ronaldo even get in the side? Arsenal did not need to dwell on might-have-beens yesterday, they simply dismantled Manchester City's proud unbeaten home record at Eastlands. The scoreline did not truly reflect their superiority.
Faced by what should have been a serious test of their title credentials, Arsenal were two goals up within 26 minutes and, even though they gifted Gelson Fernandes a goal, they were never properly challenged thereafter. Two strikes from Emmanuel Adebayor, which took his tally to 21 for the season, and another from Eduardo da Silva gave them three points.
"It was an important and deserved win," the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, said before praising Adebayor's improvement over the past year. "In the past he was not always calm when he was in front of goal; now he looks like scoring almost every time."
When asked whether he would prefer Adebayor or Ronaldo, who on Friday Wenger revealed had considered joining the Gunners before signing for Manchester United, he opted for diplomacy. "I am happy with my players," he replied. "It is difficult to make the comparison because Ronaldo is more of a winger while Adebayor is a centre-forward."
Ronaldo would enhance any team, but yesterday Arsenal did not need him, particularly during an opening phase that provoked the near-impossible; a violent reaction in Sven Goran Eriksson. "I was angry and I made sure the players knew it," he said. "We are all angry because we didn't start to challenge them, press them or make it difficult until it was2-0. If you do that against Arsenal you are in trouble.
As the City manager testified, Arsenal began with such a swagger that after 15 minutes the possession statistics were 79 to 21 per cent in their favour. Give the Gunners so much of the ball and you are asking for problems, and City, no strangers to those, were behind within nine minutes.
Alexander Hleb played out to the wing and Bacary Sagna skipped past Michael Ball and played the ball back to Adebayor. The Togo striker had scored seven goals in the previousfive League and cup games and, 10 yards out, he was unlikely to miss. The only obstaclewas Micah Richards, whose attempted block merely slowed the ball down en route to the net.
If that had been exhibition football, better followed after 26 minutes. Abou Diaby swept the ball to the left, where Gaël Clichy crossed and Adebayor headed down. Eduardo had his backto the goal and Richards was heading towards him like a missile, but he gave himself room by flicking the ball up with his chest and then swivelled to hit the ball past Joe Hart with his left foot.
Arsenal were so superior it seemed they could only be caught via a self-inflicted wound, and fortunately for the home team, the shot went through the foot when Clichy dallied too long on the byline. Vedran Corluka stole the ball and played the ball back for Fernandes to crash the ball past Jens Lehmann.
Arsenal could not match the level of their football after the interval, and the game became a more equal contest in which the visitors had to balance their ambition to finish the match with a flourish against the fear they might concede an equaliser.
Cesc Fabregas might have eradicated these concerns if he had kept the ball lower after Hleb and Adebayor had combined to give him a shot after 58 minutes. And City had grounds for complaint when Martin Petrov was called back for offside even though Darius Vassell was the offender. Elano also almost looped the ball in after Lehmann had to clear fractions before the charging Vassell got to it.
The suspicion, however, was that Arsenal would catch City on the break, and in the 88th minute they did. Adebayor was tripped by Elano, but after delightful interplay between Hleb and Fabregas, the former pulled the ball back and Adebayor made up the ground to beat Joe Hart.
"I haven't set him targets," Wenger said of Adebayor, "because we have had the League's top scorer before and not won the championship. The important thing is that the team is successful."
The way Arsenal are playing the question is not if they will be successful, but by how much.