Arsenal 1 Aston Villa 1
There was so much to take in here that one was left debilitated by what was effectively a 90-minute assault on the senses. The match ended in a draw but if there was a moral victory - and, alas, there was not - it would have belonged to Aston Villa.
Even so, it was reassuring to witness a match involving Villa where so much was fresh, inspiring and surreal; where so much was healthy, strong and athletic. It was, for various reasons, an historic occasion.
Consider what was on show: Martin O'Neill took charge of Villa for the first time; Arsenal played a competitive match at Emirates Stadium for the first time; Graham Poll returned to the spotlight for the first time since his World Cup calamities; and Theo Walcott was given 17 minutes of action to prove that, yes, he really does exist.
As if all that was not enough, there was even the bewildering sight of Eric Djemba-Djemba, emerging from anonymity to appear as a substitute for Villa in the final minute.
He looked good in his Villa shirt. So did his team-mates. And so did the supporters who, in their hundreds, made the 100-mile trek from the Midlands to welcome O'Neill back to the Premiership. Amid the 60,000-plus attendance, it was those Villa fans who sang loudest.
Of course, it was easy to sing when your team produce a performance with this much conviction and fortitude. Arsenal enjoyed 67 per cent of the possession but they did not match Villa for effort on an afternoon when perspiration was more valuable than inspiration.
Olof Mellberg gave Villa the lead with a near-post header in the 53rd minute but only in the final seven minutes, after Walcott came on to cause havoc, did Arsenal look like scoring. And score they did, through Gilberto Silva, to give both teams a deserved point.
Villa arrived here with their 5-0 defeat to Arsenal last April still fresh in the memory and, indeed, ten of the players were involved in that match at Highbury.
But there is one difference: O'Neill, who is everything that David O'Leary, his self-absorbed predecessor, is not.
O'Neill's effect was significant even before the kick-off. His tactical approach, with what could have been a 4-3-2-1 formation (or 4-5-1 or, towards the end, 9-0-1), was designed to create a wall over which Arsenal could not climb. O'Neill also employed his quickest players, Luke Moore and Gabriel Agbonlahor, in the hope that they would make Villa dangerous on the break.
On both counts, O'Neill outmanoeuvred Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, who grew increasingly frustrated as his own players, internationals one and all, descended into Villa's web.
It was not just the tactics that aided Villa's cause. It was also their work-rate, which, at times, seemed unnaturally impressive.
Liam Ridgwell was particularly solid at centre-back, while Mellberg alongside him also flourished. In midfield, the triumvirate of Gareth Barry, Steven Davis and Gavin McCann admirably assisted the defenders.
After Mellberg had put Villa in front - heading home a curling corner by Davis - it seemed as though the heart had been ripped out of Arsenal. But then on came Walcott, the mystery of the England World Cup squad, the 17-year-old whom everybody knows but few have seen, to run riot on Arsenal's left-hand side.
Walcott changed the pace of the match and did more than any Arsenal player to stop Villa from securing a victory. It was from Walcott's cross, with just seven minutes remaining, that Silva found himself with time inside the six-yard box. The Brazil international midfield player scored with an emphatic shot.
For sure, Arsenal deserved their equaliser. They were so in control that Emmanuel Eboue, their right-back, was a virtual winger. His shot in the first half produced a fine save by Thomas Sorensen and he struck the crossbar from close range in the second half.
But Villa did not deserve to lose and it was all good and proper that Graham Poll's final whistle heralded a 1-1 draw. O'Neill barely smiled at the end but you could see it in his eyes that he was satisfied.
"We were pressed back in the second half," O'Neill said. "I had an eye on the clock thinking we might even see it through. It is a great result for us. It is a big boost to our confidence. The players have held Arsenal on their own pitch.
"If we had been hammered, it would have looked like a long hard season ahead. Win and you think it is great. Get a draw, and you do not quite know where you are. I cannot do anything about the expectation but we are not going to become a really decent team overnight.
"Arsenal are in a new stadium and they are a decent side. I'm still trying to get to know my players but I thought they were terrific. This was their first competitive game."
Paradoxically, O'Neill's problems increase after this result.
He needs to diminish the level of expectations without destroying confidence. He needs to bring out the best of his existing players without revealing too much about which ones will be replaced by new signings.
Whatever, these are momentous times for Villa and, indeed, for Martin O'Neill.