MORE than 900 Manchester City fans passed up the chance to follow their team to Arsenal on Sunday, balking at the £62 they would have been charged for a seat in the away corner of the Emirates.
Had they joined the 2,000 who did make the trip they would have had value for money before half-time. City secured a contentious but comfortable 2-0 win, a first league victory at Arsenal in 37 years that keeps them in Manchester United's vapour trail.
If there is genuine supporter solidarity in the ticket-price campaign it should be reserved for those Emirates regulars asked to pay almost double the amount charged to away fans to watch their side capitulate in the first half here. Had City been more clinical, not least from the penalty spot, it could have been even worse for Arsene Wenger's men.
By the end of a match that ended 10 against 10 it was the Arsenal fans who were mutinous, though many allowed a misguided sense of injustice at the decisions of referee Mike Dean to overshadow the failings of their team.
Dean wore boots with lime green soles but his decisions meant there was no chance of his performance being missed. A rancorous afternoon was defined within 10 minutes by the dismissal of Laurent Koscielny and settled before half-time, with James Milner and Edin Dzeko capitalising on dismal defending to score decisive goals.
The goalscorers were also City's outstanding performers, carrying a threat that the Arsenal back four, timid and poorly organised, were ill-equipped to repel.
Arsenal rallied after the break and glimpsed a way back into the game when City captain Vincent Kompany was dismissed with 15 minutes remaining for a studs-showing tackle on Jack Wilshere. Kompany argued that he won the ball and, while the challenge did not seem malicious it appeared two-footed. Wilshere mimed applause when the red card went up. Kompany protested as loud and long as Koscielny, and manager Roberto Mancini said he would appeal against a red card that could cost him his captain for three matches.
The original version of the laws of the game was on display at the Emirates as part of the FA's 150th anniversary celebrations this week, and even this dusty first-edition supported the referee.
In Koscielny's case, Dean called the penalty and red card correctly, and complaints at the free-kick awarded against Lukas Podolski that led to Milner's opening goal were equally misguided. Kompany's challenge will ignite debate around what constitutes a fair tackle, but the decision was in line with the current interpretation.
The game turned on Koscielny's dismissal for a challenge that owed more to the handling code of football promoted by William Webb Ellis than the one the FA will celebrate this week.
When Gareth Barry lofted a header into the Arsenal box it fell towards Dzeko, on the wrong side of Koscielny. The defender's response was to grab the forward around the waist with both arms and drag him to ground, a tackle of which a mini-rugby coach would have approved.
Dean correctly awarded the penalty, and his judgment that it was a clear goalscoring opportunity worthy of a red card was unarguable. Fifa has long debated whether such challenges are worthy of the "double jeopardy" of a penalty and a sending off, but as the laws stand they are.
In the event Arsenal suffered only once as Wojciech Szczesny blocked Dzeko's penalty with his legs and was grateful to find it rebound into his arms from the inside of a post.
His respite was brief. Arsenal's back four should have been stiffened by the introduction of Per Mertesacker as Wenger adjusted to the sending off, but they were all dozing when Carlos Tévez combined with Milner to put City ahead.
The Emirates fumed when Podolski was deemed to have fouled Javier Garcia, but it was a free-kick and City made them pay. David Silva quickly fed Tévez who, as Kieran Gibbs switched off, played the ball inside him into Milner's path. The midfielder's finish from the angle was outstanding, dipping over Szczesny into the far corner.
The home fans sang "1-0 to the referee", but they had only their own team to blame for the second goal, a combination from Milner and Dzeko that effectively killed the game on 32 minutes. Gibbs was again at fault, harried off the ball by Pablo Zabaleta, who found Milner on the right. His cross was touched on by Carlos Tévez, and Szczesny could only palm it to Dzeko, who tapped in at the far post.
Arsenal's chances amounted to a misguided header from Olivier Giroud and a Theo Walcott shot that was cleared off the line by Joleon Lescott in the final minute.
By then many of the home fans had left, unlike the travelling contingent, who stayed beyond the final whistle, wringing every drop of value from an expensive but ultimately rewarding trip to the capital.