Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola looked out on a sea of celebration at one end of Wembley while his Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger was met by thousands upon thousands of empty seats at the other.
The Carabao Cup final was drawing to its inevitable conclusion as City led 3-0 and the contrasting scenes at either end of the stadium took on almost symbolic significance as Guardiola prepared to celebrate his first trophy as Manchester City manager while Wenger saw the old glories he once enjoyed retreat even further into the distance.
In many ways, Guardiola now represents what Wenger used to be when the Frenchman arrived at Arsenal in 1996 to change the face of the game in England with his revolutionary methods and a purist approach.
Guardiola is the manager and visionary Wenger once was and that must be a cold and brutal reality for the 68-year-old whose continuously optimistic messages about Arsenal’s future and hopes of achieving the big successes are increasingly at odds with the evidence.
Guardiola is now the younger moderniser and the vast gulf between City and Arsenal, the difference that could almost be measured by those swathes of red open spaces, suggest Wenger looks increasingly like yesterday’s man.
Wenger, of course, deserves credit for taking Arsenal to another major cup final after three FA Cup successes in the past four seasons, but the odd animated gesture and words of defiance carried a hollow ring on a painful and passionless day for the club.
The ease with which City, without ever needing to be near their best, dealt with Arsenal must be chastening for Wenger as all the signs are that the Gunners continue to drop further off the pace when their progress – if indeed they are progressing – is placed alongside what is taking place at Etihad Stadium.
Guardiola has his first, tangible evidence of the new era.
City are 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League with a game in hand and have effectively confirmed their place in the last eight of the Champions League as they take a 4-0 lead into next month’s last-16 second leg against Basel.
There is the sense of limitless potential, helped by financial power of course, and a club where things can only get better.
Once the misery of this day is wiped away, they have a 10-point gap to make up to Tottenham for place in the Premier League’s top four, although they do have a game in hand.
Meanwhile, a potential route into the Champions League is blocked by the not inconsiderable obstacle of AC Milan in the last 16 of the Europa League.
It is not just for 90 minutes of this League Cup final that City and Arsenal appear to be on entirely different levels.
Wenger was given a new two-year contract at the start of the season and, as always, retains the backing of Arsenal’s board and owner Stan Kroenke, but this would have made grim viewing for the club’s hierarchy who still harbour ambitions of challenging City and others contesting the big prizes.
If, as is a distinct possibility, Arsenal miss out on Champions League football once again, then Wenger will have even more difficulty painting a positive picture for a frustrated fanbase.
Arsenal are in danger of finishing outside the top four for a second successive Premier League season. Having ended 2016-17 in fifth, they are sixth in the table – 10 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham with 11 games to play.
When David Silva’s 65th-minute shot flashed past Arsenal keeper David Ospina to put City three up, many of the Gunners fans decided enough was enough and made their way towards the exits.
Who could blame them? This was something they had seen before.
Arsenal’s players looked to have given up, strolling around and barely contesting a challenge after Vincent Kompany’s second for City, so why shouldn’t they?
One young Arsenal fan was caught on camera inconsolable in floods of tears. It was hard not to feel his pain as his side gave all the appearance of simply waiting for the final whistle without having too much more damage inflicted on them.
There was even the indignity of ironic chants of “Ole” from those Arsenal supporters who did stay beyond Silva’s goal. If Wenger heard them, they must have hurt.
And all this was without City ever needing to touch top gear.
Old Arsenal failings were exposed at the key points, summed up by defender Shkodran Mustafi’s feeble contesting of Claudio Bravo’s route-one and routine goal-kick with Sergio Aguerio.
The German was left complaining almost out of sheer embarrassment that he had been fouled as the striker raced on to lift his finish over the exposed Ospina to break the deadlock after 18 minutes.
Mesut Ozil, fresh from signing a new contract, was anonymous while, for all the talk of Jack Wilshere’s rejuvenation, he struggled to exert any influence against midfield operators of the calibre City possess.
Of course Wenger, as he has done in recent seasons, may yet salvage something with a top-four place or a Europa League win – but Arsenal look so fragile and still bedevilled by the same shortcomings that have undermined them for years that you would not bank on it.
City and Guardiola should harbour no such doubts.
The League Cup may not exactly have been top of Guardiola’s priorities when he arrived at City but the first success is always sweet and vital and will provide fresh impetus for the rest of the season and that attempt to win a Treble by adding the Premier League crown and the Champions League.
The contrast between the two managers, the two teams, could not have been greater.