Arsenal’s mission against Man City is simple – show they can beat the best and keep title race alive

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Guardiola’s praise of Arteta’s team will, however, resonate with the Arsenal supporters who have seen a gradual and encouraging shift in the past 12 months. Arsenal took 76 points from 41 games in 2021, the fourth highest total in the Premier League and only one point fewer than Liverpool.

With their young attackers providing an exciting blend of imagination and energy up front, Arsenal have the players to hurt City. In Ben White and Gabriel, they also have defenders capable of holding firm: as a duo, they have the joint-most clean sheets in the league this season, along with City’s Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte.

The key question is whether any of this will be enough against the might of City’s squad. Given the options at Guardiola’s disposal, it is hardly a surprise that his team has powered through this period of Covid chaos while many in the league have stumbled. After all, while some teams have been scrambling to find 11 fit players, Guardiola has been able to drop Jack Grealish – the most expensive British player ever – and Phil Foden – the most talented British player of his generation – for going to a nightclub.

How many of Arsenal’s players would get into City’s team? How many of them would even get into City’s matchday squad? There is a considerable gap in class, and this has been a fundamental reason for Guardiola’s dominance over Arsenal, a team that tries to play like City but does so with worse players and a less experienced coach. “My feeling is that they are the best team to have existed in the history of the Premier League,” said Arteta of City.

It will be curious to see how the Arsenal squad reacts to the absence of Arteta. Assistant coach Albert Stuivenberg will lead the side, and there will be communication with Arteta, but the Spaniard’s usual finger-pointing and arm-waving will be missing. “The players have to coach themselves,” he said. “That is the best way.”

Arteta has endured a rough couple of days with the virus, which he also contracted in 2020, and will be watching on a special feed. His plan is to follow the match from a higher camera angle, to see the pitch with a birds-eye view. He will be watching on his own, he said firmly, rather than with his family.

“I have never experienced what I am going to experience tomorrow,” he said. “It is going to be very strange. I will need a big room so that I can move a little bit, because I won’t be able to sit on my sofa.”

If the match unfolds in a similar way to the first meeting between these sides this season, when City won 5-0 against a depleted Arsenal, then Arteta might find himself hiding behind that sofa instead. He will be watching nervously, as will City’s rivals for the title.


Guardiola emphasises perils of complacency

By James Ducker

Pep Guardiola has warned his Manchester City players not to be “stupid” by getting ahead of themselves in the Premier League title race.

City will extend their lead over Chelsea and Liverpool to 11 and 12 points respectively should they beat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium this lunchtime before the champions’ two main title rivals square off at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Guardiola’s side have won their past 10 league matches and are gathering a momentum similar to that which saw them go 19 top-flight games unbeaten between late November and early March last season en route to winning the championship.

But Guardiola has told his players not to look beyond Arsenal and pointed to the 20-minute, second-half collapse against Leicester on Boxing Day, when they led 4-0 only to concede three times before eventually emerging 6-3 winners, as evidence of the perils of complacency.

“Thinking about the long run is a stupid thing to think about, how many games,” he said. “It’s just, ‘What’s next, be ready’. The most important thing is the desire and the commitment.

“The team has to say, ‘Yeah, I want to do it, I want to go again and try to win the game’. In this kind of period, everyone will be involved. And everyone makes their incredible contribution and that is why we are where we are.

“It’s an unexpected situation. Not even a month ago we were four or five points behind Chelsea and Liverpool but we have 54 points more to play for.

“When everything is taken for granted, you can be 4-0 up and in 20 minutes it is 4-3. If we hadn’t scored the fifth goal [against Leicester] I can assure you that the [next] game [against Brentford], we could not have won, and we would have drawn or lost against Leicester.

“That is why we have to be patient, recover the people and say: ‘What’s next’. And after another one and after another one and sooner or later we are going to lose a game because it’s going to happen.

“So be calm, relax and try again, and then the next one try again. Don’t be extremely satisfied when the situation is going good and not extremely depressed [when it is not] because with this amount of games I learned a little bit from last season because of the Covid situation that being relaxed is the best way to approach the next one.”

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