Pep Guardiola believes Mikel Arteta has produced the best Arsenal team he has faced since arriving at Manchester City in 2016.
Arteta, Covid-positive and isolating, will not be at the Emirates on Saturday when fourth-placed Arsenal face the Premier League leaders. Guardiola has sent his best wishes and praised his former City assistant.
“The most important thing is for him to stay well – the symptoms were low, everything is under control – and he recovers,” said Guardiola.
“But I know exactly which Arsenal is going to play, with or without Mikel. It will be, since I arrived here, the best Arsenal I have ever seen.”
Arsenal have won their past four league matches, winning 4-1 at Leeds and 5-0 at Norwich either side of Christmas. Improvement has coincided with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being dropped by Arteta. In August, City beat Arsenal 5-0 after Granit Xhaka was sent off in the 35th minute. “Mikel is the most important player they have,” said Guardiola. “I know his charisma and ideas and especially his personality to do what he believes is the best for the team and the club.”
City go into the game with João Cancelo available following the violent assault on the Portuguese at his family home that left him with facial injuries. Guardiola’s side are coming off 10 successive Premier League wins, the latest Wednesday’s 1-0 victory at Brentford. Beating Arsenal would increase pressure on Chelsea and Liverpool, eight and nine points behind respectively and due to face each other at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Chasing fourth title
“It’s an unexpected situation,” said Guardiola. “Not even a month ago we were four or five or six points behind Chelsea and Liverpool but we have 54 points more to play for.”
Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling, scorers in St Stephen’s Day’s 6-3 defeat of Leicester, sat out at Brentford and seem likely to play at Arsenal. “Raheem and Riyad were the best players against Leicester and they didn’t play one minute [against Brentford],” Guardiola said. “But in this kind of period everyone will be involved.”
City are chasing a fourth title in five seasons, but Guardiola reluctantly compared this team with their predecessors.
“It would be unfair on the previous ones to say this was the strongest because of what they did together, the generation with Vincent Kompany, Sergio Agüero, making 100 points, 98 points, facing the best team I ever faced, like Liverpool, in this period. They were the big rival for us. I am not thinking about what is going to happen in the future. I am thinking: ‘Okay, what’s next?’ What’s next is Arsenal.”