Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola says Arsenal’s success has come from treating every game “like a cup final” – something he thinks his side are now doing too.
Wednesday’s showdown at the Etihad Stadium essentially serves as a title decider with the destiny of the Premier League title in the winner’s hands – though both managers have attempted to downplay the game’s ‘decisiveness’ in the race for the Premier League trophy.
Arsenal come into the midweek encounter having drawn each of their last three games, their joint-longest winless run on the season, allowing Man City to claw back the gap at the top to five points, with two games in hand, courtesy of eight wins from their last nine matches.
The Gunners dropped only seven points in the first half of the season, compared to 14 in the 13 games since. Conversely City’s form has – as has become routine under Guardiola – improved markedly in the second half of the campaign.
Guardiola pointed to Arsenal’s approach of every game as a “cup final” for their bright start, an intensity he said his team found difficult to match at first given their back-to-back Premier League titles.
He said: “I’ve said many weeks ago, getting towards the end of the season we know if we lose games the situation will be over.
“When you live in these kind of situations, in October, November, you can’t have that feeling. Especially after winning back-to-back Premier Leagues. For our first Premier League, we started the season like every game was a final , every game was a final.
“I remember it perfectly, seeing it from the outside that Arsenal had that feeling this season, every game is a final. This season for us, after back-to-back Premier Leagues, every game wasn’t a final at the start.
“But now in the last few months with the Champions League, FA Cup, Premier League, we see it like that because the end is really close. Now we know exactly what we are playing for.
“It’s many months to get to this point, and now we have the chance in our hands. Of course it is in theirs too because if they win, it depends on them – but if we do, then the destiny is up to us with seven games to go.
“It’s really important, not decisive because there’s many tough games left for both sides. But we cannot deny how important it is.”
Wednesday’s match will pit Guardiola against his ‘apprentice’ and former assistant Arteta for the third time this season. City have won both of the previous two matches, including a straightforward 3-1 victory at the Emirates Stadium in February.
Even so, the rise of Arsenal under Arteta has been meteoric, from missing out on Champions League football altogether last season to leading the table with six games to go, and Guardiola pinpointed exactly how he felt his old colleague had changed things in north London.
“The development of Arsenal since Mikel has taken over has been obvious.” he said. “When you talk about the word manager – I’m a trainer, a football trainer. Not a manager.
“I had the feeling that Mikel changed the structure of the club, the mentality, not just the formations or the build-up on the pitch.
“He’s made lots of decisions, changed lots of players, with a lot of support from the hierarchy I assume, and that’s why the success is there.
“He’s brought Arsenal from the position they were back into the top six, or now a top eight to fight for the Premier League with Newcastle having joined. Every year it will be more and more difficult, and in the last years Arsenal were never there [near the title]they were always far, far away.
“Last season they were close to reaching the top four, and now they have made another step because all season they have been up there. We’ve been there for the last month, two months, but they have been there all season. Their consistency has been really good.”
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