Arsene Wenger has been talking up Arsenal's potential to win the Premier League for the first time since 2004. He knows consistency is the key but the new-look Gunners passed their first major test when drawing 1-1 at Manchester City and dominating the defending champions for long phases.
Arsenal fell behind against the run of play when Joleon Lescott took advantage of Wenger's zonal-marking system to head City into a first-half lead. But inspired by the excellent Santi Cazorla, Arsenal equalised with a set-piece of their own in the final eight minutes through Laurent Koscielny.
Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero made his first appearance since the opening weekend of the Premier League season. The Argentinian had recovered from a knee injury and came in for Carlos Tevez in one of five changes from the side beaten by Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday. Lescott, Pablo Zabaleta, Scott Sinclair and Edin Dzeko also made the starting line-up. Samir Nasri missed out against his former club with a hamstring injury.
Arsenal boss Wenger brought in Koscielny due to the illness of captain Thomas Vermaelen. Aaron Ramsey was a surprise inclusion from the team who beat Montpellier in the Champions League. Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud all started on the bench.
Roberto Mancini has been experimenting with a range of systems and formations over pre-season and in the starting weeks of the new campaign and he went with a fairly fluid 4-4-2 at the Etihad Stadium. However, City were overrun in central areas by a very narrow Arsenal midfield. Javi Garcia was chasing shadows at times at Yaya Toure was restricted in his attacking runs.
Wenger played a 4-3-3 formation and Arsenal consequently dominated midfield. Cazorla was a particular influence in his passing with both feet, Mikel Arteta kept things simple and Abou Diaby was allowed to burst forward when possible - although his battle with Toure failed to materialise. Gervinho was again offered the chance to play as the central man in a three-pronged attack but he was extremely wasteful and erratic. Zonal-marking at corners cost Arsenal when Lescott was given a free header to open the scoring. Set-pieces remain a problem.
After seeing his side dominated in the first-half midfield, Mancini sacrificed Scott Sinclair at half-time to introduce Jack Rodwell. City benefited at the beginning of the second half but Arsenal's superior passing soon regained control. Carlos Tevez was brought on shortly after the hour mark in place of Dzeko but the Argentinian had little impact. Mario Balotelli came on in place of Aguero in the 85th but the Italian continues to look frustrated whenever he does not start.
Walcott and Giroud were both sent on by Arsenal in a double change on 71 minutes, replacing Lukas Podolski and Diaby. It was an attacking manoeuvre from Wenger and gave the Gunners a bit more impetus as they came back into the game before equalising. Francis Coquelin came on for Gervinho in injury time to be sure Arsenal did not concede any late City winner.
Mike Dean allowed the game to flow and only booked one player - Garcia in injury time for a cynical pull and rugby tackle on Carl Jenkinson after the City midfielder had been beaten for running power. But Arsenal have won just one of the last 15 Premier League matches with Dean as the official (W1 D7 L7).
City appear to still be finding their feet in the defence of their title. Players such as David Silva have yet to redsicover their best form while new faces are adapting to life at the Etihad Stadium. Mancini's tinkering with formations will inevitably be causing problems and they might be best reverting to their tried and tested 4-2-3-1. They will be confident looking ahead to league games with Fulham, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City before the end of October.
Wenger knows Arsenal's real test is in finding consistency. The Premier League season is only five matches old and it will be a challenge to maintain their standards throughout the campaign. But a squad, which the Frenchman believes is the best he has produced in his time with the Gunners and is yet to feature Jack Wilshere, is currently full of confidence and look excellent on the counter-attack. Whether they will be able to cope in the long-term without a main-man striker remains to be seen. Next weekend's home match against Chelsea will be another stern examination.