Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta says he has used his time away from competitive action productively and is more than ready for the challenge posed by Manchester City and his former mentor Pep Guardiola when the teams clash on Wednesday night.
After three months idling on the sidelines, the Premier League machine is ready to roar back into action when the Gunners travel to the Etihad to take on City, following the match between Aston Villa and Sheffield United.
Arsenal were on a roll before the coronavirus-enforced break, and Arteta aims to keep that run going against City, where he was assistant manager to Guardiola before his old club came calling to replace Unai Emery in December. And he is determined to show he still has a few tricks of his own.
The Spaniard has already set a landmark at Arsenal as he has won all seven of his away games in all competitions — the longest ever undefeated away start to a reign in the Gunners’ history.
“We have to take every game in the same way, to go there and win the game. We know that every stadium and every opponent is completely different,” he said in his belated video conference on Monday night.
“I have to try to convince my players to focus on what we have to do, we cannot control everything that Man City does, it’s impossible.
“But I think we have found the right balance, and we used the three months to provide the players with a safe environment to work where they could feel where there was no risk, or a very, very limited risk, to develop their profession.
“I think we have managed to do that and from now on, the physical part is really good and the mental side as well has been a challenge over those three months. Now let’s see how ready we are to compete.”
Arteta was also full of gracious compliments for the man who taught him the ropes — City’s Guardiola.
“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, its phenomenal,” said Arteta.
“As a coach, I have learnt 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.”
Meanwhile, Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder and Aston Villa boss Dean Smith said they were aware the eyes of the world would be on their match when they relaunch the Premier League on Wednesday.
The high-flying Blades travel to Villa Park for the first game in the English top-flight after a three-month suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, with 92 games packed into just five-and-a-half weeks.
“First game back is going to be a little bit different, what we understand is the magnitude of the game, the coverage of the game,” Wilder said at his pre-match video press conference on Monday.
“Villa-Sheffield United was a Championship game last year and would possibly have been seventh or eighth on (BBC’s) Match Of The Day and now it is 6pm (local time) on the TV and worldwide coverage.
“From our point of view we want to put on a good show and make sure we play well.”
Sheffield United, who have 10 games to play, are seventh in the table, chasing Champions League football.
They could move up to fifth place with three points at Villa Park, but Wilder will not allow himself to get distracted by talk of Europe.
“If it gets to the situation where we are one or two games out and we are still in a fantastic position then we will possibly talk about that,” said Wilder.
“But at the moment we have quarter of a season to go, near enough. I am sure that you have seen the fixture list as such as I have seen it. There are some incredible challenges in front of us.”
Villa manager Smith, whose side are in the relegation places, said it was an honour to be playing the first game in the English top-flight since March.
“The eyes of the world will be on us and we are looking forward to it,” he said.
“We have worked very hard. The players during the lockdown have been very compliant with all the work we set them during the lockdown.”
“The players have been itching to get back. The biggest problem we had was having no timeline to work from. Finally getting the fixtures was great to fit in on my fixtures board.”
Wilder confirmed Sheffield United would extend highly rated goalkeeper Dean Henderson’s loan deal in the next few days.
The England Under-21 international is close to agreeing an extension from Manchester United until the current season ends.
Aston Villa v Sheffield United, 9pm
Manchester City v Arsenal, 11.15pm