ARSENAL Manager Mikel Arteta would prefer to go head to head with pretty much any coach other than Pep Guardiola in a bid to win the biggest trophies in English football.
And not just because it means Arsenal is having to compete with Manchester City — a team Arteta believes is the best in the world. Rather, it would mean he could avoid having to compete with a friend and one-time mentor.
"I would prefer to do it with someone else, to be fair," Arteta said yesterday. "I want the best for him, genuinely the best for him, and when you are challenging with someone like this something comes in-between that. So, it's a strange feeling."
Arteta had better get used to it.
Arsenal versus Man City is English football's hottest new rivalry — well, for this season anyway — and they will be meeting three times over the coming months: twice in the Premier League when the title is at stake with Arsenal five points clear of second-place City with a game in hand; and, firstly, in the FA Cup with City hosting Arsenal in the fourth round tomorrow.
Arteta owes plenty to Guardiola after spending three years under his fellow Spaniard as assistant coach at City from 2016-19.
Arteta then left to join Arsenal for his first senior coaching role, and he shares the same passion and animated style on the touchline as Guardiola.
He knew coming up against Guardiola was inevitable if Arsenal was to challenge for silverware, but he said he hopes it doesn't impact their relationship.
"It's not going to change any friendship, the moments that we had, how important he is in my life, how important he is in my profession," Arteta said. "We're both willing to win and defend our clubs the best possible way — and that's always been the case since day one."
Arteta has already outwitted Guardiola in the FA Cup, having led Arsenal to a 2-0 victory over then-defending champion City in the semi-finals in 2020.
Arsenal went on to win the cup, beating Chelsea in the final for a title that gave Arteta a platform on which to build at the club — even though he has been through some tough times. Notably at the start of last season when Arsenal lost its first three games — including a 5-0 thrashing by City — in the lowest moment of his tenure at Emirates Stadium.
Indeed, City has won six of its seven meetings with Arsenal since Arteta took charge but the team from north London is much-improved this season, not least because it added title-winning experience in Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko — who both moved from City in the summer last year — to the squad.
Arteta played down the importance of the match tomorrow when it comes to providing a psychological advantage in the Premier League title race.
"I think they are going to be two very, very different games," he said. "To put similarities to them, I think, is just very unreal maybe because of the players who will be on the pitch but as well because the context is extremely different.
"Let's see. It is important to play well and to win. That gives you more momentum and confidence, and prepares you better for the next match. That is our focus."
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