Pep Guardiola admits Mikel Arteta holds tactical advantage ahead of Arsenal clash

Arteta makes his first return to the Etihad and will be in the opposite dugout to Guardiola after spending years learning from his former mentor as his no.2 at Man City.

For a stadium wrapped in a bio-secure cocoon, there will be no shortage of emotion at the Etihad Stadium tonight.

When the final elbow has been bumped and whatever the result, Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta will retreat at a social distance and have an emotional reunion over a glass of wine.

Arteta was Guardiola’s trusted lieutenant for over three years at Manchester City and the two have been through tough times since the start of lockdown.

Guardiola was worried about his friend when Arteta contracted coronavirus back in March and then, tragically, Pep lost his mother to the virus.

It will be a poignant meeting for the pair when the business of the game is over.

“He is one of the nicest people I have ever met,” declared Guardiola. “It was a joy to work with him and I am so excited to see him again.

“He was an incredibly important part of the success over the past years. He helped us to be who we are.”

And Guardiola knows Arteta will be aware of his former mentor’s tactical tweaks, saying: “He knows absolutely everything about us and we are the same now as when he was here. This game belongs to the players. It is their responsibility to say ‘we are here’.”

Guardiola and Arteta keep in touch on a regular basis and exchanged texts on the eve of the match.

“We sent a message an hour and a half ago,” Guardiola smiled. “It was about the wine we will drink after the game if social distance allows.”

English football went into lockdown after Arteta tested positive ahead of the original date for the Arsenal visit to the Etihad, which will be the second game of Project Restart.

“We spoke and I was worried for him,” said Guardiola, who will have his new assistant Juan Manuel Lillo alongside him in the dugout for the Arsenal game. “But after a week or ten days, he recovered well.”

Sadly, Guardiola’s mother became a victim and it is clear the pandemic has had a profound effect on him.

While the City manager promised he and his team would go about the resumption with their standard high-energy commitment, it is clear he has reservations – whether they be on medical or moral grounds – about the Premier League restarting.

Twice in his pre-match press conference, he made pointed references to the authorities in France, Belgium and Holland deciding the return of professional sport was too much of a risk.

And there was certainly no appetite to suggest there was any particular excitement at the prospect of City hunting down another couple of trophies in the form of the FA Cup and Champions League.

Instead, understandably, Guardiola was keener to record his admiration for key workers around the world who have been battling to tackle coronavirus.

He said: “Here in England, like in Spain and Germany, the football is an important part of society but please don’t forget what is important.

“Not just the doctors and nurses but the cleaners and the people there every day to make our lives easier. They put their lives at risks to save ours.

“I personally will not forget for the rest of my life what these people all around the world have done for us.”