We have seen in the past how the Gunners can be torn apart by teams – not least Man City – and you sensed this could be a case of deja vu.
City certainly looked in the mood, particularly with a fit Kevin De Bruyne among their ranks, and in that opening 15 minutes they could, and probably should, have put the game out of sight.
In the end, they didn’t though. That was perhaps partly because they took their foot off the gas, but also because Arsenal dug in.
Pablo Mari and Rob Holding did not cover themselves in glory with Sterling’s goal, mainly because they are about half a foot taller than him – but they responded after that.
Like the rest of Mikel Arteta’s side they toiled and worked to keep City at bay, restricting them to just one goal in the end.
The frustrating thing for Arsenal will be, however, that you never felt like they were really capable of getting back on level terms.
They huffed and they puffed, which kept City out, but all the time you felt like the visitors had them where they wanted. It was a bit like watching a world heavyweight boxing champion jab away at his plucky opponent. Arsenal never had a sniff of landing that knockout blow, though.
In truth, we did not learn anything new from this result. Manchester City are, clearly, the best team in England and they should go on to be Premier League champions.
Arsenal are a long way away from that and this defeat only served to remind that. The positive for Arteta – particularly ahead of their crucial Europa League last-32 second leg with Benfica on Thursday – is that they kept this loss respectable.
Returning Tierney gives hope ahead of Benfica tie
Arsenal fans have missed the sight of Kieran Tierney marauding down the left flank, so his return here against Manchester City was very welcome. It had been over a month since the Scotsman started a game after being out with lower leg discomfort.
There was certainly a bit of rust to shake off, but he soon found his grove and linked up well with Bukayo Saka. Before Tierney got injured the pair were developing a nice understanding down the left and that looks like it will be rekindled quickly.
Despite this loss, the positive for Arsenal is that they have a fit Tierney back ahead of a massive week. First they travel to Benfica in Athens, before facing high-flying Leicester City in the Premier League. A firing Tierney would go a long way to ensuring next week is a positive one for Arsenal.
Cedric pushing to start in Athens after Bellerin struggles
Cedric Soares has been impressing at left-back for Arsenal in the absence of Tierney, but now he could be gunning for Hector Bellerin’s place in the team. The Spaniard has struggled at times this season at right-back and he did so again against City.
That must surely have opened the door for Cedric, who has earned the right to get a chance in his preferred position. Whether that comes in Athens on Thursday remains to be seen. It is a massive game, perhaps Arsenal’s biggest one of the season so far, and Bellerin is a leader in the dressing room.
But if we are to go off performances on the pitch then Cedric is surely a contender to start. The Portugal International has excelled at left-back and couldn’t have put forward a stronger case to be tried on the other flank now.