The sleeves of Arsenal’s pristine new kits implore any reader with powerful enough vision to “Visit Rwanda”, but yet here we all were, at the Emirates Stadium in dusty, busy old London, the sound of strangled traffic chugging sedately past outside, watching such lofty spaces on the Arsenal left that we could have been basking in the sunlit uplands of the Akergera National Park itself.
There might not have been any nodding herds of giraffes or nervously grazing gazelles, but the Arsenal defence were trying their best to look a little like Eastern Black Rhinos. The great gnarled beasts are critically endangered and, if Unai Emery maintains this level of tactical openness, he may well be joining them by Christmas.
Emery’s pre-match words included the phrase “above all passion and energy” when asked what Arsenal fans could expect from his new-look side. Not elements easily twinned with Arsene Wenger’s recent Gunners vintage, but perhaps a neat change of direction: By half-time, his side was deflated, the stadium had sighed its last hurrah and City were passing their way quietly to yet another win over Arsenal.
Any flirtation with passion had swiftly ended with a Mancunian smack in the chops.
In the 15 painful years between 1991 and 2006, not a single City victory was registered over Arsenal. To say the Gunners had become a bogey team was to underestimate the power of the word bogey.
Last season three victories were notched at Arsenal’s expense, not so remarkable when you consider a more or less similar fate befell practically all of City’s opponents, but still relatively new ground for City’s supporters to stroll through.
The slick despatching of the Gunners at Wembley in the League Cup final and — even more spectacularly — three days later in a first-half blitz at the Emirates, bore reasonable resemblance to what we were seeing again here.
Pre-match opinion had informed us with spectacularly predictable prose that Emery was “gunning for City” and that the affable Spaniard was “aiming to out-fire Pep”, but his gun had a Spanish cork in the end. Any ‘structure’ that the Spaniard had been expected to infuse his new Arsenal side with quickly began to look like bits of his hometown Honderrabia’s most famous buildings after the Battle of Fuenterrabia had reduced them to dust and splinters in the oft-remembered year of 1521.
1521. Take the first two numbers and you get the score between these two sides at Maine Road in 2003. Those that remember that humiliating dismantling by Arsene Wenger’s side, will recall a match so one-sided that City were four down after just 19 minutes, staring bleakly at a complete and utter pulverising.
The match remains one of the outstanding performances by a visiting side to Manchester City over the last 30 years. These days the boot is on the other foot. It is perhaps too early in the season to expect opposing fans to break into spontaneous applause, but there were at least lengthy spells of silent respect in London.
The big question of the summer has been what can we expect from City in 2018-19? Can they emulate the few and win the Premier League title two years running, or will the lure of European combat take away their concentration?
With 60 minutes gone at the Emirates, Riyad Mahrez — busy making an early name for himself for crossing into player-less space and running himself offside — took a little too long to leave the pitch. Were City turning from magical ball smugglers to time-wasting cynics?
Within seconds, we had the answers, all the answers.
Michael Oliver whispered to captain Fernandinho that his side should expect some time added on for their antics, pointing left, right, and centre as if to give specific geography to the unexpected malpractice.
Thirty seconds later Sergio Aguero failed to square to Kevin de Bruyne to kill the game dead. A further few blinks and City had buried their hosts, Bernardo Silva hooking a sumptuous left-footer past Peter Cech.
City’s produced a string of records in a bewilderingly powerful season in 2017-18. The early word on the plains is that the Big Beasts are on the move again.