If Arsenal wins the English Premier League, it will be with the help of Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola might not agree, but the influence he has had on the season’s pace-setter cannot be ignored.
His former assistant Mikel Arteta has overseen a remarkable transformation at the London club since taking charge in 2019. And the summer acquisitions of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko have contributed to a patient rebuild that has seen Arsenal emerge as the latest threat to City’s English dominance.
Victory against Wolves on Saturday will guarantee top spot until after the World Cup and surely remove any lingering doubts about Arteta’s team as a genuine title contender.
The Spaniard, who was considered a potential successor to Guardiola when at City, is putting into practice the lessons he learned from his former mentor.
But City’s manager is taking none of the credit for Arsenal’s outstanding start, which has seen it win 11 of its 13 games.
“Maybe I learned more from him than Mikel (did from me) when we worked together,” Guardiola said on Friday. “Where Arsenal is belongs completely to the work ethic, the talents they have. And the support that Mikel had in the bad moments in the beginning because the results didn’t come — supporting the decisions, the toughest ones, unconditionally.”
While Guardiola doesn't want any secondary credit for Arteta’s achievements, he was responsible for giving the former Everton and Arsenal midfielder a golden opportunity when handing him his first coaching role in 2016.
Arteta was part of two league-winning teams and was credited for his work in moulding Raheem Sterling into one of Europe’s most prolific forwards before succeeding Unai Emery at Arsenal.
Arteta benefited from working up close with one of soccer's greatest managers but he has still had to rely on the support of Arsenal’s board at various times when his reign looked on the brink of crisis.
Not least when he came under intense pressure from supporters after losing the first three league games last season, including a humiliating 5-0 defeat at City.
Arsenal recovered to make an unlikely push for Champions League qualification, and missed out after losing two of its last three games.
“I am pretty sure the people see him how he works every day there because I know how he works every day, his commitment about his job,” Guardiola said. “All the managers want to have time, time, time to build something. Arsenal give it to him and the rest is the position they have.”
For all of Arteta’s qualities, Arsenal appears to be a triumph of patience, as much as anything else.
While it has heavily backed its manager in the transfer market, the money has largely been spent on emerging talents such as Ben White, Fabio Vieira and Albert Sambi Lokonga. Faith has also been shown in academy graduates Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe.
Regardless of results, the club’s hierarchy has remained focused on a long-term plan that is paying off.
The signings of Jesus and Zinchenko represented a push to move to the next level.
They were players Arteta knew well from his time at City. They have brought a proven winning mentality to a very young squad.
Crucially, the duo arrived at Emirates Stadium still hungry for success despite winning a host of trophies under Guardiola.
Arteta recognized two players who were often overlooked at City, and offered them a new challenge.
Jesus, in particular, has relished that chance, and established himself as a key figure for Arsenal.
Zinchenko's season has been disrupted by injury, but he has a chance to be a vital piece in the second half of the campaign.
Guardiola did not want to stand in the way of two players who contributed so much to City’s success – even if it meant selling to a rival.
Whether he will come to regret that remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, when Arteta left, the feeling at City was he could return to the club one day if he proved a success at Arsenal.
Few could have predicted the impact he has had in north London.
Guardiola, however, is under no doubt that the threat his one-time assistant poses is real.
“We," he said, "have made an incredible season so far, I would say, but they have been better.”
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James Robson, The Associated Press