Guardiola urges Manchester City to rise again against Arsenal

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“Being there again” is Pep Guardiola’s mantra and describes how his Manchester City players have relentlessly repaid and returned to compete for the big prizes during the manager’s defining tenure.

Guardiola’s praise was not for the physical talents of a glittering squad but for the ability to maintain mental hunger despite serial success. Last year’s treble triumph was the biggest test yet: could Kevin De Bruyne, Ederson, Kyle Walker, Rúben Dias, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Erling Haaland et al roll up again for pre-season training, hopefully spend another nine months. slog with a target on their back as the best side in Europe, and continue to be there again?

Related: Arsenal’s intensity key at Manchester City as title drama enters its final act | Barney Ronay

The answer is a resounding yes – so far, at least. Another impressive performance is reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup, the quarter-finals of the Champions League and standing a point behind Arsenal as they arrive at the Etihad Stadium for Sunday’s final.

But City can still go down, which adds a deeper and more resonant dimension to the game. If the Gunners leave Manchester with three points we may have seen their pretenders tag shed, and it will be interesting to see how Dublin City’s highly successful players respond.

A scintillating run of maximum points in the last nine Premier League games would be a challenging but perhaps insufficient riposte.

The rest of the season would be about keeping Arsenal on course – with a better goal difference than Liverpool – in a fixture that includes visits to Tottenham and Manchester United. After City, they meet Luton (home), then Brighton (away), Aston Villa (home), Wolves (away), Chelsea (home), Spurs, Bournemouth (home), United, and host Everton. Last season’s defeat is still fresh in Arsenal’s mind but beating the world champions in front of their home crowd would be a particular boost.

Guardiola will use all his wits to remind his players how good and brave they are as he guides them through City’s remaining games. These start with the visit of Aston Villa on Wednesday, then Crystal Palace (away), Luton, Chelsea (home), Brighton, Nottingham Forest (away), Wolves (home), Fulham (away), and West Ham at the Etihad Stadium on the final day, with a trip to Tottenham (postponed for the FA Cup semi-final) also fitting in somewhere. There are two Champions League games against Real Madrid (April 9 and 17) as well as a Wembley date with Chelsea (April 21).

This sequence makes this phase of 2023-24 as exhausting and crowded as the corresponding phase 12 months ago. Is this, then, where the season of rising to challenge could finally overtake City’s squad? They are human, after all, and all empires begin to decline at some point. Guardiola, however, is the El Jefe (big boss) of this generation because of a restless football savant brain and an expert’s ability to read his charges and reset their perspective. He often deploys media briefings to engineer the latter.

Last season, in late January, it was the diatribe of the “happy flowers” before the run to the treble. This season, after the 1-0 win at Aston Villa, it was how he and his group “lived like a cat” for too long. This was classic Guardiola, after a run of three draws and a loss when City fell six points behind Arsenal. The next 22 games, and counting, City are unbeaten.

In early December, he provided a reminder of what can happen if results go south. “You’re undefeated so you can’t win one game – nothing,” he said. “Maybe for myself first, I need that challenge to prove to myself, that I am a good manager, to help the players overcome that situation.”

city All or Nothing Amazon’s documentary showed just how tough Guardiola can be. He’s a constant, unforgiving challenge to work under, and that’s been an integral part of his key performances in De Bruyne, Stones, Silva, Foden, Ederson, Walker, Rodri, and Dias over the past several years. Although Foden was in the youth ranks, when Guardiola took over, he inherited De Bruyne and bought Stones and they have been drilled by him for seven full seasons in the Premier League.

De Bruyne has missed 18 games this season due to a hamstring injury sustained in the opening weekend’s win over Burnley but has still made 223 appearances or 16,862 minutes – 75% of the maximum he could have played. Stones has suffered more injuries and less game time due to a loss of form, having accumulated 12,054 minutes over 158 games.

Ederson (244 appearances, 21,721) and Silva (224, 15,432), who both joined in the summer after Guardiola, topped the chart. Foden, who made his debut at 17 in November 2017, has 157 and 9,167 minutes.

This depressing picture shows the significance that Guardiola inspired to make the City, and it could not have been achieved by the act of a sergeant major alone. As he says: “It comes from themselves, it’s not a question of motivation – you can’t do it after eight years, that it should be: ‘I have to be motivated.’ There’s something inside them that’s on fire, to compete – otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”

Winning – games and titles – is also a vital element that maintains the precarious and fine-tuned balance of the City machine. The virtue of the intoxicant causes a desire for more of the superior sense it produces. That is why, in a season where City are being pushed by two rivals, Arsenal’s visit is to blame for being so crucial and, perhaps, defining for their title and treble hopes. And where Manchester City could go further this season.

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