Mikel Arteta wants Arsenal to savour the “beautiful experience” of a potential title decider against Manchester City at the Etihad but accepts his players will have to delve into previously untapped resources to regain control of a neck-and-neck race for the top.
Arsenal travel to Manchester with a five-point lead at the summit but, given their opponents have two games in hand, anything bar a win would make City favourites to pull clear by the end of the season. Three straight draws have squandered much of Arsenal’s advantage but Arteta praised his side for staying with Pep Guardiola’s team and urged them to hit the heights required for a successful conclusion.
“A beautiful experience tomorrow night, that is what I want them to take,” he said, when asked what Arsenal’s squad might glean from such a high-pressure occasion. “A beautiful experience where we do what we have to do to win the game. For us to have been able to go toe-to-toe with [City] is great. But it’s not enough because we want to win it, so we have to find a different edge [so] now that we are here we are going to win it. And to do that, excellence is the only thing that is going to take you where we want to go.”
Arteta worked as Guardiola’s assistant at City for three and a half years before taking the Arsenal job in December 2019. The usually pragmatic manager allowed himself a brief reflection on the pace at which his life has changed since then. “It is the beauty of football,” he said. “Five years ago if somebody told me we would be in this position, him at City and me at Arsenal, and going toe-to-toe with them … ”
City were 3-1 victors at the Emirates two months ago, winning 11 and drawing three of their 14 matches in all competitions since. They are in searing form but Arteta was bullish when it was put to him that his team might have had a greater chance of winning at the Etihad earlier in the campaign. “They’ve been in incredible form but look where we are in the table,” he said. “That means we’ve been in incredible form as well. That’s why we are where we are.
“It’s going to be a tough night and challenge but the opportunity is incredible for us. We knew from the beginning, if you want to win a Premier League, you have to go to Spurs and beat them. You have to go to Chelsea and you have to beat them. You have to go away from home and win. This is what we’ve been doing. This is why we’re here. Now you have to go to City and you have to beat them.”
Any hopes that William Saliba might make a miraculous recovery to reassume his place in Arsenal’s defence appear to have been dashed, Arteta suggesting the centre-back would be absent into next week because of a back injury that could curtail his season. They have struggled to keep things tight without Saliba and a lack of security was doubly pronounced when Granit Xhaka missed Friday’s 3-3 draw against Southampton through illness. Xhaka is doubtful again and Arteta will be desperate for his most experienced player to recover in time.
“Injuries for us in the wrong moments, losing three or four players, is not great, but we have to adapt,” he said. “If you want to win the championship you have to go through those moments and somehow overcome that situation. We have to show that now.”