Title clash gives Arteta the chance to prove he’s up to Guardiola’s level
Pep Guardiola knows how to win a Premier League title. Indeed, the Catalan has guided Manchester City to four championships in the last five seasons as the Etihad Stadium outfit have set a new precedent at the top of the English game. Mikel Arteta, on the other hand, finds himself in new territory as a manager.
Arteta was part of Guardiola’s coaching staff at Manchester City, but the pressure being piled on to his shoulders right now is something new for him. Arsenal have been frontrunners in the Premier League title race since early this season yet recent draws against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton have swung things back in City’s favour.
Wednesday’s clash between City and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium will go a long way to determining the outcome of this season’s title race. The defending champions are on a run of 11 wins from their last 12 matches in all competitions and are favourites to claim all three points against the Gunners in a season-defining encounter.
The time is now for Arteta to prove he is up to Guardiola’s level. Arsenal have received praise for their performances this season, but the injury to William Saliba in particular has created an issue. It is up to Arteta to find a solution and work out a way for Arsenal to at least hold their own against Manchester City.
From early on in his tenure, Arteta has been clear in how he wants Arsenal to play. The culmination of that process has come this season with the North London side excellent at controlling matches through their use of possession and appreciation of space and how to exploit it in moments of attacking transition. From back to front, Arsenal have impressed.
Last summer’s addition of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko saw Arsenal take a giant leap forward. Jesus’ link-up play made the Gunners a more fluid team in the attacking third while Zinchenko’s ability to step into central midfield from left back gave them a way to suffocate opponents through their control of the ball.
Saliba’s absence, however, has unsettled Arsenal’s structure as a team. The Frenchman’s recovery pace was crucial to the Gunners’ high line. He was their safety net. Now with Saliba on the sidelines, Arsenal have dropped their defensive line deeper, but that has opened up space in the centre of the pitch for opposition sides – Southampton made the most of this in Friday’s 3-3 draw.
Manchester City could exploit these vulnerabilities. Erling Haaland has the pace to get in behind the Arsenal defence, but if Arteta uses a deeper line then City have the quality through the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan to play in front of them. This will be the toughest test the Gunners have faced so far this season.
“I cannot wait, these are the games you want to play. When everything is at stake you have to go there to win,” Arteta insisted ahead of the trip north to take on Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. “It is the beauty of this sport, you want to be in these positions. We will have an incredible trip to Manchester and we will prepare really well.”
As an apprentice, Arteta learned plenty from Guardiola. The two men are friends and there is a lot of overlap between how they both see the game. Arsenal and Manchester City play a similar brand of football, but the former must prove theirs is a winning brand at the home of a team that has won more than any other in England in recent times.