Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta returns to the Etihad for the first time on Wednesday night as the former Manchester City assistant takes on his mentor, Pep Guardiola. With the apprentice looking to topple the master, Gooner Fanzine writer Dan Mountney looks at their long history and how the Gunners head coach might approach the game.
In December, Arteta took a risk and accepted the Arsenal manager’s job. In the process, he left Manchester City and stepped out of Guardiola’s sizeable shadow.
After a positive start to his tenure at the Emirates, the 38-year-old has the chance to enhance his growing reputation by beating his former master in his own back yard.
City go into the game as favourites and Arteta will be aware his side will need to be at their very best to win the game, but if anyone knows how to do it it’s him.
The pair first met when a 15-year-old Arteta joined Barcelona’s first La Masia academy. Guardiola was 11 years his senior and a key cog in the successful Blaugrana sides of the ’90s, including Johan Cruyff's famed ‘Dream Team’.
Cruyff was Pep’s teacher and his total football style was the basis for the Spaniard’s renowned tiki-taka football. Almost 20 years after first meeting in Catalonia, Pep would turn teacher with Arteta as his student.
Having kept in touch since that first encounter in 1997, Guardiola offered his compatriot - who was set to retire as a player - a role on his coaching staff when he was appointed City boss in 2016.
Arteta had clearly impressed former teammates and managers, with Mauricio Pochet
Three years at the Etihad saw the pair win two Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup, with Arteta taking on plenty of responsibility and playing a key role in City’s success.
Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing: Manchester City documentary series revealed that he was put in charge of drawing up a tactical plan for 2018 League Cup final against former side Arsenal, a game which City would win 3-0.
Guardiola’s trust and belief in his assistant was clear during their spell together, but Arteta’s glimpse behind Pep’s iron curtain will leave his former mentor worried ahead of Wednesday’s clash.
The Arsenal boss could approach the game in two ways. He could try to match City’s style and keep the ball or soak up the inevitable pressure and hit them on the counter.
He could well choose the latter, with other teams having success against the Citizens this season by playing on the break.
For example, Wolves won 2-0 at the Etihad in October despite having just 25% possession and three shots on target. Similarly, Manchester United picked up a 2-1 derby win in December after seeing only 29% of the ball and having seven shots on goal.
The key to their success was soaking up pressure and limiting City’s clear-cut chances. Against Wolves, Guardiola’s men had 18 shots but just four on target, while they had 22 against United but only five on goal.
If Arteta chooses to try and keep the ball when they win it back on Wednesday, they may see more possession but that comes with the risk of having a limited number of chances. However, he will be concerned about his side's ability to withstand an onslaught and stay focused in key moments.
While Arsenal’s boss will be keen to beat his former teacher, the two-decade-long friendship between the pair will not suffer.
“He was an influence for me since I was 15 years old and we met at Barcelona, both as players,” Arteta said in his pre-match press conference.
“In my coaching career and my personal life, he has an enormous influence. If I have to talk about the person he is, his values, the way he has treated me and how he deals with the players and the staff around him, it’s phenomenal.
“As a coach, I have learned so much from him, we have spent some amazing moments together, some difficult ones as well, but the experience next to him has been incredible.”
Even so, the apprentice will be determined to topple his master.