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Guardiola expects Arsenal v City to be a ‘big, big battle’

LONDON – Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is ready for a “big battle” as he prepares for his side’s trip to Arsenal on Wednesday for their Premier League top-of-the-table clash.

City are second on 48 points after 22 matches, and could go level with Arsenal, who have a game in hand, with a win at the Emirates Stadium.

Guardiola’s men will be seeking a second straight victory after beating Aston Villa 3-1 in front of a fired-up Etihad crowd last Sunday.

That win came after a 1-0 loss at Tottenham, and also after the club was charged with breaching more than 100 financial rules by the Premier League which could lead to sanctions that include points deductions or even expulsion.

When asked on Tuesday how he views Arsenal, Guardiola said: “So far they are the best team in the Premier League.

“We felt it a couple of weeks ago. The commitment, they are sharp. It will be a big, big battle. In the departments, you have to be ready.

“I do not truly believe one week ago we are out of form and now we’re back in form. Every game is different, you can play good and win and everything is perfect, but tomorrow you could lose. Many games to play. Tomorrow is an important one, everyone knows it, and we’ll try to do our best.

“It’s important because we can take the points. I have a feeling many things can happen. Tomorrow can help us be there but there are many games, tough games. We cannot deny it’s important to prove ourselves, handle the many aspects (of being in a title race).”

Amid City’s off-pitch issues, Guardiola was pleased over the weekend to see his side bounce back from the disappointing defeat at Tottenham a week earlier.

There will still be legal battles to be fought, but the City boss will want his players to be 100 per cent focused on the football and Arsenal, just like they were against Villa.

The most recent encounter between City and Arsenal was in the FA Cup fourth round in January, a match in which City defender Nathan Ake scored in a 1-0 win.

In the Premier League, City are unbeaten in their previous 13 matches with the Gunners, and have won their last 10 – which is Arsenal’s longest losing run against an opponent in the top flight.

Guardiola, who now boasts the most Premier League wins (184) as a manager after 250 games, also gave a vague update on star striker Erling Haaland’s fitness after he was substituted at half-time against Villa with a knock.

“We train this afternoon. Right now I don’t know. Yesterday was about recovery from Aston Villa. That’s all,” he said.

John Stones remains sidelined for City with a hamstring injury.

Arsenal have been at the top of the Premier League since November, but they have dropped points in three of their last five games – two draws and one defeat – and saw their eight-point lead cut down to just three.

Mikel Arteta’s men have yet to lose at home this season, however, and will seek to avoid a third consecutive game without a victory after a 1-0 loss to Everton and a 1-1 stalemate with Brentford over the weekend.

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has called on the Gunners to buck up and not lose the momentum.

He said: “I agree the conditions next season won’t be as favourable as they are now so let’s not miss this opportunity. Arsenal has 51 points after 21 games which is remarkable.

“I feel the usual threats are all out of the race. The only threat is City and even City is not as dominant as they were last year or two years before. I feel since the start of the season City was more vulnerable defensively than before.”

Gabriel Jesus is close to a return to first-team action following a serious knee injury, while Mohamed Elneny has been ruled out for the rest of the season after undergoing surgery.

Emile Smith Rowe and Reiss Nelson are back in training but yet to be fully fit to feature on Wednesday.

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