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Pep Guardiola starts playing mind games with Arsenal and Arteta in the depth of Man City’s FA Cup bid.


Pep Guardiola starts playing mind games with Arsenal and Arteta in the depth of Man City’s FA Cup bid.

The talking points ahead of Manchester City’s FA Cup fourth-round match at the Etihad Stadium against Premier League title rivals Arsenal.

Guardiola’s mental gymnastics have already begun.

Mikel Arteta stated on Wednesday that the upcoming Premier League double-header between Arsenal and Manchester City will have no bearing on who wins the title. When asked the same question on Thursday, Pep Guardiola stated that the cup match will undoubtedly influence next month’s meeting at the Emirates, which will in turn influence how both teams approach April’s league meeting at the Etihad.

Guardiola stated, “We can win the game while being significantly worse than them and lose while being significantly better. We’ll wait and see what they do, and they’ll wait and see what we do. I’m pretty sure we’ll have to change something in the second one, either the players or the way we play, because they might do something unexpected.”

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The City manager also lavished praise on former assistant Arteta, claiming ‘zero’ responsibility for their success despite taking Arteta under his wing at the Etihad. Last week, he said Arsenal would ‘destroy’ City if they maintained their recent form, so while Arteta is keen to downplay the importance of the cup tie, Guardiola clearly believes the best way to secure a fifth-round spot and a Premier League advantage is to pile the pressure on.

Team sheet real dilemma

In normal circumstances, a fourth-round FA Cup tie at home would be an opportunity to bring in some fringe players and give some youngsters some experience, as City did against Chelsea in the previous round. This is not your typical fourth-round tie, with the best team in England this season visiting and a chance to show Arsenal that City is capable of taking the six points needed in the league to overtake the Gunners.

So City may benefit from going as strong as possible and using this tie to build on back-to-back victories. Guardiola, on the other hand, will be aware that by fielding a full-strength team, he may give Arsenal the opportunity to develop effective tactics in league games that could keep the title in their hands. Out-of-form players like Kyle Walker, Joao Cancelo, and Bernardo Silva aren’t bad to call up if Guardiola wants to rotate, and City have enough options to keep some options back for the Emirates trip in two weeks.

There’s no need to rush Foden back.

When revealing his injury at the weekend, Pep Guardiola didn’t seem too confident that Phil Foden would recover in time for the Arsenal game, and he wouldn’t commit to any definitive return on Thursday, only saying that the winger is improving. If there’s any doubt about Foden’s fitness, there’s no reason to rush him back against Arsenal when he’ll have another nine days to prepare for the trip to Tottenham.

This would appear to be an ideal opportunity to play Foden, who has been out of form, but there are more important games ahead, and others have been rushed back too soon in the past. Riyad Mahrez is on fire, Jack Grealish is dominating on the opposite flank, and Julian Alvarez is another attacking option. City has enough players to cover for Foden for one more game.

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Zinchenko’s revival

When Aleks Zinchenko left City, he did so with the club’s blessing and a heartfelt thank you for his contributions, and the vast majority of fans agreed that it was the best decision for both the club and the player. Given City’s and Arsenal’s subsequent progress, some revisionism has occurred, particularly with City’s lack of an adequate replacement exposed in recent weeks. But, as Guardiola has repeatedly stated, the move was right for all parties at the time, so why should Arsenal’s recent success change that?

Gabriel Jesus was another player who left the Etihad for the Emirates in the summer, and he has been asked repeatedly if Guardiola regrets letting them go. With an injury, Jesus will miss this Etihad reunion, but Zinchenko should receive a warm welcome when he returns. The Blues will then do everything possible to defeat them, as Guardiola stated on Thursday. That is exactly how it should be.

Is this Gomez’s last chance?

With City back to full strength – barring Foden’s foot injury – one or two players have had to be left out of matchday squads recently. Cole Palmer was rested against Spurs before replacing Foden against Wolves, and Sergio Gomez has been benched for both of the club’s last two league games after being benched at half-time against Southampton.

If City are knocked out of the FA Cup by Arsenal, Gomez’s chances of starting another game this season are slim, and this may be his last chance to impress Guardiola for a while. However, Joao Cancelo requires playing time on the left, and there are others who are performing much better and can help City win. Palmer is another who will be hoping for City to advance in the cup, though he may also be on the bench against Arsenal after some underwhelming performances.

Pep Guardiola starts playing mind games with Arsenal and Arteta in the depth of Man City’s FA Cup bid.

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