Preamble: Arsène Wenger used to have the prettiest wife but for a while he's had nothing but grief from her indoors. This is not to impugn the qualities of Mrs W. but rather to suggest, in the elegant spouse-as-team metaphor of the Frenchman's coining, that Wenger has had to work a lot harder at his Arsenal relationship in recent years. From dealing with flaky, often-unfulfilled talent and more episodes of choking George W. Bush in a pretzel factory, to having to cope with an ever-diminishing household budget, times have been tough at Chez Emirates. To top it off, an asset can barely attain the "prized" tag before a rich suitor hoves into view – maybe they are still the prettiest after all.
In recent years, that suitor has most often been City, who today play host to the Gunners. Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Touré, Gaël Clichy and, most acrimoniously, Samir Nasri, have all been lured north with the promise of baubles they weren't afforded by their previous manager. Not content with that haul, Roberto Mancini also seems to be giving Arsenal's remaining galactico, Robin van Persie, the eye but for now the flying Dutchman, with 33 Premier League goals in the calendar year, remains in red and will provide the focal point for the visitors today as they seek to inflict consecutive Premier League defeats on City for the first time in more than a year. Should Arsenal manage to prevent City regaining top spot from the red half of Manchester, those covetous glances could grow ever more frequent.
A fixture that has gained a bitter edge – witness the bile pouring from the stands for City's visit to the Emirates in the Carling Cup last month – has also become increasingly difficult for Arsenal. Despite winning 3-0 (with a goal from Nasri) at Eastlands last season, that is their sole victory in five attempts, and City have won four of the last six occasions in which they have hosted the famille Wenger. A first defeat of the season at Chelsea last week will likely make City all the more desirous of emphasising the power shift from London to Manchester – and, for all their impressive recovery since then, no one has forgotten what happened the last time Arsenal were in these parts.
Today's teams for your formation-perusing pleasure:
Man City: Hart; Richards, Toure, Kompany, Zabaleta; Y Toure, Barry; Silva, Aguero, Nasri; Balotelli.
Subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Savic, Milner, De Jong, A Johnson, Dzeko.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Djourou, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen; Song, Arteta, Ramsey; Gervinho, Van Persie, Walcott.
Subs: Almunia, Miquel, Frimpong, Rosicky, Benayoun, Arshavin, Chamakh.
Referee: Phil Dowd.
North London feeder club update: With Clichy suspended, there are just two former Gunners in the City starting XI – Kolo Touré, in at the back for Joleon Lescott, and today's designated pantomime villain, Nasri. Those selections are interesting in themselves, as Mancini has admitted that Nasri hasn't performed to the best of his ability since his transfer, while Van Persie on current form might fancy tormenting his former team-mate, rather than the reasonably-in-form Lescott.
For Arsenal, it's an unchanged side from the one that beat Everton last week. Still without a fit full-back in the senior squad, Thomas Vermaelen and Johan Djourou continue to fill in on the flanks; Theo Walcott's pace, meanwhile, could give Pablo Zabaleta problems on the left, with City are happy to welcome the fit-again Micah Richards back into the side to tackle jinking footballerina Gervinho.
Stats corner: City have a 100% Premier League record at home this season; Arsenal have conceded 18 goals in seven away fixtures, including 15 in three games (at Manchester United, Blackburn and Chelsea).
Pundit watch: "Keep Van Persie quiet," says Graeme Souness, "and you can beat Arsenal." Now, I like Souness – he's arguably the best pundit going in England at the moment – but my Nan could have told you that.
Jamie Redknapp is literally beside himself with excitement, meanwhile. Imagine that!
Phil Dowd looks compact and muscular, like corned beef. The captains shake hands – City will kick off ...
Peep! It's 4.10pm and this game is up and running. I wonder if it will live up this morning's sparkling fare ...
1 min: Arsenal are the first team to venture forward but the ball runs away from Aaron Ramsey. Lots of noise in the Etihad Stadium, sounds like a good atmosphere.
2 min: A first touch for Wojciech Szczesny, who fires the ball long. Ramsey, by the way appears to be playing very close to Van Persie, supporting Arsenal's target man. Speaking of whom, the City fans are already singing "Van Persie is ours ..."
4 min: David Silva gets on the ball and Arsenal's defence already looks edgy, half charging out to meet the City magician, half hanging back ... but Silva's attempt to thread a pass behind Djourou is cut out.
5 min: The boos are audible as Nasri scampers forwards but the Arsenal fans will be even less pleased with what happens next, as the Frenchman feeds Mario Balotelli and he turns insouciantly before being trip by Mikel Arteta ...
6 min: Arteta receives a talking to from Dowd but nothing more. The free-kick is then banged into the six-yard box by Nasri, but Szczesny claims the ball under pressure from Micah Richards, clutching it to his midriff.
8 min: Arsenal, having absorbed a wee bit of pressure, sit back and start to knock the ball around a bit. As Gary Neville says from the Sky gantry, Arsenal are more direct these days, and that change is signalled by an early attempt to go from back to front via Djourou's long ball - but it spins beyond Van Persie.
10 min: A decent opening for Aguero, who fires wildly over after being put in behind the Arsenal centree-backs by Zabaleta's curling ball from the left. Koscielny was appealing for off-side but he and Vermaelen just about got back to put the Argentine off his strike.
11 min: And Aguero is again beyond the last man after being played through by Balotelli! The forward checks, however, rather than try and beat Szczesny at his near post and the recovering Mertesacker just gets a toe on the ball to prevent a clean strike. The play is then brought back for a foul on Silva by Song, who receives a yellow card.
12 min: It's all City, as Nasri feeds Silva on the left and takes an immediate snap shot, which is smothered by Szczesny. Shades of City's start last weekend, when they rampaged all over Chelsea for the first 25 minutes ...
14 min: Another City forward press is foiled by Song's clumsy block on Yaya Toure. The Arsenal man is going to have to be careful today, methinks.
16 min: It's been quite a frantic first quarter of an hour, with City controlling possession but Arsenal looking spritely on the break. Are these two sides currently the most attacking the league? I suppose Spurs would be up there too. Anyway, get set for a pell-mell nil-nil!
17 min: Arsenal fashion their first real chance on goal, with Gervinho galloping into the area on the right and fizzing a low drive, which Hart somewhat-streakily squeezes past his near post, via a hand and his legs ...
18 min: ... then Hart is nearly beaten from distance by Ramsey! Arsenal tried a short-corner to the edge of the box and although Ramsey was closed down he still managed to get his shot away, with the ball skidding off the surface and causing Hart some mischief. it actually appeared to go through Walcott's legs, too.
20 min: A few punches unloaded, Arsenal rock back on to the ropes, and Silva just overhits and ball into the box looking for Aguero.
21 min: We're then right back up the other end, as Gervinho is released by Koscielny's direct pass from defence. You'd fancy the tricky Ivorian against his ageing compatriot Kolo Toure but the City defender does well and then Walcott is unable to retain possession in the centre.
23 min: A brilliant save from Szczesny prevents Balotelli from opening the scoring! Arsenal's defence showed their usual composure under a high ball, with Mertesacker allowing Balotelli to bring it down and turn in one movement, while the German tried to untangle his stork-like legs ... but as Mario swung his body to hit a volley from about six yards out, Szczesny threw himself out to block the strike.
25 min: Here's the ever-cheery Ryan Dunne: "'Sup Alan! Hope, given your day-long shift, that you haven't been tempted to engage in an MBM - *officiating* drinking game (take one shot at every accusation of bias, down your drink at a tale of romantic woe, etc). In fairness to the mighty Souness, did he not, given past form, perhaps advocate stopping RvP with a subtle elbow and an ultraviolence-denoting flash in the eyes? That's a tactical recommendation that one might not automatically expect from Grandmas, who presumably would prefer a cuddlier approach." Not my Nan, Ryan. Not my Nan.
26 min: Gervinho wins a free-kick after a tussle with Nasri which would have embarrassed the playground of an all-girls school. City, however, manage to clear the delivery at the second attempt.
29 min: City come forward again but Arsenal seem to have settled on a massed-ranks approach to keeping them out and repeatedly swarm bodies around the ball. Balotelli's effort from distance is then deflected over and Arsenal clear the corner at the near post. Still no goals, but you feel one is only a moment of half-cocked defending away ...
30 min: "Is Arsenal's defense that bad?" wonders Joe Pearson, with what I tihnk is a genuine question. "City have done pretty much whatever they want to with the ball. Other than score, of course."
31 min: Perhaps this table, as provided by my stats co-pilot Simon Burnton, will help provide the answer, Joe. Arsenal have the worst away defensive record in the league, conceding an average of 2.57 goals per game. As if the fact they've conceded eight on one occasion this season wouldn't have provided a clue.
33 min: Van Persie gets on a cross from the left but he can't get much power on his header and the ball loops wide of Hart's goal.
34 min: This game is still being played at a furious pace and Aguero skins Mertesacker with an adroit change of direction.
35 min: However, Arsenal tenaciously win the ball back and a slip form Zabaleta means they have a man over in attack. Van Persie elects to shot from 20 yards, rather than pick out Gervinho's run on the left, and via a rebound the ball falls at Ramsey's feet - but his control is poor and Toure then clatters into him, getting a whisker of a touch on the ball in the process! That was a real chance.
37 min: There's not been a lot been a lot of finesse about either side but it's no less entertaining for all that. Arsenal again repel City's advances after Nasri gets to the byline on the left.
39 min: Arsenal have definitely wrested some of the momentum back after City's impressive opening. They're even confident enough to leave two at the back to deal with Aguero and Balotelli, which Alex Song does after a long ball from the back threatened to befuddle Arsenal again.
40 min: Another fine save from Szczesny! It was fantastic play from Sergio Aguero to create the chance for himself, exchanging passes with Silva on the edge of the box before holding off Koscielny and then dashing past Vermaelen ... only for Szczesny to correctly anticipate his intentions and smother his effort back across goal. Even Red Nev is impressed!
42 min: Arsenal again regroup, and Van Persie wins a free-kick on the right flank after Zabaleta leaves a boot in ...
43 min: The first ball into the box doesn't beat the defender and then Koscielny's howizter from distance is also charged down.
44 min: Koscielny then finds himself in trouble on floor after failing to pick Aguero's pocket - and he's shown the yellow card after appearing to bring the forward down with his arms.
45 min: Gervinho is sent free on the left ... and sends his cross out towards the corner flag. Ahem. Here's Yasser Hamdi: "Arsenal are doing really well so far but the defeat will be caused by Djourou - that guy is a serious liability. 90% of his passes put his team mates in trouble ..." That's not a bad percentage for an Arsenal defender, is it?
Peep! Peep! After a half that was never played at less than break-neck speed, it remains 0-0.
Half-time and, whisper it, Arsenal don't look like conceding eight yet. It's been open fare, with City having the best of it, but Arsenal can still be dangerous on the break. They've needed Szczesny to be at his best to keep City out, though. If Arsenal's little piggies were blown away by a hurricane at Old Trafford, their jimmy-rigged structure is just about holding together here.
"Alan, behind the brouhaha of Arsenal's recovery is the terrifying fact that without Van Persie there would be few goals and probably a 9th place," chin-strokes Damian Durrant. "Arsenal is a twisted ankle from disaster and RVP has never lasted a whole season." There's a first time for everything, Damian. Why, I'd put a whole 7p on it possibly happening one day.
And here's Edward Chukwurah: "I think it's rather lazy of you to keep going on about Arsenal defenders and Arsenal's away record. Take away the United game, and perhaps later the Blackburn game; does the away record still look so god-awful?" So apart from conceding eight in one game, and four at one of the worst teams in the league, they've been doing okay? Is that really your argument, Eddie?
Peep! Peep! There have been no half-time changes, despite a murmur that Johan Djourou may be carrying a knock. He blows hot and cold, the Swiss, but Arsenal surely wouldn't want to pitch Ignasi Miquel into the match at this stage.
46 min: So, Arsenal restart the match and immediately come forward through Ramsey and then Gervinho, who collapses like a deckchair, arms flailing, legs akimbo, under a challenge from Richards - but Down deems it a fair one, and City clear the danger.
47 min: Ouuuuuuuuuuch. Song is left clutching his ankle after Barry's robust challenge culminates in his studs tickling the Arsenal player's joint. We've seen red cards for tackles like that this season. Song is soon back on his feet, however ...
48 min: Ah. He may still be fit but Djourou apparently isn't - he's withdrawn three minutes into the second half for Miquel. Oh.
50 min: And Miquel's first touch is to miscontrol a Nasri cross at the back post, allowing the ball to run out for a corner. He recovers well, though to legitimately outstrength Silva for possession inside the area on the left and clear.
51 min: It looks as is Miquel has gone to left-back, by the way, with Vermalen shifting to the middle and Koscielny taking Djourou's place on the right.
GOAL! Manchester City 1-0 Arsenal (Silva 53) The deadlock is broken and it is not unsurprisingly the home side who ripple the net. Koscielny, who had just moved across, left Balotelli in acres of space behind him and the City forward hared forward on to a through-ball. He was allowed to cut inside and shoot by Song and although Szczesny made a decent save low to his left the ball ballooned into the six-yard box, where Silva stabbed it home. That has been coming.
54 min: At the other end, Walcott stings Hart's palms with a drive from the edge of the box. That goal, by the way, was City's 50th of the season, from 16 games - making them the quickest team the reach that mark.
56 min: Arsenal score! But the flag is up and Van Persie was half a yard offside from Ramsey's inside pass. Shame, as it was a terrific dinked finish from the Dutchman ... Can the visitors resurrect themselves a la Stamford Bridge?
58 min: Koscielny is penalised for being too rough and ready with Aguero. It looked pretty much half a dozen and six to me ... but Nasri fires his attempt at the wall, when looking to dupe Szczesny at his near post.
60 min: Again Aguero scampers through beyond the men in red but the flag halts him in his tracks.
62 min: Aguero drills a peach of an effort past Szczesny's right-hand upright! This is looking really squeaky for Arsenal now ...
63 min: And now City must make it two - but Nasri overhits a simple square ball to Balotelli after being played in by a delicious pass from Silva! Balotelli looks like Nasri has just set fire to his favourite gold lame jumpsuit. It was a certain goal if the Frenchman had managed to find his team-mate!
64 min: At the other end, there's a chance for Arsenal, with Robin van Persie meeting a pull back from the left first time... but his strike is towards the centre of the goal and Hart falls on it gratefully!
66 min: Wowawheewa! Zabaleta hits the post with a thrash from 25 yards. Szczesny didn't even move but the ball came thundering back out!
67 min: We're back and forth like a Newton's cradle, eyes flicking from side to side as if playing a souped-up game of Pong - this time Hart saves superbly from Van Persie after Walcott's cross, though it turned out the Dutchman was offside.
69 min: Once again there's an urgency about Arsenal, who replace Walcott with Andrey Arshavin. The Englishman looks a bit miffed at that. Vermaelen then tries to hammer a free-kick goalward from all of 40 yards but it takes a slight deflection and squirms wide.
71 min: A great opening for Arsenal on the left is squandered by Arshavin, who plays his low centre too close to Hart with Ramsey and another red-shirted team-mates bearing down on goal. Would Walcott have found his man, there? I think he might, you know.
73 min: This is getting like a game of park football, so open has it become. Both sides are hammering forward at every opportunity. Perhaps with than in mind, Mancini sends on James Milner for Balotelli.
74 min: Arteta is penalised for a foul on Barry, coming in late on the midfielder, who collapses like a felled oak. Again Arteta just gets a talking to from Down, who has been quite circumspect with handing out cards today.
77 min: There's a ball-to-hand heart-in-mouth moment for Richards in the City box, as a swirling delivery flicks off the head of Vermaelen, who had gone up for the Arsenal attack, and thunked into Richard's right arm as it dangled by his side. Would have been a pretty harsh to give a penalty for that ... and that's just how Wenger will see if afterwards, I can imagine.
79 min: Ian Burch has been in touch about one of life's simple pleasures: "Nothing's quite as good as seeing Professor Wenger waving his arms up and down like Harry Worth with his nose pressed against a shop window. Always a sure sign that everything is not going Arsenal way." It's always the quiet ones, isn't it?
80 min: Did Vincent Kompany just throw himself to the ground trying to get Song sent off for a second bookable offence there? Kompany certainly went down 'dramatically', as the Arsenal midfielder turned his back on him. Again Down just murmurs his position.
82 min: Arsenal bring on Marouane Chamakh in place of the centre-back Mertesacker for the last 10 minutes. That'll help, er, clutter the box up a bit.
83 min: "I'd say he was circumspect about sending Arteta off," Joe Pearson. "Since he'd shown him a yellow just moments before. Not nitpicking, mind. Well, actually, yes I am." Well, as long as we're clear.
85 min: City twice create half chances, the result of Richards' purposeful run down the right flank but in the end Szczesny is not required to make a save. City have been pretty dominant this half, but they could still rue several imperfect bouts of finishing.
87 min: Kolo Toure crunches into Gervinho, conceding a free-kick in the centre circle. Arsenal will toss it forward, looking for Chamakh's wet-look bonce ...
88 min: The first ball is cleared by City but a second delivery arrives in the area from the right, with Van Persie shuttling it on to Arshavin ... who drills a low effort the wrong side of the near post! The groans of Islington are audible - though as I'm in Kings Cross, that's not such a feat.
90 min: Another last-ditch save from Hart prevents a Vermaelen piledriver from squaring the scores in the final minute! Arsenal won a free-kick on left and again played it short, with Vermaelen striding on to the ball in the cnetre of the pitch to strike a rising drive from 25 yards - but it's pretty much straight down Hart's throat and he palms it over.
90+1 min: From the ensuing attack, Gervinho then twice fails to beat the first man with woeful crosses. There'll be three more minutes of added time.
90+3 min: Holy moly me oh my! Vermaelen curls another long-ranger a foot or two wide of the post! That looked as it was going to nestle right in the corner, as Hart Supermanned to his right.
Peep! Peep! Peep! Arsenal's revival won't bring them a point, as City cling on to their 100% record at the Etihad. They're back on top of the table after a cracking, close-fought match! My exclamation key is nearly worn out - and I might just need to sit in a darkened room for a while. Even more so than normal. In the end, City had enough good chances to be worthy winners but that was a mighty spirited display from the visitors. Thanks for all your emails, it's been something resembling fun. Ta ra!