City had made the perfect start to the 2009/10 season with three wins from three matches with Mark Hughes’ new-look side packed with energy, pace, heart, and creativity.
In fact, City fans had never known a summer like it. Hughes had been backed in the transfer market and Gareth Barry, Joleon Lescott, Carlos Tevez, Roque Santa Cruz, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor had all been brought in at a cost of more than £100m.
Hughes had already signed Vincent Kompany, Nigel de Jong, Shay Given, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Pablo Zabaleta so this was very much his team, with homegrown talent sprinkled in and around the first team squad.
The messages the Club’s marketing team were sending out, such as the provocative ‘Welcome to Manchester’ campaign, were reflective of the vibrant feeling around the blue half of Manchester – City were here for the long haul; a disruptive force to be reckoned with the reverberations felt throughout the Premier League.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s assertion that City were “noisy neighbours”, summed up the mood of the time.
The established top four clubs in the country, which included Manchester United, Chelsea. Liverpool and Arsenal, were nervously looking in their rear-view mirrors at the start City had made and the squad Hughes had assembled.
Wins over Blackburn Rovers, Wolves and Portsmouth had put a confident swagger in City’s step, but the first real test was next on the agenda in the shape of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal at the Etihad.
The loss of Tevez to injury in the build-up was a blow, but a full-house and glorious September sunshine set the perfect scene for the clash with the Gunners – plus there was the extra spice of Adebayor’s acrimonious departure from the Emirates.
Adebayor had enjoyed more than three years of highly productive service with Arsenal, scoring 62 goals in 142 games, but the fact he’d swapped North London for Manchester didn’t go down well with the Gunners supporters who felt the Togolese striker had jumped ship the moment a better offer had come along.
That wasn’t true. In fact, he’d never asked to leave the club at all and it was Arsene Wenger who accepted City’s £25million offer. But for whatever reason, their hero had become the enemy, and the majority of the 3,000 travelling fans at the Etihad were intent on letting him know exactly what they thought of the transfer.
Not only that, but some of his former team-mates had expressed their opinion on his move publicly, only serving to further pump Adebayor up ahead of the game. The situation was that much harder to understand because Kolo Toure had also left to join City over the summer, but his move had caused relatively little fuss.
Shaun Wright-Phillips was enjoying his second spell at City and he recalls the mood in the dressing room before the game.
“There was definitely something,” he said. “Ade had joined, as had Kolo and it just seemed to intensify the rivalry between the two clubs.
“On a personal level, I’d been on the end some real tankings against Arsenal in my first spell at City. I think there was a 4-0 and 5-1 at Maine Road and it always been a hard fixture for us, so to be in a position where they wanted to beat us for maybe other reasons as much as we wanted to beat them just added to the feeling.
“Ade was just focused on the game in the dressing room. He wanted to do well against his former side, as most players do, but there wasn’t anything else.”
But things changed when the two sets of players walked out.
A section of the Gunners support were singing a derogatory song aimed at Adebayor and it seemed to light the blue touch paper and it was evident from some of his early challenges that he was emotionally charged to say the least.
However, that was just part of the story on the day.
Micah Richards’ looping header from near the edge of the box sailed over Manuel Almunia and in off the woodwork to give City a 20th-minute lead – an advantage Hughes’ men took into the break and continued to hold until Robin van Persie threaded a how shot past Shay Given from 20 yards on 62 minutes.
City stood firm and the momentum began swinging back the hosts’ way, with Wright-Phillips and Bellamy’s pace causing continued problems and on 74 minutes, it was the Welsh forward who restored City’s lead, rifling home from Richards’ fine cross to make it 2-1.
Just six minutes later, one of the Premier League’s most controversial and memorable celebrations was about to materialise as Wright-Phillips collected the ball on the right – and the former City favourite remembers the moment with clarity.
“I saw Gael Clichy coming towards me so I just tried to use my body to get around him,” said SWP. “He collided into me and knocked me over, but I was never going to stay down because I had bags of space to run into. I bounced up and when I took my first touch, I could see Ade running towards the box so I knew if I could cross it over the head of the first defender, he’d have a chance because he had this ability to just hang in the air.
“So I put a bit of height on it and fortunately it was just right because connected perfectly and headed the ball past Almunia. The next thing I saw was Ade running past me and heading towards the other end of the pitch! There was no way I was chasing after him because I was too busy conserving energy. I just think the emotions got the better of him because he had suffered a lot during the move and I think he’d had enough.”
For Adebayor, however, there were the inevitable repercussions to deal with. He was given a suspended two-game ban, plus a £25,000 fine.
The truth is he regretted what he’d done immediately after the game saying he knew doing what he did was wrong but added: “There is only so much abuse a man can take until he reaches breaking point.
“It wasn’t my fault I left; it was Arsene who wanted to accept the offer for me. If you were to shout insults at a man in the street for over an hour he would react and it would be a worse reaction than a goal celebration.”
The dust eventually settled and Adebayor’s subsequent games against Arsenal were relatively calm and measured in comparison, from both sides. It was a lesson learned by all concerned if anything.
As for the 2009/10 campaign, City lost 4-3 to United a week later before beating West Ham United 3-1 to stay pace with the leading clubs. After that, City embarked on a bizarre run of seven successive draws in the Premier League. Though that ended with a 2-1 win over Chelsea, another draw - 3-3 with Bolton - and a dismal 3-0 loss to Spurs followed and meant – on paper – City had won just six of the opening 16 games and when an unconvincing 4-3 win over Sunderland followed, Mark Hughes was relieved if his duties.
The Black Cats win had been his last game in charge of City – something that had been impossible to imagine after that thrilling 4-2 win over Arsenal just three months before…