Arsenal’s clash with Man City won’t be season-defining, says Mikel Arteta
LONDON – Arsenal’s trip to Manchester City on Wednesday has been circled for months as a potentially decisive date in the Premier League title race, but manager Mikel Arteta played down the significance of the clash on Tuesday.
The Gunners travel to the Etihad Stadium five points clear at the top of the table, yet many see the title as City’s to lose thanks to Pep Guardiola’s men having two games in hand and home advantage in midweek.
“We wanted to close that gap as much as we could and we’re toe-to-toe with them. We knew we had to go to the Etihad. Is it going to define the season? The answer is no,” Arteta said.
“If we win tomorrow night we haven’t won the league, that’s for sure. It will shift a little bit the percentage, but five games (left) in this league is a very tricky step.
“It’s going to be a tough night and a challenge but the opportunity is incredible for us. We knew from the start if you want to win the Premier League, you have to win the (big) matches. My players really want it, we’re going to show that again tomorrow night.”
Arsenal could have amassed an 11-point advantage in recent weeks to pile the pressure on City, who are trying to balance their effort in a bid to win a treble of the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup.
Instead, Arteta’s young guns have displayed their inexperience of dealing with a title race in the run-in as three consecutive draws have gifted City back control of their own destiny.
Twice Arsenal blew 2-0 leads to draw at Liverpool and West Ham. Last Friday, it was the league leaders’ turn to produce a late fightback from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 against Southampton.
But the silence that greeted the final whistle at the Emirates Stadium, accompanied by Arteta’s head in his hands and Arsenal bodies strewn across the turf illustrated that even salvaging a point felt like defeat against a side sitting bottom of the table.
When asked if his players are affected by the pressure of the title race, Arteta added: “It’s not about that. It’s (more about) decision-making, execution and the opponents. We’ve made some (mistakes) as well and it’s cost us.”
The consistent problem across all three games has been Arsenal’s inability to defend.
William Saliba’s absence due to a back injury has been a massive blow, with the Frenchman confirmed by Arteta not to be back in time for Wednesday.
Granit Xhaka is also a doubt.
Saliba had been ever present in the Premier League prior to suffering the issue in the Europa League encounter against Sporting Lisbon in mid-March.
In five games since, Arsenal’s number of goals conceded and big chances on offer to the opposition has doubled compared to the first 27 Saliba started.
“The confidence is there. But at this level, we cannot give away the goals we have given. It’s as simple as that,” Arteta added. - AFP