At shorter notice than expected, Wednesday will mark Mikel Arteta’s return to the Etihad stadium. The young Spaniard will pit his Gunners side against the reigning Champions and Pep Guardiola, the very man under whom Arteta honed his managerial craft. The difference in talent will be compensated by Arsenal’s heightened desire to climb out of ninth place. Manchester City, meanwhile, may find it tough going with a return leg against Real Madrid undoubtedly weighing on their minds.
One thing is for certain, talk of Arteta and Guardiola’s face-off will dominate the build-up to this heavyweight fixture. The clichés will rain down. The student challenges the master, the wise old head against his former protege. But just how will this 90-minute chess match play out?
Manchester City vs Arsenal: Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta Set to Lock Horns
As Arteta has developed his tactical philosophy right under Guardiola’s nose, perhaps there will be something off the wall from the Gunners boss. If Arteta does deploy a predictable setup of quick, flowing passing with a dynamic, attacking front four then one would expect Guardiola to have a considered response up his sleeve. It may thus be that Arteta opts for an element of surprise. He has been remarkably consistent in setting up a 4-2-3-1, but an untested setup may prove a calculated gamble in an audacious attempt to outwit his former employers. That is, of course, unless he fancies meeting City head on and challenging Pep at his own game.
After making a promising but relatively slow start under Arteta, Arsenal come into Wednesday’s game on an upward trajectory. Consecutive league wins against Newcastle, Everton and West Ham have lifted Arsenal into the top half. The atmosphere around the club, infamously toxic at times, appears healthy once more. The fans are brimming with optimism as their slick, penetrative style is finally beginning to win points. The Gunners may truly fancy themselves against a City side prone to slip-ups of late.
City’s Prospects of Recovery
City, meanwhile, must recover quickly from a painful defeat at the hands of bitter rivals Manchester United. Despite the narrow loss, City threw a lot at the United defence whilst scattered sub-par performances will knock individual confidence going into a defining few weeks in City’s season. With second place effectively sewn up for the Citizens and the Champions League taking top priority, Guardiola will have a job on his hands to extract a hungry performance out of his side this Wednesday.
City’s Premier League hunger, lacking as it may be, is mitigated by their plethora of attacking options. Rotation for Guardiola will do no harm whatsoever. Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus have come to the end of their apprenticeships as squad rotation players and their form in recent weeks has thrusted them right into the mix. Unless Guardiola has an unpredictable trick up his sleeve then City will attack Arsenal in their usual style. However, don’t be surprised if even the likes of Aguero or Sterling make way for the aforementioned youngsters.
Etihad Set for Slugfest
With both teams shaky at the back and powerful going forwards, this fixture could well be a slugfest. Based on this season’s form, it is expected that Manchester City will land the decisive haymaker more often than not. But then again, how often do manager and assistant, as recently as December, face off against each other in the same season? Have no doubts about it, this will be no normal battle. Smiles and handshakes will be plentiful before kick-off, but both men will be utterly desperate to get one over on their former right-hand man.