Pep Guardiola steps up the mind games ahead of the clash with Arsenal: they have had it easy in the title race

Pep Guardiola takes on former assistant Mikel Arteta in a potentially crucial match in the Premier League title race – Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Pep Guardiola has told Mikel Arteta he has an “easy time” in the title race compared to Manchester City as he ramped up the mind games ahead of Sunday’s crucial clash with Arsenal.

Arsenal will take on champions City at the Etihad Stadium, hoping to take another decisive step towards a first Premier League title in 20 years.

City – who have won five of the last six Premier Leagues – are aiming to become the first English top-flight side to win four consecutive titles.

But Guardiola claimed the motivation that comes with trying to end a long title drought gives Arsenal an advantage, just as it did Liverpool in 2019/20 when the Merseyside club finally ended a 30-year wait on the title.

“I’ve said it a thousand million times: the greatest success of this club and organization is that we will be around for many years to come. People can’t imagine how hard it is,” the city manager said.

“To fight for a title you haven’t won in years, you say, ‘Wow, it’s easy.’ But now that I’ve been here for many, many years and am still here, it’s ‘Wow.’

“It is the benchmark for the new generations in this club because [what we have done] is really very good.

“I honestly didn’t expect to be here [with] the problems we had this season, because we are in this position now.

“And we want to expand it. We want to try to stay here longer, but it is the most complicated thing.”

City are currently one point ahead of Arsenal and Liverpool – who played Brighton earlier in the day – and Guardiola says no one should underestimate the motivation of Arteta and his players to end the two-decade wait for the title .

“Of course what we have done before is important, but I didn’t expect us to get where we are now, as I said after the last international break,” Guardiola said.

“But after more than 20 years, Arsenal haven’t won the Premier League yet, so they will have something to prove and that’s normal. When Liverpool won the title after many years without it, for Jurgen [Klopp] that gives you something special.

“In our first year [in 2017/18 winning the title]it was like, ‘Oh God, we’ll give everything in every game to win the Premier League’.

‘But what should we do? [this] play is being ourselves. Our players will bring what they need – just like they did [in the 3-1 win] in return for [Manchester] United – to make it a good performance.”

City have a disappointing record against the top six this season. Apart from their home and away wins against United, the champions have yet to beat any of their main rivals in the Premier League this season, losing 1-0 at Arsenal in October, albeit without their influential midfielders Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne through suspension and injury. respectively.

“The past is the past. I didn’t know that statistic,” Guardiola said. “Normally our statistics are good, but if that is the reality, it doesn’t reflect how we played in some games.

“[In the 3-3 draw] we were really good against Tottenham. We won both games against United. At home against Liverpool [1-1 draw] we played incredibly well, but couldn’t win.

“I don’t pay attention to the top six or top seven teams. Now we play against Arsenal and if we win, they don’t win – and that’s why we have to start winning important games to gain that advantage.

“Naturally [the record against the top six] has to change. To win the Premier League you have to win almost all the games, because I don’t think Arsenal or Liverpool will drop many points.”

Guardiola in seven-minute tirade about the fixture list

Pep Guardiola shrugsPep Guardiola shrugs

Guardiola believes City should get more help from the Premier League – PA/Martin Rickett

Guardiola launched a seven-minute rant about City’s April fixture list as a controversial fixture list threatens to dent the club’s hopes of a second successive Treble.

The City manager is furious over the scheduling of the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea at Wembley and a number of Premier League matches next month.

Guardiola also claims the March international break needs a “rethink” after losing Kyle Walker and John Stones for Sunday’s title match against Arsenal due to England injuries, but says he will seek help from UEFA, FIFA or broadcasters no longer expected.

City are the only team in the FA Cup still playing in Europe this season, but Guardiola is furious and that has been overlooked in the planning.

Last season’s Treble winners will play Chelsea on Sunday April 20 at 5.15pm, just three days after their Champions League quarter-final second leg against Real Madrid at the Etihad.

Manchester United and Coventry City will compete in the other semi-final a day later, even though neither of them will play that midweek.

“Why don’t we play on Sunday?”

It is the fourth season in a row that City will face an FA Cup semi-final on Saturday, after playing the second leg of the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday. An angry Guardiola expressed his bewilderment at that logic.

“We play Madrid here on Wednesday in the second leg, so we can play in the FA Cup on Saturday or Sunday. Coventry, United, Chelsea, they’re on holiday for a week. So why are we playing on Saturday?” said the city manager.

“Every year we play on Saturday. Why don’t they give us another day if Coventry, Chelsea, United don’t play [in the] Champions League or Europa League? Why don’t we play on Sunday?”

Although they defeated Sheffield United in the FA Cup semi-finals last season on their way to an historic Treble, City lost to Liverpool and Chelsea in their previous two Wembley meetings at that stage of the competition, after grueling trips to Atletico Madrid and Chelsea respectively Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League three days earlier.

“We play in the quarter-finals a lot in the last year and the second leg is every time on Wednesday after we play on Saturday,” Guardiola said. “And if you play away, in Dortmund, come back here on Thursday afternoon and take the train or plane to London on Friday, four or five hours. And on Saturday we play against Liverpool, Chelsea or all the great teams. We are exhausted.”

‘Are we going to fight for the broadcasters?’

Guardiola is also baffled by the scheduling of City’s Premier League matches next week, when they host Aston Villa at 8.15pm on Wednesday before traveling to south London to play Crystal Palace at 12.30pm three days later.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, will play against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday and again nine days later when City visits the Bernabeu.

“So Aston Villa, we play next Wednesday at 8.15am and then Saturday at 12.30pm. [against Crystal Palace]”, said Guardiola.

‘And then we go to Madrid on Tuesday. Madrid has nine days to prepare for our match. Nine days! They won’t play this weekend or beyond until our game. I’d like to think, ‘Oh, give me another day! One more day and the difference will be big!’ But there’s no chance.

“Are we going to fight for the broadcasters? Their answer: I pay a lot of money [to televise the games]. Therefore. So we play on Saturday [against Chelsea]. And after we play on Thursday [at Brighton in the Premier League]. Why don’t we play on Wednesday instead of Thursday and Sunday? [against Nottingham Forest]?”

‘It’s really tough for my club’

Guardiola says he cannot explain why the Premier League does not try to help its European representatives in the way their counterparts do on the continent.

“They don’t think about that,” he said. ‘Do you think they think: ‘Oh City are playing…?’ Paris Saint-Germain is not playing in France [in Ligue 1] between them [Champions League] matches in the quarter-finals. They have the time for it. In Portugal they often play on Friday for the Champions League.

“Don’t know [why England does not help] and I don’t even want to ask, because they will have their own affairs and decisions. I would like to know the answers – why always on Saturdays and not on Sundays. Because one day in this phase makes a big difference with injured players, with the accumulation of matches.”

Guardiola said City have often found a way around scheduling issues but believes injuries to key players such as Walker and Stones will make the job more difficult this season, starting against Arsenal.

“I defend my club and it is very tough for my club. [playing] every three days, three days, three days and the other clubs don’t have that situation,” he said.

“The calendar has always been like this for us. There have always been fewer days to recover and we did that. When you have the whole team in front of you… but in the coming days and weeks that may not happen [for us].”

Guardiola believes March’s international games could pose a particular threat ahead of the final two months of the domestic calendar, but does not expect UEFA or FIFA to ever consider adjusting the fixtures.

Kyle Walker goes off injured as England playerKyle Walker goes off injured as England player

Kyle Walker suffered an injury during the international window – Getty Images

“It should reconsider, but it won’t reconsider,” he said. “UEFA has its own business, the broadcasters have their own business. I can give my opinion.

“I don’t want more advantage than the other, we are not desperate for this advantage.

“[But] UEFA and FIFA, it’s a problem with the number of games, with the [Club] World Cup at the end of next season. How many teams in the Club World Cup, 32?

“Playing in the United States for three weeks is an honor, a pleasure, a lot of money for the club, it’s perfect. Then we will start the next season, one or two weeks’ holiday for the players. That’s the problem: more competition, more matches and tired players.

“That’s why Kevin [De Bruyne] was injured for five months [this season]it accumulates season after season.”

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