Can the fact that Mikel Arteta undoubtedly knows the workings of Pep Guardiola’s football brain help Arsenal at Manchester City tomorrow night? Arsenal go to the Etihad Stadium looking to avoid defeat at least as they chase the best finish possible with a slim chance of gaining a spot in the Champions League next season. But the Gunners face a stern test against second-placed City — especially given that they are a wounded animal still hurting from the fresh scars of a mauling at Manchester United on Sunday when they lost 2-0 in the derby clash at Old Trafford. Ok, not a mauling but it must have felt like it given that they didn’t score despite having so much of the game.
Arteta quit his role as No.2 to Guardiola to take up the job as head honcho at the Emirates Stadium when fellow Spaniard Unai Emery was axed and, overall, it is fair to say that he has managed to turn around the fortunes of the north London giants (except of course, in the Europa League where they were disastrously knocked out by Olympiakos). Arsenal haven’t been defeated in the Premier League since the end of December when they were very unlucky to lose to Chelsea at home. Too many draws have cost the Gunners a better spot in the top-flight rankings but for morale, being unbeaten for so long must be good.
And so, to City and Arteta’s understanding of how they play. Yes, he will have detailed knowledge of game plans, tactics and personnel and if the visitors are looking for any advantage in this tricky fixture this surely counts. He first met Guardiola at the Barcelona academy and he turned down a job managing within the Arsenal youth set-up to work for him at City — he took the job in 2016. But knowing Guardiola and his methods can only get you so far. We have seen over the tenure of Guardiola at City that he can be extremely unpredictable; if this was another sport “curveball” would be appropriate to describe the potential of the coach turning things on their head in terms of his approach to the game. This may undo Arteta. But it’s all about the players, as the Arsenal boss says, and so any amount of insight can only have a limited impact on the battle of the pitch.
It may not help Arsenal’s cause that once again Arteta looks as if he will shuffle his pack to allow Cedric Soares to make his debut at right-back. The defender is fit again after a spell out injured (knee knock and hamstring tweak) following his arrival in the January transfer window from Southampton. Arteta certainly has options with his selection at the back after declaring both Shkodran Mustafi and Soares fit. Hector Bellerin came on for Papa Sokratis in the win over West Ham United on Saturday with Bukayo Saka, David Luis and Pablo Mari completing the rear guard.
For the time being, Arteta is keeping his cards close to his chest and you can’t blame him for that. Speaking ahead og the showdown with his former employers, he said:
“I think Soares and Mustafi will be available to play. Hopefully everybody will be available to train and we’ll pick the squad with the best players we can.”