This was a tale of two Robert Pires' penalties - one scored, one spurned.
The first arrived in the 61st minute and was enough to settle a tough, tight encounter. The second arrived 11 minutes later and seemed likely to give Arsenal breathing space. However, it never produced a shot on goal.
Instead, Pires faked his spot kick and attempted to pass the ball sideways to Thierry Henry. The striker misread his effort and referee Mike Riley awarded a free kick against Arsenal. Presumably it was for encroachment or perhaps it was ungentlemanly conduct or maybe Pires touched the ball twice.
In all the confusion no-one was quite sure.
So although the record books will say another 1-0 to the Arsenal, that does not tell the story of an otherwise mundane game that will be remembered for one incredible moment.
There was a special presentation before kick-off. Fifty three Junior Gunners, one for each club Henry has scored against for Arsenal, formed a guard of honour in the centre circle and Ian Wright presented a solid silver cannon to the man who broke his record in such spectacular style in midweek.
Of course the Frenchman's return at Sparta Prague had been as a substitute so this was his first start for Arsenal since August 24. Jose Antonio Reyes had made way for him in the Czech Republic and the bruised ribs he sustained kept him out today. As a result, Dennis Bergkamp returned to the starting line-up. Otherwise the side was the same. Alexander Hleb (knee) and Ashley Cole (foot) are still more than a month away from fitness; Sol Campbell and Freddie Ljungberg (both hamstring) are much closer.
The mood around Highbury was optimistic at kick-off. Last week's defeat at West Brom would have wiped away merely by the return of Henry. His heroics put steel into the belief.
However, it would not have gone unnoticed that the last two Premiership champions had lost a total of one game. Arsenal had three to their name already this season and needed to find consistency in domestic football.
The game never really got going in the first half. In the 13th minute, Lauren sent a long angled pass into the path of the galloping Henry. He collected, fooled the sliding David Sommeil and pulled the ball back into the path of Pires. The midfielder was alone, 10 yards out and facing a goal that was largely unguarded yet somehow he managed to scoop the ball high over the bar. It was a head-in-hands moment. Arsenal never managed to build on that early opportunity.
Manchester City came here in a Champions League spot so it was no surprise to see them knock the ball around with a certain swagger in the early stages. But then they began pushing forward.
Antoine Sibierski saw his free-kick deflected wide and, midway through the half, the lively Darius Vassell set up Kiki Musampa to test Jens Lehmann.
Arsenal were still having their fair share of possession but were not doing that much with it. The closest they came was in the 33rd minute when Lauren found in space on the right side of the area but could only trickle a shot into the arms of the diving David James.
Manchester City's response was to manufacture a much more dangerous effort. Vassell raced down the right and had time to choose his option. Eventually he cut the ball back to Musampa who flashed a drive a few feet wide.
The game continued the same vein the break. City were organised, Arsenal were solid. Neither team seemed to have a real cutting edge.
There was just a hint of desperation creeping in when Arsenal won a penalty on the hour. Kolo Toure won the ball in midfield, strode forward and sent a raking ball through on the left of the area. Henry chased hard and managed to poke the ball away from James as the keeper came out.
Referee Riley pointed to the spot and Pires, who had missed a penalty in his last game at Highbury, slammed the ball into the roof of the net.
Eleven minutes later Bergkamp was felled by Stephen Jordan and Riley pointed to spot once more. Pires stepped up to take it but, amazingly, he tried to touch the ball to Henry as the striker rushed in. The move went wrong and, amid confusion, the referee restarted play with a free-kick for Manchester City on the penalty spot itself.
Worse nearly followed when Vassell steered a header past Lehmann from Musampa's cross. Fortunately for Arsenal the assistant referee had flagged for offside.
Cesc Fabregas should have settled the game with three minutes later but James rushed out to smother. Then Mathieu Flamini clipped a shot against the post from an acute angle.
Despite everything, Arsenal had the three points when the final whistle went.
- Clichy Yellow Card
- Pires Goal! Yellow Card
- Bergkamp Yellow Card
- Sommeil Yellow Card
- Mills 85 Yellow Card
- Barton Yellow Card
- Musampa 85 Yellow Card
- Reyna 73
- Vassell Yellow Card
- Sun 85
- Richards 85
- Croft 73