Arsenal's current life, though, is still wholly caught up in the skills of Thierry Henry, and his astounding drive, seven minutes from the end, turned out to be the decider that put his side back to the top of the Premiership. City were still complaining wrongly about a legitimate tackle from Sol Campbell when the ball was worked through to the forward on the left by Ray Parlour and Robert Pires.
As Henry gathered, the substitute Reyes was making frantically for the near post and pleading for a cross. The Frenchman saw him and, given his professionalism, presumably ignored that target because he decided that the City defence had the youngster covered, yet there was an impression, too, that it will be some time before Arsenal have to depend on the youngster from Sevilla.
The crunching, beautifully judged 25-yarder by Henry screamed across David James and flew into the top corner of the net. In the 79th minute the scorer had also fed Reyes, only for the newcomer to get slightly too much air on his finish so that the ball smacked the face of the advancing James.
The Spaniard appealed to a crowd which had primed itself to greet his every touch ecstatically, but Reyes, like so many other members of this squad, must know that many of his achievements will be tributaries that flow into the torrent of Henry's virtuosity.
Anelka was once the presiding presence at Highbury, but now he endures marginalisation and the angst of life with a club who have not won in the Premiership since November 1. That backdrop of adversity actually helped to accentuate his admirable qualities, as he presented a danger even though he was isolated in attack for most of the match.
There were shots and bursts of speed which stretched Arsenal to the limit before he got his reward a minute from time. Parlour failed to make a pass on the right and Shaun Wright-Phillips spirited the ball on to the chest of Anelka, who then slipped a shot under Jens Lehmann.
It was his admirable competitiveness which lay at the heart of the incident that followed as he tried to get the game restarted. Ashley Cole clutched the ball he had retrieved from the net to waste time and shoved a forearm into the chest of the approaching Anelka and also pushed his hand into his former colleague's face.
Anelka then grabbed Cole's head, before the Arsenal substitute Edu left his fingerprints on the City striker's features. The referee Alan Wiley came up with an unfathomable response to all this naughtiness. Anelka was shown a red card, Cole was booked and there was no sanction whatsoever for the Brazilian. The scorer will now serve a three-game ban and his manager Kevin Keegan realises that any appeal would be futile.
At least one of the guilty parties had a sounder appreciation of the demands of justice that the referee. "I felt sorry for Nicolas," Cole said. "I believe we should both have had either red cards or yellow cards. We should both have got the same."
Be careful what you wish for. Mr Wiley has disclosed that the Arsenal left-back received his caution purely for not releasing the ball and that narrow verdict leaves open the possibility that the video advisory panel may yet take an interest in the footage of the episode. Cole's worries are not necessarily over; Edu's part could also be scrutinised.
If Anelka suffers from a persecution complex it will now be deepened by his proper grievance here and City, too, may suspect that their existence is composed solely of unwarranted suffering.
This display, cautious as it was at first, did not suggest a team tunnelling their way towards the relegation strata of the Premiership.
They even appeared to be getting a toehold into the fixture despite an alarming opening. In that initial phase, Henry stabbed the ball against a post after a build-up by Freddie Ljungberg and Lauren. Pires and Cole also sent crosses flashing untouched across the fringes of the six-yard box.
When City did fall behind, the damage was done by their left-back Michael Tarnat. Nonetheless, the visitors require realism if they are to right themselves in the Premiership and an own-goal was not the only form of self-harm in the 38th minute.
Thinking Anelka had been fouled by Gilberto Silva, City were unprofessional enough to pause and lose concentration as Dennis Bergkamp sent Henry away on the left. His low ball would have been turned in by Ljungberg if Tarnat, in desperation, had not got the final touch himself.
City were not demoralised and might have levelled the score at 1-1, when Jens Lehmann made a very good save from Sylvain Distin's 64th-minute header.
Still, Keegan's side cannot seem to snatch a victory and Arsenal are yet to be touched by defeat in the Premiership this season.