As a statement about the kind of football Arsène Wenger's teams aspire to play, it was as good a performance from Arsenal as you are likely to see – just a pity for them that they neglected to score the winning goal.
They dazzled for much of the first half, swept Manchester City aside, rattled the post three times and played like they could win the game whenever they chose to pull the trigger. They left the pitch at the end with their captain Cesc Fabregas remonstrating with Roberto Mancini and the Arsenal fans chanting "Boring, boring City" at the departing away side.
As a statement about the kind of football Roberto Mancini's team aspire to play, it was pretty damn effective. City looked like they might be engulfed during the first half but they hung on grimly, too grimly for the liking of the Emirates crowd who seemed to think that City's vast expenditure obliged them to play football in a certain way. Even against the most devastating passing team in the Premier League.
Mancini sees it very differently and instead his team did what they had to do even if it was not particularly pretty. Judging by Fabregas' post-match reaction he is not a fan of their approach – and he has previous for criticising visiting managers – but Arsenal do not have the right to dictate the way their opponents play.
Wenger's team played some glorious stuff. Jack Wilshere was superb and the usual suspects, Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott caused City all sorts of problems. Had City tried to take on Arsenal at their own game then they would have been eviscerated. But who would be as foolish as to do that at the Emirates? Even Barcelona will surely think twice when they visit next month.
It would be too easy to say that City were negative. At home to Manchester United in that goalless draw in November, City should have offered more but there is no shame in trying to lock out Arsenal on their home patch. Certainly Arsenal would have preferred them to be more like Chelsea who collapsed here last month with crass defensive errors but City are too cute for that.
Which is why Mancini's team are second in the Premier League this morning, two points ahead of Arsenal albeit having played one game more than Wenger's team. It would have made for a more entertaining contest had Mancini's side opened up but their Italian manager clearly has no desire to join the likes of Carlo Ancelotti, Roy Hodgson and Gerard Houllier on this morning's managerial equivalent of death row. And who could blame him?
Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong and Yaya Touré hung around in front of the City back four like three very moody nightclub bouncers. Vincent Kompany and Kolo Touré did their best to control the quicksilver running of Walcott and Nasri. Pablo Zabaleta was very harshly dismissed in the 90th minute along with Bacary Sagna when it was the Arsenal man who was the aggressor.
At the back, arguably City's best player was Joe Hart who flung himself at Robin Van Persie's second-half strike from outside the area and turned it over the bar. Hart rode his luck at times, not least when Arsenal struck the post twice in the space of 15 seconds, but those attempts at his goal he could do something about, he saved.
With Arsenal moving the ball around on a wet surface like an ice hockey puck, especially in the first half, City were always hanging on. Barry snookered himself with an early booking in the 20th minute, needlessly given away for crashing into Sagna and had to be careful after that.
In the stand, Roy Keane, looking like Suffolk gentry in his flat cap, may well have reminisced about the more equal contests he once took part in against Arsenal. The Ipswich Town manager needed look no further than the City bench to find his old nemesis Patrick Vieira. He got a warm response when he limbered up on the touchline but was not thrown into the action.
Keane was there to scout Arsenal for his Carling Cup semi-final tie next week and he might have learned something from Mancini's approach. The more baffling of the Italian's selection was picking the Brazilian Jo instead of Adam Johnson on the left wing. It seems to be a case of anyone but Johnson for Mancini at the moment, although the Englishman did make an impact as a second half substitute.
Arsenal tore City apart in the second minute when Nasri and Fabregas switched the ball between themselves to get Wilshere free on the left side. His cross was just beyond the toe of Van Persie.
From then, Wenger's side were scurrying through every opening in the City defence. Van Persie hit the post with a shot on the blind side of Hart's defenders in the ninth minute. On 24 minutes, Wilshere threaded a beauty of a ball into Walcott in the right channel. He turned Zabaleta and shot wide.
There was no better move in the first half than the epic sweep upfield by Arsenal in the 28th minute following a City corner. A series of passes set Nasri free down the left and he teed Fabregas up to strike a shot against the post. Walcott's follow-up struck the opposite post.
It was exhilarating to watch. Walcott had a marginal call for a penalty when his shot struck Kompany's arm but it would have been harsh on the City defender. That City went in 0-0 was something of a miracle. Van Persie walked off with his arm round Kolo Touré and it would not be a stretch to imagine they were discussing their mutual acquaintance Emmanuel Adebayor.
Arsenal's dominance of the game slipped in the second half and Walcott was called to the bench with 22 minutes left. Not that he was happy to come off and, uncharacteristically for Walcott, he did not even look in Wenger's direction as he passed him.
The referee Michael Jones should not have sent off Zabaleta, who did nothing more than stand his ground when Sagna lunged forward. Arsenal were frustrated but there are worse positions to be in than third place and four points off the lead. Just ask Chelsea.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy; Song, Wilshere (Bendtner, 81); Walcott (Arshavin, 69), Fabregas, Nasri; Van Persie. Substitutes not used Rosicky, Denilson, Squillaci, Chamakh, Szczesny (gk).
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Richards, K Touré, Kompany (Boateng, 90), Zabaleta; De Jong, Barry; Milner, Y Touré, Jo (A Johnson, 64); Tevez. Substitutes not used Given (gk), Bridge, Wright-Phillips, Lescott, Vieira.
Referee M Jones (Cheshire).
Match rating 7/10.
Man of the match Wilshere.
Attendance 60,085.Reuse content