MANCHESTER // In the cosmopolitan environs of the Premier League, a foreign flag can be a sign of allegiance to a cherished talent from distant parts. At the Etihad Stadium, one imported idol is valued above all others. "Silva," proclaimed the message on a Spanish flag. "Es magico". Fluency in another language is not required to determine the meaning.
Yet on this occasion, the magician's trick was deceptively simple: the tap-in. David Silva condemned Arsenal to defeat, restoring Manchester City to the Premier League summit and determining his personal battle of the Player-of-the-Year candidates with Robin van Persie. But this was not the silky Silva, the epitome of elegance. It was that most mundane of goals, the easy finish. The skill lay in getting there to convert the chance.
When Mario Balotelli's shot was parried by Wojciech Szczesny, Sergio Aguero contrived to head the ball up in the air and Silva arrived to apply the finishing touch. It was a poacher's goal; the sort, in short, with which Silva is not associated.
Yet the flair player has shown greater functionality; his fifth league goal topped his tally from his first campaign in England. In a country where midfielders are judged on end product, rather than simply admired for their elan, this matters. In a league where there is a theory that 1-0 victories win titles, City's first such score line in the league secured a triumph of immeasurable value.
"After Chelsea, it was really important to beat Arsenal and to go to the top of the table," said Mancini. "Silva scored an important goal and we had other chances."
Indeed, the quicksilver Aguero had a hatful of opportunities; his was the sort of performance Luis Suarez often produces, containing everything but the goal. Samir Nasri's cross-shot could have gone in, Pablo Zabaleta's long-range effort thudded back off the post and Balotelli's half-volley was blocked by Szczesny.
The Pole's performance drew praise from Mancini, just as Joe Hart's saves - the best to thwart Thomas Vermaelen in the 90th minute - brought acclaim from Arsene Wenger.
"We had a very positive performance, said the Arsenal manager. "I think we were really unlucky with decisions."
One, in particular, riled Arsenal, when Micah Richards appeared to handle in his own box. "Van Persie is adamant it is a 100 per cent penalty," added Wenger.
Beaten 8-2 on their previous visit to Manchester, when United demolished them, Arsenal almost emerged with a point on their return.
"It is encouraging but we need encouragement and points and we only got encouragement," Wenger said. "It was a game we could not afford to lose."
The reason, simply, is mathematical. "They are 12 points behind us, 10 points behind United, seven points behind Tottenham: it is difficult for them," concluded Mancini. Victory came with the added bonus of extinguishing Arsenal's title challenge, something Wenger accepted.
"It will be difficult to close a gap on City now but we will try," he said. If they do not succeed, a man who can thread eye-of-the-needle passes may have achieved most with the simplest of finishes.
City's Silva service has rarely been more prosaic. Or, perhaps, more pertinent in the quest to take the title.