City's millionaires undone by prudent Gunners
It doesn't require the master's degree in economics that Arsene Wenger possesses to know that money usually talks. Nor, indeed, does it need much insight to see that size often matters. But sometimes it is not about feet and inches, nor pounds and petrodollars.
It is about character and quality, which Arsenal possessed, about mistakes and misjudgements, which Manchester City committed. It is about moments that live long in the memory because they are utterly unexpected, such as Andrei Arshavin materialising in the left-back position to successfully tackle Carlos Tevez.
It is about the most maligned delivering on a stage where many expect them to fail and Lukasz Fabianski was pivotal with vital saves from David Silva at 0-0 and 1-0. It is about talented players crossing the great divide from entertainment to excellence, something Samir Nasri appears to have done in a seven-game spell that has brought seven goals.
"He is becoming more efficient," said Wenger, the aesthete showing a statistical streak. "You can judge a player by what he does with the numbers. Today he had a goal and an assist."
It brought a forceful affirmation of Arsenal's credentials. City, the ruthless destroyers of Chelsea, were subjected to a humbling afternoon. Depleted for 85 minutes, defeated after 65 and demoted from second place by both their conquerors and their local rivals; the world's richest club and one of the league's physically biggest teams were ultimately outmanoeuvred by their smaller, poorer opponents.
The finest management always seems to have an element of alchemy and a hint of stubbornness. Both are detectable in Wenger. Vindication for the Frenchman is invariably emphatic, simply because Arsenal rarely win ugly. Given a recent inability to overcome City, Chelsea or Manchester United, it felt a seismic step forwards. "We look like we have matured in terms of negotiating in an intelligent way the difficulties of the game," said Wenger. "It means not getting a red card, it means keeping the ball well." It also means keeping a clean sheet, not Arsenal's usual forte against top-rate opponents. A defensive axis of Fabianski, Sebastien Squillaci and Johan Djourou may not be deemed the most reassuring, but they kept Silva, Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor at bay, albeit with a few nervy moments.
But, as Roberto Mancini said: "Against Arsenal, it is difficult to play 11 against 11. Ten against 11 is the worst thing." It was uneven from the fifth minute after Dedryck Boyata was given his marching orders for bringing down Marouane Chamakh. Mancini railed implausibly against the dismissal but the young Belgian, an unexpected choice on just his third league start, was the last man.
It was an unusually speculative selection from the conservative City manager. As significant, though, was that Cesc Fabregas found a hole in the three-man blanket Mancini has flung in front of his back four to thread the pass through for Chamakh. That the Moroccan has added another dimension to the Arsenal attack with his aerial ability is becoming clear; breaching an offside trap displayed another element to his game.
Control, Mancini's mantra, could not be exerted after going first a man and then a goal down. Nasri played a deft one-two with Arshavin, reacting quicker than Gareth Barry to the return pass before providing the finish. Fabregas, who was subjected to some physical challenges, both won and missed a penalty, though that description is unfair on Joe Hart, who produced an outstanding save. He was helpless, however, when Alex Song's shot headed for the top corner. It was symbolic of the fortunes of the two clubs that, while City are renowned for fielding three defensive midfielders, the sole specialist in that role among Wenger's men delivered a goal.
Song was aided, however, by a dreadful touch by the embarrassingly one-footed Wayne Bridge to supply him. His arrival was a strange substitution by Mancini, removing a midfielder (Yaya Toure) - albeit one who had spent some of the first half deputising for Boyata at the back - for a defender at a time when his side needed to score. When Tevez limped off, their prospects were further diminished, even if Adebayor proved a highly-motivated replacement.
By the time Nicklas Bendtner latched on to Nasri's neat pass to score a third goal, there was a frayed looked to a City team that had become noted for their sense of organisation and positional discipline. They had three left-backs, three partners for Vincent Kompany in the heart of defence and three roles for James Milner in the space of 90 minutes. But Arsenal had the three goals, scored by men with a combined cost of £12 million. It is loose change for the losers - indeed Wayne Rooney's annual earnings at Eastlands could have exceeded that - but then this was a day when neither big bucks nor big men flourished.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Samir Nasri - Since scoring a match-winning brace against Manchester United two years ago, he has been a marginal presence in many major matches. Not this one. There is a new-found penetration and purpose to his game.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: The contentious choice of Boyata was a vote of no confidence in Joleon Lescott. Mancini's rationale - that the Englishman had played on Thursday - made little sense, given that the Belgian also completed 90 minutes then. With Silva a lively presence, City played with spirit with 10 men but there were too many failings in their final third.
ARSENAL VERDICT: Results such as this illustrate why, despite five years without a trophy, Wenger's ways should not be questioned. But, in a perverse way, it also makes the recent defeat to West Brom still more costly; had they secured the expected win then, they would only be two points behind Chelsea.