The beef with Manchester City shows Arsenal are taking it seriously

Kevin De Bruyne gives a shovel to Mikel Arteta during last season’s game at the Emirates – REUTERS/David Klein

Until recently, Arsenal’s trials and tribulations didn’t matter much to Manchester City. Pep Guardiola and his players had bigger things to worry about than the long-term rebuilding going on in north London, and games between the two sides were often laughably one-sided.

From Guardiola’s appointment in 2016 to the start of last season, City played Arsenal 12 times in the league. Guardiola won 11 of those meetings, an impressive total of 30-6. Arsenal were no problem, and they were certainly no threat to City in their pursuit of Premier League and Champions League glory.

Around 18 months ago, however, the dynamic between these two opposing clubs – the new money in Manchester, the old money in London – began to change. Not necessarily in terms of results (that change only happened at the beginning of this season), but in terms of attitude and attitude.

For a rapidly developing young Arsenal team, buoyed by the signings of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko from City, the feeling grew that Guardiola’s side could finally be beaten. As for City, it soon became clear that Arteta, their former coach, was beginning to suffer.

In other words, City began to take Arsenal seriously. Their matches went head-to-head, and over the past year acrimony has taken over this game. City and Arsenal are competing for the same prizes again. As a result, there is now a level of rumor and resentment between the two sides that did not exist before.

During last season’s league game at the Emirates, for example, Kevin De Bruyne angrily tackled Arteta on the sideline after the Arsenal manager prevented him from throwing in a quick throw-in. Then De Bruyne jabbed a finger against his former coach.

Arteta and Guardiola laughing on the City benchArteta and Guardiola laughing on the City bench

Mikel Arteta helped Pep Guardiola win his first two titles as Man City manager in three years as his assistant from 2016-19 – Action Images via Reuters / Jason Cairnduff

A few months later, at the end of their league match at the Etihad Stadium, Ben White tackled Phil Foden. White, obviously furious, grabbed Foden by the back of his shirt. The two England internationals argued until they were separated from each other’s teams.

And earlier this season, in the moments after Gabriel Martinelli’s winner for Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, Kyle Walker clashed with Nicolas Jover, Arteta’s league coach and another former City employee. Walker later explained that Jover declined a handshake when the teams met last season, so he “didn’t take it lightly” when Jover approached him for a handshake this time.

Off the pitch too, there was a sense within Arsenal that City and their key decision-makers now have a different view of them.

In the summer of 2022, despite their well-publicized unhappiness at the nature of Arteta’s departure a few years earlier, City happily sold Jesus and Zinchenko to Arsenal, for a total fee of around £75 million. Last summer, Sports telegraph understand, they were much less cooperative. Arsenal were interested in signing Joao Cancelo but City were unwilling to bolster Arteta’s squad again.

Declan Rice’s destruction was also another sign of Arsenal’s progress. Firstly, because it showed that City and Arsenal are now competing for the same players. Secondly, because Arsenal won. City made a £90million bid for West Ham but Arsenal always felt in control, with Rice keen on a move to the Emirates.

If the signing of Rice marked the first blow in Arsenal’s battle with City this season, the Community Shield were soon second. Arsenal won on penalties, after scoring a late equalizer through Leandro Trossard, and their players spoke afterwards of clearing a psychological hurdle.

“It’s a statement,” Aaron Ramsdale said. “It’s a sign to know we can beat City in a big game when it matters. I’m not sure what this season will hold but that mental block is gone. We are now ready to press on.”

The next time they met, in October, Arsenal won again. Two wins in a row for Arsenal, after so many years of humiliating defeats (apart from the FA Cup semi-final in 2020), and it seems that real belief has replaced the fear.

The Etihad will be a completely different challenge on Sunday, of course. And the obvious riposte to all this, from City’s point of view, is that Arsenal haven’t won anything really important yet. Last season, in a two-man title race, City won both games while Arsenal also crashed out of the FA Cup. Their dominance remains but, when it comes to Arsenal, it is being tested more severely than at any point in the last decade.

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