Arsenal are a club living on the edge of their nerves. With some fans close to open revolt, and the team in danger of missing out on Champions League qualification, this luxury north London theatre is a place of skittishness and angst.
What would the club need least in these trying circumstances? A good answer would be for an experienced international centre-back to wrap both arms round an opposition striker in plain sight of the referee with only 10 minutes on the clock. No manager can legislate for this kind of aberration, unless he threatens to lock any player guilty of such a reckless act in a dungeon for the rest of his life. And Arsene Wenger, we know, is not that sort of manager.
So Laurent Koscielny is dismissed before backsides have had time to warm on seats and Arsenal spend the next 80 minutes battling against insuperable odds. But here is the encouraging part. At no point in the inquest did Wenger try to hide from the deeper failings of his side. He had no issue with the penalty awarded against his defender (Edin Dzeko, the victim, missed) and no real objection to the red card that forced him to take off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and send on another centre-half, Per Mertesacker.
Instead Arsenal's manager of 17 years deferred to undeniable evidence. He said: "We didn't start with enough confidence or authority. You have to dictate your personality, especially defensively. We could have done better at both goals. It's frustrating because the team showed great heart and desire after that, but we're a bit too nervous to play in a serene way at home and that is costing us." As Wenger diagnosed, the Gunners were hesitant at the start, unconvincing in their efforts to answer James Milner's opening goal for the English champions and a long way short in most departments of a top four side, which they need to be if they are to extend Wenger's excellent record of qualifying for the Champions League: itself a comfort blanket against the lack of success in domestic competitions.
Arsenal (sixth) are only six points behind Spurs in fourth and have a game in hand, but no serious punter would bet big on them seeing prime-time European action next autumn. Harry Redknapp, the Queens Park Rangers manager (and not an impartial observer, admittedly), spoke for most observers when he said: "Spurs have a much stronger squad than Arsenal.
Much stronger." Liverpool (three points back) are also shaping up as credible outsiders for the fourth-place spot and Everton are holding their ground in fifth.
A team that whacked Reading 5-2 and Newcastle 7-3 in December might look pretty enough in the right kind of light. But Arsenal have fewer points after 21 games (34) than at any time in Wenger's Premier League career.
Often they are missing rhythm, conviction, individual match-changing talent and faith. Wenger has noticed the pessimistic mood around the ground but has been careful not to provoke the crowd. After this 2-0 defeat, though, he was asked whether audience disquiet was affecting results. "I don't know if it's linked with that," he said, "but it doesn't help." In the crowd's mind is a link between the astronomical price of tickets and the diminishing quality of the entertainment this season. At first Koscielny's sending off provided a grievance to hide behind. It was all referee Mike Dean's fault. By the time Dean balanced things up by ejecting City's Vincent Kompany 15 minutes before the end it was already plain Arsenal were beset by other problems. A match official correctly applying the laws of the game could not be used as crutch all afternoon and evening.
First: the defending for both the Milner and Dzeko goals was slack. In each case defenders failed to react the danger: especially Thomas Vermaelen, the captain, who is increasingly prone to concentration lapses.
A few yards further up the pitch, Abou Diaby made a tortured return to the side after four months out with injury. He can be forgiven his scattergun passing and general disorientation against a strong City midfield. While Diaby was struggling to find his range, Jack Wilshere was chopped and upended with bruising frequency. It was a clumsy challenge on Wilshere that led to Kompany's debatable red card.
Where we pick up traces of panic in the whole Arsenal enterprise is the use of Theo Walcott as a lone centre-forward. Walcott struggled to make the starting XI until his contract negotiations entered a critical phase. At that point his wish to play as a central striker was suddenly granted.
Meanwhile Olivier Giroud, the latest in a long line of new Arsenal strikers, started against City on the bench. At 2-0 down, Walcott and Giroud played together, but a long way from a three-man Arsenal midfield who were asked to service two strikers who mostly spectated from a distance.
Wenger needs no tactical lessons from a journalist, but perhaps a 4-5-0 formation would have worked better, with two players breaking from midfield. Lukas Podolski also gave cause for concern here, presenting himself as a luxury striker runner with no great urge to get back and help with the messy stuff. Santi Cazorla's creativity is drowned out on days like this.
Wednesday's FA Cup third round replay against Swansea and Sunday's Premier League visit to Chelsea now assume ominous weight for an Arsenal side who bear little resemblance to the cavaliers of old. Bayern Munich are next month's formidable Champions League second-round opponents.
A good start would be for the centre-backs to acknowledge that bear-hugging an opponent in the penalty box with the referee a few yards away is likely to end in calamity. The smattering of fans who applauded Koscielny might also give it some more thought. The players are in no position to blame the crowd, though. The "authority" Wenger says they lacked in this game has to be found from somewhere. Preferably, within.