Mikel Arteta and Pep Guardiola are closer than most Premier
League managers. Or at least, they used to be. The pair worked together at Manchester City with Arteta given his first coaching role by the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss who recognised his potential off-the—pitch while he was still playing as a midfielder for Arsenal.
Now, Arteta is Arsenal manager and his team are top of the Premier League table, five points ahead of Guardiola’s City. English soccer has produced a number of fierce managerial rivalries over the years and decades, but this duel feels rather different because Arteta and Guardiola are so close in philosophy and character.
This is what makes it so interesting, though. Arsenal and Manchester City will meet each other for the first time this season in the FA Cup on Friday and the outcome of the match will offer an indication of how the rest of the Premier League title race will pan out. This could be the start of a special rivalry.
“I would prefer to do it with someone else, to be fair,” Arteta said when asked how he would approach a rivalry against someone he knows so well in the form of Guardiola. “I want the best for him, genuinely, and when you are challenging with someone like this and something comes in-between that, it’s a strange feeling.
“But it is what it is, and that’s our challenge. I always hoped that (fighting for the title) was going to be the case one day, and it’s happening this season. That’s not going to change any friendship, the moments that we have, how important he is in my life, how important he is in my profession.”
Arsenal still have a long way to go before they can start to think about lifting the Premier League trophy. They have been the best team in the division so far this season, but the Gunners lack the depth of Manchester City. They have been able to absorb an injury to Gabriel Jesus, but a few more absences could hit them hard.
And yet Arsenal have shown enough this season to suggest Arteta will be able to guide his team through whatever adversity the second half of the 2022/23 campaign brings. The Spaniard has instilled a series of strong principles and values in his players that sustains them from match-to-match no matter the circumstances.
Guardiola has done the same throughout his managerial career. Arteta learned from the best in this regard and that is obvious in the way Arsenal now play under his stewardship. Even if the Gunners fall short in this season’s Premier League title race, the work done by Arteta will sustain them for a long time to come. Never before have two title rivals been so similar to each other.