Mikel Arteta jokes he’ll ‘kill’ Arsenal players with nerves ahead of Man City game: ‘I don’t want that at all’

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untitled design 2023 04 25t145421 045

There was warmth and good humour in Mikel Arteta’s expression as he was asked whether any of his players might feel in any way intimidated by the scale of the task that lies in front of them. Beneath that, you suspected, was a steely determination not to let this shot at history pass Arsenal by.

After weeks in which supporters could not help but map out the complexities of how Arsenal might win the title without beating Manchester City, the equation has now become simple for the league leaders. Win their remaining six games, starting with Wednesday’s trip to the Etihad Stadium, and they are champions. Anything less than that and they are reliant on the irrepressible juggernaut that is City somehow running aground.

Such high stakes would be enough to send any player into paroxyms of fear. Not Arteta’s players. Asked directly if he sensed any nerves in the camp, the Arsenal manager said: “No. And if they do [feel tension], I will just say: ‘I will kill them.’ And I don’t want that at all.”

If anyone is aware of the challenge of hunting down City, it is gamekeeper turned poacher Arteta, an assistant to Pep Guardiola in his first two title-winning sides, including the one that set a Premier League points record of 100. This season Arsenal could well finish with 90, matching their best ever league campaign, and still fall short of a title. Merely setting the pace for the reigning champions has been an almighty achievement for Arsenal. Arteta wants more.

“They are an incredible team, incredibly well coached,” said Arteta. “The culture they have set, that winning hunger, to win one season, two, three, four, you need a lot of good people around that have the capacity to set those demands. They have incredible players, that’s for sure but that’s not enough. They have something else there, credit to them for the way they’ve done it and the consistency they have shown. 

“For us to have been able to go toe-to-toe with them is great. But it’s not enough because we want to win it, so we have to find a different edge and 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.”

Throughout his pre-match press conference, Arteta reaffirmed his belief that this should be a moment that invigorates his players rather than burdens them. “A beautiful experience tomorrow night, that is what I want them to take. A beautiful experience where we do what we have to do to win the game.” Certainly he himself seems to relish an occasion that pits himself against his mentor, confidante and close friends in Guardiola. That is another “beautiful experience” for Arteta, one he could not have imagined five years ago when he was on the City substitutes bench.

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He may not have won a Premier League game against his former club since departing the Etihad Stadium but Arteta will travel north knowing that his side have shown themselves to be far closer to City in recent games than they were when he was appointed. In January 2022, a late goal from Rodri earning the visitors to the Emirates Stadium a point they scarcely deserved. The contest was rather more even when these two faced off in February but Arsenal would certainly wonder how different the result might have looked if Kevin De Bruyne had not punished an early Takehiro Tomiyasu error. That was perhaps the first of a string of sloppy mistakes that have cost Arsenal first goals and then points over the last 10 matches, a period where even seven wins and three draws has not been enough to keep City from closing the gap. 

Even now, with William Saliba out and Granit Xhaka a doubt, Arteta is convinced that can change. Why does he feel so confident? “What I have seen when we played against them, what I have seen all season, and what I have seen the way we have prepared.

“I cannot be happier with the players we have and how they try to do the right things. Yes, injuries for us in the wrong moments, losing three or four players, is not great, but we have to adapt. 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.”

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Publish Date:2023-04-26 05:30:27

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