When Arsenal overcame Manchester City on penalties in the Community Shield at Wembley they faced a measure of mockery from outsiders about the scale of their celebrations.
This was a glorified friendly that City always regard as a small part of pre-season preparations, with the result carrying little or no relevance for Pep Guardiola and his players.
Arsenal’s perfectly understandable explanation was that they had won a piece of silverware, finally overcoming a team that had haunted them – not least last season when City chased the Gunners down so relentlessly that Mikel Arteta’s side cracked under pressure in the final strides.
What would Arsenal do, the doubters asked, if they won a match that represented the real thing? What would Arsenal do if they could finally get a league win over Manchester City after nearly eight years without such a victory?
Well, now we know.
Sunday’s 1-0 Premier League victory was a win of much greater and wider importance than the Community Shield, reflected in the scenes of unadulterated joy among Arsenal’s players and fans.
Just when it looked like a dismal sequence of 15 games without a league win against City was about to continue, Arsenal came up with another moment of late drama at Emirates Stadium that may yet be seen as one of the most significant moments in Arteta’s time as manager if it has the galvanising impact it should have.
Four minutes remained of a largely disappointing encounter, the main storyline looking like it would be yet another video assistant referee controversy.
This time the debate was around how referee Michael Oliver somehow allowed Manchester City midfielder Mateo Kovacic to remain on the pitch after a nasty scrape down the back of Martin Odegaard’s ankle that brought a yellow card, followed by another poor challenge on Declan Rice shortly after that brought nothing.
It should have brought Kovacic’s early departure.
And then came that decisive moment.
Gabriel Martinelli, excellent after appearing as a substitute at the start of the second half, fired in a shot in optimism that suddenly had the perfect outcome, deflecting off Nathan Ake past the stranded Ederson.
The stadium erupted in joy, scenes repeated when four minutes of stoppage time were over and Oliver sounded the final whistle.
Arsenal had got over a line that always seemed tantalisingly out of reach. They had won in the league against City after those 15 winless games in the past eight years, which included 12 straight losses.
Sunday’s contest was scrappy, lacking in real quality, which was a surprise given the players on show. But victory might just taste even sweeter for Arsenal because they showed they could dig deep against a team of high class and get a result even when not at their best.
Arsenal’s discipline and organisation was reflected in the statistic that City only had four shots, the fewest a Guardiola side have had in a top-flight game since April 2010, when Barcelona also had four against Espanyol.
If the Community Shield win carried high psychological value by Arsenal’s measure, victory in these circumstances must surely add extra layers of self-belief. Perhaps it will also provide a shield against memories of that painful late collapse last season when the looming shadow of City on their shoulders eventually broke the Gunners.
This is a game that has so often ended with questions being asked about Arsenal. The answers, on so many occasions, were uncomplimentary.
Here, in what was an clash of attrition rather than one of style, Arsenal stood up, toughed it out and were rewarded with a late winner that puts them level on points with north London rivals Tottenham at the top of the table, maintaining their unbeaten start to the season.
In the early stages, Arsenal’s nerves – particularly in goalkeeper David Raya – spread to the stands, but the introduction of match-winner Martinelli gave them the impetus they needed.
Arsenal fans celebrate as their side beat Manchester City
Arsenal fans celebrated as victory moved their side two points clear of Manchester City
There was also the master-against-pupil narrative that provides a permanent backdrop to these games when Arteta takes on Guardiola after learning so much as the Catalan’s assistant at City.
This developed into a tactical battle – and a dull one for long periods – but the fact Arsenal and Arteta came out on the right side will only add to their pleasure.
Even Arsenal’s goal had a strand to please Arteta, his three substitutes involved as Takehiro Tomiyasu knocked it down to Kai Havertz, who then played in Martinelli. He got his changes right.
And Arsenal even achieved this without their ‘Starboy’ Bukayo Saka, out with injury. The plus points pile up.
Finally, Arteta had ended his personal run of seven straight league losses against Guardiola.
Guardiola, for his part, must now reflect on the rare experience of losing successive league games after defeat at Wolves last weekend. The last time such back-to-back losses happened for City was in December 2018 and there is no doubt they have not touched their usual heights especially often this season.
Here, they were missing two world-class stars in the suspended Rodri and injured Kevin de Bruyne. For all their riches, City still lose something when without those two, but they usually have enough quality to compensate adequately and there was a strange flatness about this performance.
It will come back, of course, but City did not have their familiar snap and sharpness, with Erling Haaland controlled, marginalised by Arsenal’s defence, a virtual spectator.
Arsenal – Arteta, players and supporters – had the win they have craved for so long, one which clearly carries such meaning.