What started off as a row over etiquette in the Emirates dressing room had escalated to something far greater by last night. It was self evident, as soon as Nicklas Bendtner aimed a sneaky hack at Emmanuel Adebayor in the first five minutes of a momentous game, that the strikers were not over last season's dispute over whether Bendtner should have breached a match-day ban on training shoes.
What followed was a kicking contest between City's new £25m man and his old team-mates for much of the time but a game which will be remembered most by Manu's revenge: Adebayor sprinting the length of the pitch, having headed home his fourth goal in as many leagues games, and sliding into a celebration in front of Arsenal's fans. Adebayor had been abused by Arsenal supporters from the moment he stepped onto the pitch but this was not far short of encitement to riot. Bottles rained down from the Arsenal contingent and a steward injured in the melee lay on the pitch for five minutes.
If Nottingham Forest 's Nathan Tyson is anything to go by - he has been charged with improper conduct by the FA for his flag-waving against Derby County this month - Adebayor, who was booked for his goal celebration, is in trouble. The FA will also want to view footage of him apparently stamping on Robin van Persie, though the Dutchman did seem to aim a kick at the Togolese first. The plot thickened. Adebayor cleared an Emmanuel Eboue shot off the goalline and then waved towards the Arsenal fans as he left the pitch. Hard to tell if this was ironic, though probably not. "He is an emotional guy and it was an emotional moment for him. You have to cut him a bit of slack," Hughes said.
Amid all that lot, the game seemed a bit of a sub plot but when the dust settles its outcome tells us much about the force which Mark Hughes has gathered at Eastlands and its capacity to oust Arsenal from the firmament. Mark Hughes had warned on Friday that grace and elegance alone would not bring success on a football field and while he has added the requisite steel - there were particularly huge performances here from Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong, who was added as a second holding midfielder, Craig Bellamy and Kolo Toure - Wenger's side paraded the same ineptitude as in their 3-0 defeat in the corresponding fixture last season.
While each of City's goals were gifts - the visitors were "defensively shaky; when you mistake at that level you pay for it," Wenger admitted - Arsenal discovered what they lost when Kolo Toure, now City skipper, departed up the M1. A particular moment for City to treasure: Toure's immaculate challenge as Cesc Fabregas advanced into the box with them 1-0 up. His defence headers always reached blue shirts. And when City had, to quote Hughes' pre-match plan "battened down the hatches," they twice destroyed Arsenal on the counter attack. Further evidence of the way Hughes has instilled worldliness where once there was only prettiness.
For quarter of an hour as Arsenal unravelled their skills, it seemed that the bubble of expectation, before a record crowd bathing in the Eastlands sunshine at Eastlands, was to be popped again. City hardly got on the ball in that time and Micah Richards' failure to pick up William Gallas from Bendtner's corner was another object lesson in why his poor positional play keeps him out of Fabio Capello team planning.
But the Frenchman placed his header over the bar and City were then allowed to test out the kind of football Arsenal "don't enjoy", as Hughes had put it. It is no coincidence that they have now scored three goals from set pieces this season, where in previous years they would lack the physical presence to challenge at a free kick or corner. When Gareth Barry lofted a 20-yard free kick towards the right of the Arsenal penalty box on 19 minutes, the jostling was enough to distract Thomas Vermalen and allow the ball to drift over to Richards, unmarked, whose looping header rebounded off the post onto Manuel Almunia head and into the net.
Arsenal, stunned before the interval, rallied after it. Shay Given, whose huge contribution has been generally overlooked amid the big buys, had saved twice before Joleon Lescott, who helped Arsenal to six goals at Everton, made it seven when he let Van Persie receive substitute Tomas Rosicky's ball, spin past him and net left footed on 62 minutes.
And then, the painful exposition of Arsenal's featherweight defence: three goals in 10 minutes and each soft enough to make Wenger wince. Craig Bellamy, whose contribution across the pitch was colossal, collected a Lescott interception, ran 40 yards, exchanged passes with Richards and gratefully lashed in on 74 minutes. Adebayor, unchallenged, headed in Shaun Wright-Phillips' cross six minutes later. Bellamy won possession 30 yards out and put through Wright-Phillips for a deft flick over Almunia.
In the blinding finale, Arsenal could have scored fully four times but did so only once, Fabregas' deftly finding Tomas Rosicky out of Richards' reach and free to slot home. Wenger didn't want to read too much into the result last night. "I don't really know how significant it is or the impact on the league. Same spirit, same disappointment." But City have every reason to make profound interpretations.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the match: Touré
Match rating: 8/10
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies