Man City boss hails his apprentice ‘Arsenal’s most important player’

Pep Guardiola believes Mikel Arteta has created the best Arsenal team he has managed against and has labelled his friend the Gunners’ “most important player.”

Arteta will actually be missing when his team kicks off 2022 by welcoming the in-form league leaders at lunchtime on Saturday due to Covid-19.

But, with or without Arteta, Guardiola believes his former Manchester City assistant has turned Arsenal into a serious contender for honours and will offer him a stiff test as City seek an 11th consecutive league victory.

“I would say 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.

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“No doubts about that. The most important thing is for him to stay well, the symptoms were low, everything is under control and he recovers and after the protocols he comes back to the place he loves, on the touchline and the sessions.

“But I know exactly which Arsenal is going to play, with or without Mikel. Since I arrived here, it is the best Arsenal I have ever seen in six seasons.

“That is why they are going to play with the people who support him. It will be a challenge for us but we have an incredible opportunity to maintain the distance and continue our run.”

The City manager credited Arteta with having changed the culture at the Emirates in a managerial reign that has had difficult moments and even seen his future questioned.

“It’s the best Arsenal, it’s not a secret,” said Guardiola. “They are in the top four. The energy they are playing with and the good ideas that Mikel has. To settle something you need time and I have the feeling that he changed the team, the club.

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“He changed the club. I am pretty sure he felt for many things, the way it started in Arsenal and maybe was not good and step by step he is doing well. So maybe right now we are going to face one of the one or two best teams in the Premier League right now in the best form.”

Guardiola has now compiled a league winning streak of 10 games for the fourth time in his City career – in comparison, no other manager has had more than two such runs in Premier League history.

The Catalan insists he does not dwell on such statistics and tries to retain balance in the good and bad times – a recipe that has certainly worked in his time with the champions.

“Thinking about the long runs is a stupid thing to think about, how many games,” he said. “It’s just – what’s next, be ready and the most important thing is the desire and the commitment.

“The team has to say, yeah, I want to do it, I want to go there, and try to go again and try to win the game. Everyone makes their incredible contribution and that is why we are where we are. It’s an unexpected situation.

“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.

“We are going to lose a game, because it’s going to happen, be calm, relax and try again, and next one, and try again. So don’t be extremely satisfied when the situation is going good and not extremely depressed when it isn’t.

“Because with this amount of games and all the competitions – and I learned a little bit last season because of the Covid situation – being relaxed is the best way to approach the next one.”

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