Guardiola’s protege Arteta is now defending champions’ biggest threat
It wasn´t so long ago that Mikel Arteta was widely considered a Manchester City manager-in-waiting, reports mail.co.uk. Now Pep Guardiola´s former assistant has emerged as the greatest threat to his mentor´s Premier League dominance after deciding to go it alone at Arsenal.
“I am pretty sure if I would have left before, he would be here and he would be the best,” Guardiola said yesterday. “But I extended the contract, I am sorry, and he didn´t wait, so it could not happen.”The two men go head-to-head today in the fourth round of the FA Cup at City´s Etihad Stadium with potentially wider-reaching consequences in the context of the title race.
Arsenal is five points ahead of defending champion City at the top of the standings after an outstanding start to the campaign, which has seen the London club win 16 of its 19 games in the league and lose once.
While only a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup is at stake in the match, it could provide a psychological advantage to the winning team. Victory for Arsenal would be further evidence of its title credentials and ability to hold off a City challenge. For City, a win would be a statement of intent – particularly ahead the league meeting between the teams next month.
Guardiola last week warned his players that Arsenal would “destroy” them if their performances didn´t improve in the second half of the season. And while there have been doubts about Arsenal´s ability to maintain a title challenge after failing to even qualify for the Champions League since 2016, City´s manager has repeatedly described the league leaders as the team to beat.
“When the team make 50 points it is because they have been the best, and they are,” Guardiola said. “We have to prove how far away or how close we are and the best way to notice is to perform our best level. Otherwise, against a team at that level, it will be difficult.”
Arsenal’s success has been influenced by Guardiola, even if the Spanish coach has dismissed the suggestion that Arteta is his protégé. Arteta´s first coaching role came when Guardiola invited him to be part of his backroom staff at City in 2016 and he went on to help the club win two titles, two League Cups and the FA Cup.
There was a growing sense that he would one day succeed the City manager, but in 2019 he took over at Arsenal, returning to the club where he ended his playing career.
“I know he went to his club, the team he dreams of,” Guardiola said. “He´s a supporter, for the fact he played there, he was a captain there. He loves the club. I remember when we were together here when we score goals he jumps a lot and celebrates except against one team. One team every time we score a goal, I jump, look back, and he was sitting there. It was Arsenal. It was that moment I said, `That guy likes Arsenal.´”
Arteta did not enjoy immediate success in his first managerial job, with his position looking in jeopardy after Arsenal lost three straight league matches at the start of last season.He has relied on the patience and faith of the club´s board, who have backed him financially in the market and given him the power to rebuild a team.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Arsenal CEO Vinai Venkatesham spoke of the club´s strategy under owner Stan Kroenke.
“Our ownership are rock solid behind the club, they have a long term vision around where they´d like to take the club to and they give us the confidence to be able to make long-term decisions,” Venkatesham said. “And we knew that to turn the club around from where it was when Mikel joined to where we wanted to take it, as much as we´d have loved to have clicked our fingers, we knew that wasn´t realistic. We knew it was going to take some time.”
While Arsenal has been rewarded for its patience, Guardiola credits Arteta´s ability to convince the club he could revive its fortunes after going without the title since 2004.
“I know him and how he works, how he is able to seduce the board, the hierarchy, the sporting directors, the players,” Guardiola said. “Sometimes you need more time than you expect. He relies on the club and the club rely on him. That´s why they have had the results that they have had.”