This was a game of two halves and two midfielders: the first half was dominated by a display of slick-passing, attacking midfield mastery; the second by a more rugged performance of spirit and muscle.
Perhaps the most surprising element of this was the identities of those involved. David Silva was irresistible in the opening half hour, and seemed set to decide what could prove to be a pivotal match in a now finely poised three-team Premier League title run-in. And yet, by the end, City had been pushed back by a display of grit and spirit from Arsenal (yes: that Arsenal), led by Mathieu Flamini, to take their share of a deserved 1-1 draw.
It is still a comeback that must be kept in context. For all of Arsenal's resilience here – a week on from the invertebrate collapse at Stamford Bridge – they are effectively out of the title race now, after dropping seven points in a week. A point for City leaves Manuel Pellegrini's well-grooved team a nudge closer to the top of the table, and given a little extra impetus by a first-half performance from Silva that will linger in the memory.
As Arsenal kicked off in lovely soft evening light, it was the physical contrast between the teams that seemed most striking. In the opening moments, Santi Cazorla was twice shouldered off the ball, first by Silva then by Jesús Navas. Even City's ball-players seemed to have more biceps, while, at times, Arsenal have looked out on their feet recently, undone by an unbalanced squad and also, to a degree, by their own unvarying approach.
For all the fluidity of his teams' passing style, Arsène Wenger is very much a fixed-gear tactician. To steal a line from Shane Warne, Arsenal haven't simply played 12 matches in the past eight weeks: they have played the same match 12 times – the same shape, the same passing patterns game after game.
Here, sent out in the usual 4-2-3-1 formation – with little to disorientate any opposition manager with access to a recent Match of the Day highlights programme and a pencil – they looked likely to be undone by City's greater fluidity in midfield. In the first 10 minutes, Arsenal were repeatedly cut apart by Silva, who, in this mood, seems to rove after an opponent's weak points with a horribly malevolent intelligence, like a dentist taking his pick to a row of failing molars.
The Spaniard remains City's most precious creative talent, always looking to find the space between those less-than-rigorously patrolled Arsenal lines.
His starting position on the right may have been a deliberate ploy to exploit Lukas Podolski's Tony Blair-esque lack of a reverse gear. Either way it worked. One early pass and spin to take a return pass from Navas was breathtakingly precise, while the drive from deep that brought the opening goal –after 18 minutes – was all Silva's own work.
A scuttling run in from the right ,and a swift diagonal pass, set up Edin Dzeko for a shot that twanged off the near post. Silva, carrying on his run, tucked in the rebound. It was only his second goal in his past 20 matches, albeit – in that time – he has six goal-assists, and has remained a thrusting, Velcro-shoed presence in City's midfield.
Silva had been a fitness doubt for this game, but here he looked mobile enough and, as ever, superbly adept at retaining possession. As inside forwards go, Silva has – more than any other in the Premier League – the keep-ball instincts of the great Spain teams of the past six years. He remains unerringly good at holding on to the ball in tight areas, performing, in his own way, as a short-passing equivalent of a more physical central striker, a player to whom the ball always seems to stick.
At Euro 2008, Silva's breakthrough tournament with Spain, he played most often as a narrow winger in a version of 4-4-2. Here, he roved across from right to left, and always offered the man in possession a pass.
It is credit to Arsenal's players that they found the energy to discomfit City after going behind. This was an Arsenal that their fans will have wanted to see even more than the short-passing aesthetes of early season: a little ragged at times, but spirited and aggressive in central areas.
One of the more salutary statistics in the buildup to this game was the comparison in goal-scoring from midfield. Yaya Touré – who was largely anonymous here – has 21 goals from his position behind the front four, while Arsenal's central midfield pivot, Mikel Arteta and Flamini, had four between them at kick-off.
Yet it was Flamini who scored a stirring equaliser, firing a bouncing ball past Joe Hart. "He gives us a balance that we need," Wenger said afterwards of his "Little Corporal". Perhaps he ought to pick him a little more often in these big games.