Pep Guardiola called Saturday's 1-0 win over Arsenal an "important victory" as he admitted Manchester City are still some way short of their best.
Even as Sergio Aguero clocked up 65 minutes in his first appearance for four months, City – without the injured Kevin De Bruyne and Aymeric Laporte – laboured through a cagey second half, and Guardiola said his players were still getting up to speed after the disrupted and much shortened off-season.
Victory saw City edge into the top half of the Premier League table as they recover from the 5-2 home defeat to Leicester and the 1-1 draw at Leeds before the international break.
"It was an important victory. The clean sheet was important. They fought and had the desire to win and try to do it," Guardiola said.
"We started (the season) really well but we have a big blow against Leicester when we conceded three penalties and at Leeds. But we still cannot play for 90 minutes.
"We don't have the preparation that Liverpool or Arsenal had. They had three more weeks than us, then we have four guys with Covid and after that Joao Cancelo and Bernardo (Silva) were injured in the internationals.
"With the position we have it is important in games to take time and come back. Now Laporte is out and (Benjamin) Mendy is out and Kevin as well so we cannot play for 90 minutes at the top level but the spirit has to be there."
Aguero had not been seen since suffering a knee injury against Burnley in June, ruling him out of the end of the Champions League campaign, and leaving City without a striker in recent weeks once Gabriel Jesus had joined him in the treatment room.
With Porto due in Manchester on Wednesday in the Champions League, Aguero's return was a welcome sight for Guardiola.
"We are incredibly happy," Guardiola said. "It is four months so he is still short of his condition but we got 60 minutes and that is good. On Wednesday we have another game so it is important because we need his goals and his performances."
The reshuffled defence saw summer signings Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias line up alongside each other at the back, something which is likely to be repeated on Wednesday with Laporte facing up to 10 days out with what was described as a muscular problem.
Defeat means Arsenal have now gone 29 games without a Premier League win away to one of the 'big six', and have not won at the Etihad since January 2015.
Mikel Arteta admitted he was frustrated to come away empty-handed against his old boss, but the former City assistant took encouragement from the performance.
"(It's disappointing) not to get anything from the game given the way the game went because I felt we kept growing and growing with more belief that we could get something from it," he said.
"At the same time I'm extremely proud about the way we played individually and collectively, to put in that performance in this stadium is not an easy thing to do."
Arsenal were appealing for a penalty when Kyle Walker went in with a high boot on Gabriel just before the break but referee Chris Kavanagh was uninterested and there was apparently no VAR check.
"You need everything to go your way to get a win here," Arteta said. "When you have three or four big chances you have to put them away because you know that will be the case in your box.
"All I ask is for the referee to watch it back because I don't think they checked. It took two seconds for the whistle to go (for half-time) so I am disappointed with that."