It seems like a footballing tectonic plate has shifted since the last time Manchester City caught sight of Arsenal. Back in April, Mikel Arteta hammered a match-winner that had the weight of a knockout blow, Mario Balotelli was sent off with his career in England supposedly disintegrating and Roberto Mancini faced the post-match music looking and sounding like a man who knew the season was going up in smoke. If it felt like classic City, little did we know City were about to serve up a classic.
The match, and its consequences, resonated deeply with Arsenal too. After all the talk about being a feeder club, all the wounds of watching a series of players journey north from the Emirates to the Etihad, it was cathartic for Arsène Wenger to demonstrate his team could still pack a punch in this particular relationship.
Everybody knows what happened next, though, which is why the bigger picture for Wenger remains a mind-boggling one. Defeating City over 90 minutes was enjoyable, but attempting to make ground on a team that garnered 19 more points and 19 more goals, and conceded 20 fewer over the course of the season, and is also after your captain, is the kind of challenge that provokes insomnia.
Wenger will not view the result of a pre-season workout against the Premier League champions in Beijing on Friday as remotely significant. Nor should he, when the bulk of his forward players are more than 5,000 miles away, ramping up their fitness at Arsenal's Hertfordshire HQ. Absent from Asia are the two new strikers, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, along with another three internationals whose futures are far from certain, in Nicklas Bendtner, Andrey Arshavin and that man Robin van Persie. Park Chu-young, lest we forget, is on Olympic duty although his importance in Wenger's plans is highly debatable anyway.
Transfer activity may not be frenetic anywhere this summer, but there is still a fair amount to be done in both directions. Moving players on, and raising funds by clearing a few off the wage bill, is a particularly troublesome business. Even Mancini agrees with that as was made clear when he explained how something's gotta give before the next big arrival.
Although Arsenal have gone about their summer dealings more promisingly than during the turbulence they suffered a year ago – the early arrivals of Podolski and Giroud, and the pursuit of Santi Cazorla suggest they have gone on the offensive early – Wenger is not going to have a lot of time for his new squad to gel, particularly in attack. When they get back from Asia, Arsenal have only one more fixture pencilled in, against Köln, which is scheduled just six days before the Premier League kicks off.
Whatever does or doesn't happen with Van Persie, for Podolski, Giroud and possibly Cazorla, there is not a great deal of time to develop combinations with new team-mates. Wenger will hope that by buying players in the mid-20s bracket, they will have the experience to slot in quickly.
Wenger's biggest hopes for the Asian tour are for a bonus player or two to work their way into contention for the season ahead. The most intriguing one is Abou Diaby, a player in whom the manager absolutely refuses to give up on in spite of an injury record that brooks little optimism. Since an horrendous leg-breaker from Sunderland's Dan Smith in an end-of-season game six years ago, Diaby has struggled to maintain regular fitness and he missed virtually all of last season. "You can't imagine how happy I am firstly to have him in the squad," Wenger said, before confessing that this tour is another "decider" for him.
Another Frenchman, Francis Coquelin, has the chance to stake a claim to become a real option as an energetic, defensive midfielder. Kyle Bartley, who gained all sorts of experiences last season at Rangers, is hoping to convince the manager he is ready to provide cover in defence.
On the basis of what he sees in Asia, Wenger will also decide whether a handful of youngsters who made the trip will develop better as a member of the first team squad or out on loan – the Japanese winger Ryo Miyaichi, German midfielder Thomas Eisfeld, and English striker Benik Afobe are all in that bracket.