Mikel Arteta returns to face his former employers, Manchester City, in the first high-profile clash to mark the resumption of the Premier League following the global pandemic. Arteta spent four seasons with the Citizens as assistant manager to Pep Guardiola before making the move in December to Arsenal after the Gunners were beaten 3-0 at home in the reverse fixture.
"Last week, I was here with Manchester City and felt a little bit down. I want to get everybody in the club with the same mindset. We have to build a culture that sustains the rest," were the exact words used by Arsenal’s new manager during his first press conference back in December. And the Spaniard has definitely lived up to his word. His real challenge, however, will be when Arsenal face off against his former employers away from home.
Manchester City FC
As current holders of the Premier League title, all has not really gone according to plan for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City this season. Although they are presently second on the Premier League table, they lie a massive 25 points behind league leaders Liverpool, who have all but sealed their first Premier League triumph. With a Champions League ban next season as well, Pep Guardiola will be looking to dampen the mood of his former protégé.
City lost their last game (before the suspension of the league) against rivals Manchester United, courtesy goals from Anthony Martial and Scott McTominay. "I said after a few months together, he would be a manager. He is already a manager -- he behaves like a manager," Guardiola quipped to Sky Sports after his team’s win over Chelsea when his former assistant manager was linked to a move to the Emirates.
Manchester City will look to take advantage of Arsenal’s leaky defence, which cost them a 3-2 loss to Brentford during a friendly at the Emirates last week. Coupled with Arsenal’s bad form at the Etihad and the return of many key players after injury, expect the City side to accelerate from the get-go. The Spaniard has a lot of respect for Arteta, having praised him throughout his career. It will be interesting whether the legendary manager will be able to get the better of his former apprentice.
Player to watch out for: Kevin de Bruyne
While the safer choice would be Sergio Aguero who has seven goals against Arsenal, including a hat-trick last season, the more obvious choice would be Belgian playmaker Kevin de Bruyne. The attacking midfielder always finds his best form against the Gunners, with four goals and two assists in nine appearances for Manchester City against Arsenal. In Arteta’s last game for the Citizens back in December, Kevin de Bruyne was adjudged Man of the Match for his two goals.
When Mikel Arteta joined Arsenal from City, the club was in shambles: In Unai Emery’s last 10 games, the Gunners conceded 16 goals, with their opponents managing a staggering 218 shots from which 73 were on target. The Gunners had won just one of their last 12 games in all competitions and hadn't kept a clean sheet in their away matches since the opening weekend of the season at Newcastle.
Having said that, Arsenal have not won a league game against Man City since December 2015, and you have to go back to January of the same year for their last league win at the Etihad.
A lot of this was down to the toxicity of the dressing room, with the likes of Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil, both discontent with the treatment under the former manager. Arteta has dealt with this problem quite well. While the aforementioned players have shown signs of upping their game under the new manager, the likes of Lucas Torreira and Skhodran Mustafi have shown an upsurge of form under Mikel Arteta.
The break has also given a chance for the likes of Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney to return to full fitness, adding an extra tooth to Arsenal’s shaky, yet recuperating defence.
Prior to the suspension of the league, Arteta managed a 1-0 win over London rivals West Ham United. In his 10 Premier League matches, he has managed four wins, five draws and a single loss, scoring 16 goals while conceding just nine. Mikel Arteta will look to carry this form when he takes on City at the Etihad for the first time as Arsenal head coach.
Having worked closely with a lot of the City players, like Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Raheem Sterling, Mikel Arteta’s one-to-one attention -- a trait he seemingly learnt from his former boss -- is sure to benefit the likes of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli in the future.
Player to watch out for: Bernd Leno
Much like City’s player to watch out for, Bernd Leno pips Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for this spot. Bernd Leno has been one of Arsenal’s best performers this season. He has made a staggering 104 saves --- the second most this season -- but has managed only seven clean sheets, courtesy of Arsenal’s woeful defence. He has made only two errors leading to goals while making an important save in the previous fixture to deny Kevin de Bruyne his first Premier League Hattrick.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Glyn Kirk / Adrian Dennis