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

Guardiola’s praise for Arteta’s squad, however, will resonate with Arsenal supporters who have seen a gradual and encouraging change over the past 12 months. Arsenal have taken 76 points from 41 games in 2021, the fourth-highest total in the Premier League and just one point behind Liverpool.

With their young forwards offering an exciting mix of imagination and energy up front, Arsenal have the players to hurt City. Along with Ben White and Gabriel, they also have defenders who can hold their own: as a duo, they have the cleanest sheets in the league this season, along with City’s Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte.

The key question is whether all of this will be enough against the might of the City squad. Given the options available to Guardiola, it is no surprise that his team went through this period of Covid chaos as many in the league stumbled. After all, as some teams struggled to find 11 fit players, Guardiola was able to let down Jack Grealish – the most expensive British player of all time – and Phil Foden – the most talented British player of his generation – for going to a nightclub.

How many Arsenal players would join City’s squad? How many of them would even enter City’s squad on match day? There is a considerable gap in the class, and that has been a fundamental reason for Guardiola’s dominance over Arsenal, a team that try to play like City but do so with less good players and a less experienced manager. “My feeling is that they are the best team that has existed in Premier League history,” City’s Arteta said.

He’ll be curious to see how Arsenal’s side react to Arteta’s absence. Assistant coach Albert Stuivenberg will lead the squad, and there will be communication with Arteta, but the usual point-and-wave of the Spaniard will be absent. “The players have to train themselves,” he said. “This is the best way.”

Arteta has endured a few rough days with the virus, which he also contracted in 2020, and will be watching on a special thread. His plan is to follow the game from a higher camera angle, to see the pitch from a bird’s eye view. He will watch alone, he said firmly, rather than with his family.

“I have never experienced what I am going to experience tomorrow,” he said. “It’s going to be very strange. I will need a large room to be able to move around a bit, as I will not be able to sit on my couch.

If the game goes the same way it did when these two teams first met this season, when City won 5-0 against exhausted Arsenal, then Arteta could hide behind that couch instead. He will look nervously, as will City rivals for the title.

Guardiola emphasizes dangers 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 if they beat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium this midday before the two main rivals of the champions face off at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Guardiola’s side have won their last 10 league games and are building up similar momentum that saw them go 19 top-level games unbeaten between late November and early March last season on their way to the championship.

But Guardiola told his players not to look past Arsenal and pointed to the 20-minute second-half collapse against Leicester on Boxing Day, when they led 4-0 to concede just three times before to finally emerge victorious 6-3, as proof of the dangers of complacency.

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

“The team has to say, ‘Yes I want to do it, I want to go back and try to win the game.’ In that kind of period everyone will be involved. And everyone makes their incredible contribution and that’s 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 more points to play.

“When it’s all taken for granted you can have 4-0 and in 20 minutes it’s 4-3. If we hadn’t scored the fifth goal [against Leicester] I can assure you that the [next] Game [against Brentford], we couldn’t have won, and we would have drawn or lost to Leicester.

“That’s why we have to be patient, get people back and say, ‘What’s the next step.’ And after another and after another and sooner or later we’re going to lose a game because it’s going to happen.

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

About James K. Bonnette

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