Arsène Wenger tripped through the list of former Arsenal players who now earn their living from Manchester City. "Already, it is Adebayor, Kolo Touré, Clichy, Nasri," the Arsenal manger said. "They have Vieira there, that's five … Brian Marwood, Brian Kidd … he played for Arsenal. David Platt, yes. That's eight!"
He did not think of Stuart Taylor, the ex-Arsenal reserve goalkeeper, while he might also have pointed out that Yaya Touré played for Arsenal in a pre-season game in 2003. Wenger said that his performance against Barnet had been "completely average".
City's desire is to complete the XI and it is an open secret that they want Robin van Persie to do it. The Arsenal captain's future has been the subject of speculation since he announced last September that he did not wish to discuss a new contract until the summer, when he would have 12 months to run on his deal. The issue was once again under the microscope when Wenger looked ahead to Sunday's meeting with City.
Wenger has ranged from the confrontational to the defiant when his players have been linked to City over the past 12 months but this time there was the injection of humour. "They have enough [Arsenal] players there now," he said, with a smile. Was he not flattered at how City had repeatedly looked to his club for reinforcements? "Errr, more worried," he replied.
The unnerving scenario is that Van Persie to City becomes the latest summer transfer saga, like Nasri to City last time out, and there is the added intrigue of the pre-season fixture between the clubs that has been arranged for Beijing on 27 July. The players will wear T-shirts in the warm-up on Sunday, bearing advertising in Mandarin for the game. The mischievous question concerns whether Van Persie will wear red or sky blue at the Bird's Nest Stadium.
There is the feeling at Arsenal, though, that Van Persie would not follow the well-trodden path to City, that money is not his motivation and City's petrodollar-fuelled burst to prominence does not sit as easily with Van Persie in philosophical terms as it might have done with, say, Nasri.
Arsenal are also confident that they will continue to be able to provide Van Persie with Champions League football. Victory over a City team that is wobbling would represent a bold step towards the goal.
Above all, though, Arsenal have the power to hold Van Persie to his contract, even if it might mean them losing him as a free agent in 2013. It was the same situation with Nasri last summer and they eventually buckled to accept City's £24m. But their determination to keep Van Persie at all costs is stronger, even though they have agreed a £10.9m deal with FC Köln for the striker Lukas Podolski, which is expected to be announced on Monday.
"Van Persie and Manchester City? The question cannot be asked because you cannot at all contact anybody who's under contract," Wenger said. "Van Persie is not at the end of his contract, like what people might think."
Van Persie might well ponder how Nasri has fared since his transfer. From being one of Arsenal's main men, who found spectacular form, he has sometimes been on the fringes at City although he has scored vital goals against Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.
Wenger's pause was beyond pregnant and approaching labour when he was asked to assess Nasri's season. "I leave that to you," he said, eventually. "We will care about our players on Sunday."
Van Persie's decision to postpone his contract talks has been endlessly psycho-analysed and it has been hard to avoid the conclusion that it does not bode well for Arsenal. Yet those who know him at the club highlight his extraordinary focus and ability to compartmentalise the issues that do not relate directly to his game. He has simply boxed off the subject of his future. Over his last Arsenal contract, he spoke only when he was ready, which was at the very last, and he is considered to be the type of guy who really does not think too deeply about such matters.
Instead, Van Persie has thrown himself into his football and the club captaincy, as few of his predecessors have done. There have been the group meals out that he has organised for the squad and their wives and girlfriends, plus the volume of charity and community work.
If his performances on the field have been of the highest order, there is the sense that the strength of his personality has helped to power Arsenal out of their early-season doldrums. Wenger name-checked him prominently when he discussed the collective resolve of the team, which he admitted he "may have questioned in some previous years but never this one", while it is clear that Van Persie is affectionately central to the dressing-room camaraderie.
Viewers of the club's in-house media channel were offered an insight when he participated in a spoof hard news story about the damaging effect that Carl Jenkinson's wide mohican was having on morale. Van Persie's delivery was deadpan. "I went to him and asked him a sincere question: 'What was the idea behind it?'" Van Persie said. "Maybe you can look at it a different way in that it has a good influence with the team because everyone is having a laugh."
Every manager has players that drive him to distraction. Wenger has lectured Marouane Chamakh over his partying after the striker was photographed smoking a shisha pipe last Saturday night and, judging by Wenger's tone, he is now unofficially for sale.
"Will he stay at the club next season? It's too early to say," Wenger said. "We want him to focus completely – without smoking."
At City, Roberto Mancini has the walking man-management PhD thesis that is Mario Balotelli, not to mention Carlos Tevez. Mancini admitted this week that if he spoke to Balotelli every day, he would require a psychiatrist and if he had played with him he would habitually have felt the need to punch him.
Van Persie has matured into the dream professional, constantly cajoling others and demanding more of himself. "Robin's focus has always been very great," Wenger said, "but his consistent presence has not been fantastic. This is the first season he has really been consistently on the football and that explains why he deserves completely to be the Player of the Year."
Wenger hopes that the award will be the precursor to further plaudits at Arsenal.