Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said the clash at Manchester City on Wednesday will not decide the Premier League title but added he is wary that Pep Guardiola’s side possess “quality as good as it gets anywhere in the world.”
Arsenal hold a five-point lead over the reigning champions ahead of the game at the Etihad Stadium but have played two games more.
City also knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup in January and have won 11 of their last 12 matches in all competitions, reaching the Champions League semifinals and the FA Cup final as they pursue a historic treble.
“We knew from the beginning that City was the team to beat with Liverpool because of what those teams have done in the past few years,” Arteta told a news conference on Tuesday.
“They fully deserve that credit and to be at the top. 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, we know that after that we’re going to have five more difficult games. We know tonight is going to be a massive game. Is it going to define the season? The answer is no.
“Every opponent demands and questions different things of you and gives you different opportunities. There’s no difference with that team [City], it’s just obviously the quality of the opponent is as good as it gets anywhere in the world.”
Arsenal will be without William Saliba after Arteta confirmed the centre-back is yet to return to training due to a back problem, although he refused to rule him out for the rest of the season.
“There’s not been a real improvement unfortunately on him, so we’re still waiting,” Arteta added. “We’re still hopeful, but another week has gone by and he hasn’t been able to train with the team.
“At the moment we don’t have him. We are preparing the game without him and probably the next game will come too soon as well. We have to go week by week at the moment.”
Granit Xhaka is also a doubt following illness and the midfielder’s experience could be vital for a team accused of struggling to cope with the title race pressure in recent weeks.
However, Arteta refuted that suggestion: “I don’t think it’s about that. It’s decision making, sometimes execution, sometimes the opponents as well who put you in certain positions to force those mistakes.
“We’ve done some in the past as well that I can remember especially at home where it’s cost us something and we’ve still managed to win the games.”
Arsenal will be tasked with trying to stop Erling Haaland adding to his devastating goalscoring tally this season, having scored 48 goals in 42 appearances since joining City from Borussia Dortmund last summer.
“Obviously preventing the source is probably the best recipe,” Arteta said. “When you look at the numbers there’s no comparison with anyone else. He’s able to produce that because the setup is done in the right way for him, the players that they’ve got around him, the way he’s coached, the qualities that he has.
“There’s a lot of things that have to be in the right way. With him they have the capacity to play in different ways, when you play really far from your goal they have the capacity to exploit open spaces and when they’re attacking low blocks they have a different threat because they are a very physical team right now.”
Man City-Arsenal clash will not decide league title