Neil Humphreys: Unsung Fernandinho is Man City's fulcrum
Gunners got no one to rival City's anchorman
Pep Guardiola once declared that he'd win the title easily with 10 Fernandinhos in his side.
But he's got one more than Arsene Wenger and that's all that matters.
When Manchester City host Arsenal tomorrow, the narrative will inevitably focus on the chasm between the two clubs, a case of the colossal against the increasingly clueless.
Guardiola boasts a superior option to Wenger in almost every position, but his trump card is the unassuming Brazilian minding his business outside the box.
While City's superstars have swaggered to the English Premier League summit, Fernandinho has quietly become the glue that holds the golden boys together.
Guardiola likes to plays with his formations. His football is always fluid. Footballers interchange and overlap, with one obvious exception.
Fernandinho remains the fulcrum. As the transitional link between defence and attack, he's both irresistible force and immovable object. At the ripe old age of 32, he's become one of the best in his position in the EPL and few have paid much attention.
But Guardiola recognised the potential. He knew that the box-to-box enforcer who established himself at Shakhtar Donetsk could eventually control City's midfield.
(Fernandinho) closed down space and distributed well to calm nerves and ease City into the contest.
Unfortunately, Fernandinho's promotion was initially blocked by one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the business. And two into one doesn't go, not when the one was a guy called Yaya Toure.
As long as the Ivorian was the main man, Fernandinho was always going to be the water carrier. The Brazilian stole possession so Toure could steal the headlines.
But Toure's Indian summer couldn't last forever and the 34-year-old's gradual demise has permitted Fernandinho's upgrade.
While he was playing junior partner to Toure's main act, Fernandinho struggled to fully replicate his aggressive dominance at Shakhtar Donetsk. But Guardiola's influence has worked wonders once more.
The manager with the Midas touch when it comes to under-performing thoroughbreds has already energised the careers of Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, among others, but Fernandinho's confidence has gone through the roof. He thrives with the added responsibility.
City's roller-coaster win against West Bromwich Albion last weekend focused on the five-goal thriller and the club's remarkable feat of scoring 35 times in 10 games.
But Fernandinho scored one and made another in a gutsy display that was reminiscent of Toure in his gazelle-like pomp. The Brazilian's elegant, diagonal ball for Leroy Sane was a work of art. There was even time for a cheeky nutmeg in a glorious man-of-the match performance.
His Champions League contribution in midweek was less showy, but equally significant. Napoli dominated the early exchanges and City appeared overawed in the hostile environment.
But the English club settled as Fernandinho settled, the two working in tandem. He closed down space and distributed well to calm nerves and ease City into the contest.
At 32, he can no longer sustain the box-to-box comic-book stuff for long periods, but the cavalry charges are rarely required in a side with such attacking diversity.
Like a post-1999 Roy Keane, Fernandinho's job is to forage and then find younger, faster creative technicians as soon as possible.
Nobody else does it better at the moment, certainly not in an Arsenal jersey.
Aaron Ramsey has made a decent start to the campaign, managing three goals from eight starts, but it's always tempting fate to praise the mercurial Welshman.
Keeping fit remains his overriding concern.
As for his midfield partner, Granit Xhaka still cannot shake off the suspicion that he's the kind of inconsistent Gunner that has marred the latter stages of Wenger's reign.
Xhaka arrived with a terrific reputation and a hefty price tag of £30 million (S$53.5m) and has generally flattered to deceive ever since, aside from a few decent outings.
The Swiss midfielder's distribution can be erratic and his defending wayward at best. At Watford a few weeks ago, he was woeful.
Should Xhaka feature at the Etihad and repeat the sloppiness that ruined his afternoon at Watford, it'll be a mismatch.
Fernandinho is not only a class above both Xhaka and Ramsey, he's also the definitive example of the kind of defensive midfielder that Wenger so often promises to sign, but never does.
In the past, Arsenal never won a title without an anchorman of Fernandinho's calibre. Now they can only look on and admire another elite City footballer excelling under Guardiola's instruction.
The Spaniard once wished for 10 Fernandinhos. But one should be more than enough to silence the Gunners.