Mikel Arteta reminded Manchester City that Arsenal still hold top spot in the Premier League and will not let relinquish it without an almighty fight as the top two prepare for an Etihad Stadium battle.
The Arsenal manager explained how City old boys Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus have been adamant the Gunners are title material since joining in the close season.
That has helped to feed positivity around the team, and it remains in place despite Arsenal drawing their last three games to allow second-placed City to narrow the gap.
Arsenal’s lead stands at five points, with City having two games in hand, plus Pep Guardiola’s team have home advantage on Wednesday.
Defender William Saliba misses out through injury, and Granit Xhaka is a doubt, and Arteta is wrestling to get the best out of a team who have been paying for errors in recent weeks.On the eve of the game, Arteta said his players should still believe.
“One hundred per cent,” Arteta said. “But we knew from the beginning that City were the team to beat, probably with Liverpool because of what those teams have won in the last six, seven years.
“We were the ones that wanted to be closing that gap as much as we possibly could.
“We are toe-to-toe with them. We knew we had to go to the Etihad. We know that after that we have another five difficult games.
“That game is going to be really important, but is it going to define the season? The answer is no.
“If we win tomorrow night, we haven’t won the league that’s for sure. It will shift a little probably, the percentage, but five games in this league with the games we still have to play, very tricky still.
“The belief is there. We really want it, and we’re going to show that again tomorrow night. But then you have to deliver in the right moment, the right performance, and it has to be perfection.
“It’s going to be a tough night and challenge, but the opportunity is incredible for us. We knew from the beginning that if you want to win the Premier League you have to go to Spurs and you have to beat them. You have to go to Chelsea and beat them. This is what we’ve been doing, and that’s why we are here.
“Now we go to City, and we have to beat them. If you want to be champions you have to win those matches, it’s as simple as that.”
It helps that Arsenal have title winners in Zinchenko and Jesus within their ranks.
“For sure. The experience is key when you’ve been in those moments, to handle those moments and understand the importance of certain things,” Arteta said.
“When they came in, after two or three weeks they said we can win the league. It’s been going on since August. This process has been coming for a long time.”
Arteta, a former assistant coach at City, said he has not spoken to Guardiola recently, and it will be pure business between the former colleagues on Wednesday.
Arsenal need to stop Erling Haaland, but they will be aware threats come from all quarters with City, exemplified by Riyah Mahrez hitting an FA Cup semi-final hat-trick at the weekend.
“Obviously we are working on their threats as well as working on their weaknesses, and we know what they are,” Arteta said. “You have to control every single one.
“Let’s focus on us. We know what they want to do, what they’re going to try to do. They can do so many things. You have to focus on certain principles to try to take the game where you want.”
Reminding his players of their position, Arteta pointed to Arsenal still being firmly in the race for the title, even as the focus shifts to City’s recent scorching form.
“They build up this incredible form and look where we are in the table still, so that means we’ve been as well in incredible form, and that’s why we are where we are,” the Arsenal boss added.
Looking at the challenge of handling Haaland, the Premier League’s 32-goal top scorer, Arteta said: “When you look at the numbers, there’s no comparison with anybody else. He’s able to produce that because the set-up is done in the right way for him. Preventing the source is something that is probably the best recipe.”
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