Manuel Pellegrini had an admission. "Maybe I was more worried before this week," the Manchester City manager said as he reflected on the two away fixtures in five days that always seemed to have the potential to define his club's Premier League title challenge.
First Manchester United, then Arsenal. Never mind the former's toils, it was still the derby at Old Trafford, while Arsenal's nightmarish countdown to Saturday evening's confrontation had them slavering to prove a point. Pellegrini has found the intensity of his first season in English football relentless and, as Arsenal finished strongly, he felt that peculiar combination of adrenaline and draining anxiety.
City were sloppy at times in the second half, they were on the back foot for much of it and there was the heart-in-mouth moment on the hour when, after a double ricochet, Lukas Podolski found himself in on Joe Hart from an angle on the left. It was a similar position from which Edin Dzeko had shuddered the near post in the 18th minute and led to David Silva prodding City in front on the rebound, but this time Hart deflected the ball wide of the same upright.
City, though, were value for the draw, largely on the back of their Silva-inspired first-half performance and, following the 3-0 win at United, Pellegrini sounded like a man whose glass was half-full. He and his players had seen Chelsea lose at Crystal Palace earlier in the day and heard José Mourinho, the kidology ninth dan, declare that Chelsea were officially out of a race they had never been in.
City have simply embraced a single truth. Whatever anyone else says or does, they know that they retain control of their destiny. The trip to Liverpool on 13 April seems pivotal but Pellegrini will back his team to get what they need at Anfield and elsewhere in order to regain the title.
"I don't know if you think that managers that seem to play mind games are more intelligent," Pellegrini said. "I don't think so. It's not my duty to respond to what Mourinho says. We can only influence what happens in the future and the important thing is to win the matches between now and the end.
"Our whole team is in a good moment. In the last six [league] games, we have conceded just one goal – the one that Arsenal scored. It is not easy to play here against Arsenal. We have had two difficult away games in the same week and that's why I say four points was not bad."
The City defender Gaël Clichy said: "From the first game of the season, Mourinho has been declaring the same thing. We're not surprised and we are not focused on who is losing or who is winning. We know that if we do the job, we have a fair chance of achieving something good this year. We know what we have to do and these kind of performances will take us to where we want to go."
There was a steel about City that boded well for the battles ahead and they were even happy to accept yellow cards to stifle Arsenal. The first-half challenges from Yaya Touré and Vincent Kompany on the breaking Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta respectively were cynical, although not as bad as Rosicky's 11th-minute dive under Pablo Zabaleta's non-challenge. Rosicky went into the book for a lunge at Clichy before half-time and he was lucky to avoid censure for a trip on Silva towards the end.
Pellegrini could be pleased at how Arsenal were restricted. Apart from Mathieu Flamini's equaliser and the Podolski chance, the home team had little of clear-cut note to show for their second-half revival. Silva is ever capable of making the difference and Pellegrini still has Sergio Agüero to return from injury. Silva appears to be in a head to head with Liverpool's Luis Suárez for the season's individual awards.
Arsenal will surely not win the title now and the statistics show they have taken only nine points from the last eight matches. But after the 6-0 loss at Chelsea and the morale-sapping nature of the 2-2 home draw with Swansea City there was courage from the players here, not least in demanding the ball when they trailed, and the crowd responded.
Mercifully, this was not an occasion when the future of Arsène Wenger came in for scrutiny. "We have gone through an absolute nightmare, we have gone through a storm [since Chelsea]," Wenger said. "It has been very, very bad and it is difficult to protect the players from that so well. The only way you can deal with it is to respond on the pitch like we did.
"It's a real courage still to be available when you are insecure, to want the ball when your confidence is not there. [Michel] Platini once told me: 'With the French national team, for the first 20 minutes, everyone gives me the ball. When we are 3-0 up, nobody gives me the ball any more.' I am very proud of my players."
Man of the match David Silva (Manchester City)