This developed into a wonderfully exhilarating game as Arsenal responded to Manchester City's goal with great resilience. The visitors had started with confidence as well, buoyed by a recent improvement which had carried them through eight matches without defeat, including three successive away wins.
But with David Silva coming off the line and finding space, City always offered the greater goal threat. City's best chances tended to fall to Sergio Agüero, having been created when Silva or Samir Nasri slipped the ball beyond Arsenal's back four. Wojciech Szczesny needed to be alert.
Thomas Vermaelen directed Arsenal's defence as they maintained a solid shape. The first half saw little raiding by their full-backs, as they concentrated on counteracting those shallow runs from Agüero and Mario Balotelli. Soon after half-time Johan Djourou, part of Arsenal's last, disastrous visit to Manchester, departed, which allowed Vermaelen to join Per Mertesacker in the centre. Ignasi Miquel came on at left‑back and his acclimatisation was hardly helped by Roberto Mancini's decision to switch Nasri to the right, where he slowly blossomed.
Balotelli's powerful movement, driving inside Alex Song and belting goalwards, gave Silva a simple chance to break the deadlock. Ebb and flow now, a warm game on a cold day. Defenders on both sides were a little nervous about tackling players with excellent touch.
What the match proved beyond doubt was that you do not have to get balls wide, or deliver incessant crosses, to create excitement or goal chances. Disregarding Joe Hart, the City goalkeeper, there were just three Englishmen on the field in this key period of the game. So it was perhaps unsurprising that there was little sign of that classic British tradition of throwing crosses into the box from wide positions. This was a game of high-speed attack and counterattack, and of subtle passing in threatening areas. Players from both sides, including Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey and Robin van Persie, patiently waited before sliding in colleagues for goal chances. There were few, if any, high and hopeful "fight balls" sent "into the mixer". Inventive players were key, people with the imagination and the vision to play a clever pass. This was a match to stir the memories of anyone old enough to have seen Johnny Haynes bisecting defenders to the exact blade of grass.
Hart was called on to respond magnificently to Vermaelen's late shot as Arsenal pressed in the closing minutes. The game will be remembered for the exquisite tight passing of City, and Arsenal's collective tenacity as they strove for an equaliser but most of all for the foreign brigade giving us a lesson in how to be patient yet progressive in the search of goals. For these teams, the game is all about cunning rather than crossing.