Mikel Arteta and Pep Guardiola finally prepare to go head-to-head

Mikel Arteta was Pep Guardiola’s most trusted adviser at Manchester City before leaving to join Arsenal… the pair still exchange WhatsApp messages and remain close as they finally prepare to go head-to-head

  • Manchester City face Arsenal on the opening night of Premier League’s return 
  • Pep Guardiola will come up against Mikel Arteta, his former assistant at City
  • It is the first time the two will go head-to-head on the touchline as managers
  • The pair still exchange WhatsApp messages and remain close since Arteta left 

Expect effusiveness – and plenty of it – when two particular managers return to our screens this week. Beforehand in their media briefings and on the touchline. Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta face each other for the first time on Wednesday night. Friendly fire of back slaps and compliments.

This is the arena Arteta always wanted to challenge himself in and why, when the call from Arsenal came again last December, he really could not turn it down. 

He had already rejected at least one other job but a move back to the Emirates, with something of a clean slate, was an entirely different proposition.

Mikel Arteta (right) was Pep Guardiola’s (middle) sounding board as his No 2 at Man City

Arteta (right) left to take over at Arsenal and now the close friends will face off on rival teams

Manchester City were extremely sorry to see the assistant go, well-placed sources labelling the departure ‘potentially disastrous’ with Guardiola shorn of his sounding board.

It would be wrong to suggest that Arteta was already not destined for the top in management, his final years as a player were all geared that way, but equally that was accelerated by his time at City. More pointedly, his time with Guardiola.

The pair are very close, regularly exchanging WhatsApp messages since the 38-year-old left Manchester. Arteta was one of the first to contact Guardiola when his mother, Dolors Sala Carrio, passed away after contracting coronavirus in April.

‘He was worried about his parents before because they’re getting older and they’d been trying to isolate,’ the Arsenal boss said. ‘It’s really sad news. I know the family really well.’

Arteta was actually one of Guardiola’s first signings on arrival at the Etihad Stadium four years ago, coming in as first-team coach, with the long-trusted Domenec Torrent No 2 until he joined New York City in 2018.

There had been an open offer on the table for Arteta to work with Guardiola if he ever joined a Premier League club. When 2016 hit, Arteta quickly cashed it in following his retirement. Perhaps his retirement was even hastened once he found out of Manuel Pellegrini’s successor.

Guardiola (left) remains very close with Arteta (right) and remain in contact through WhatsApp

Ever since the final years of his playing career, Arteta has been destined to become a manager

Guardiola had become convinced of his old friend’s prowess in 2012 over a phone call before Barcelona played Chelsea in the Champions League. 

Impressed with the forensic tactical detail he went into during that conversation, the decision was made that they ought to work alongside each other.

City players will tell you how much Arteta improved them individually. Leroy Sane is one who leant on him heavily – both on and off the pitch – while Rodri was Arteta’s project earlier this season.

Rodri had never played as a sole anchorman at Atletico Madrid or Villarreal, instead operating in a two, and Arteta worked hard on his positioning. City hope that grounding will see the midfielder flourish in his second season.

Arteta’s office at the City Football Academy would often have a few players crowded around a whiteboard or laptop looking at annotations of clips. Maybe it is his age, but his way of communicating can unlock something in players. Arsenal’s steady improvement over the first few months of his tenure adds weight to that idea.

Arteta (left) worked closely with Rodri (right) and City hope that work pays dividends next year

Rodri has had to adapt to screening the defence on his own and Arteta was key to development

He was only assistant for a single season but, crucially, the one that gave Guardiola most pleasure, in somehow holding off the relentlessness of Liverpool to become the first team in a decade to clinch consecutive titles. The manager believes Arteta has the tools to succeed him if those particular stars aligned.

‘He will have success, yes,’ Guardiola said three months before Arteta left. ‘Sooner or later it (a first job in management) is going to happen.

‘We can change something in the team thanks to his vision. Mikel has incredible work ethic and a special talent to analyse what happens and find solutions. He has helped me a lot.’

Arteta’s knowledge of Arsenal was used to mastermind victories there but Guardiola – who has recently appointed Juanma Lillo as his replacement – realises the tables have turned and is wary of what may face City.

‘He has more information about us than I have about the Arsenal team, but that’s normal,’ he said before the postponed clash in March.

Players frequently sought out Arteta on the pitch or in his office to improve their own games

Arsenal’s improvement since Arteta arrived will come as no surprise to those back at City

‘It was a huge amount of hours working together, on thoughts and ideas, solving problems, before the game and during and after the game.

‘Especially identifying the quality of the players. He knows exactly the way we love this game and the quality of the players.

‘I can imagine a little bit what he thinks, but I’ve not been in his locker room since he’s been manager and I don’t know his players.

‘He knows perfectly the way we feel, the way we want to play. The fact he knows every single player – the strong points and the weak points. I can imagine the way he is going to press high on our weak player in those terms. The situation we can produce, he’s going to do it. 

‘For both of us we are lucky that the players play and we cannot.’ 

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