Arteta demands perfection in title showdown as Arsenal hatch plan to stop Haaland

By Sports Desk April 25, 2023

Mikel Arteta reminded Manchester City that Arsenal still hold top spot in the Premier League and will not let relinquish it without an almighty fight as the top two prepare for an Etihad Stadium battle.

The Arsenal manager explained how City old boys Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus have been adamant the Gunners are title material since joining in the close season.

That has helped to feed positivity around the team, and it remains in place despite Arsenal drawing their last three games to allow second-placed City to narrow the gap.

Arsenal's lead stands at five points, with City having two games in hand, plus Pep Guardiola's team have home advantage on Wednesday.

Defender William Saliba misses out through injury, and Granit Xhaka is a doubt, and Arteta is wrestling to get the best out of a team who have been paying for errors in recent weeks.On the eve of the game, Arteta said his players should still believe.

"One hundred per cent," Arteta said. "But we knew from the beginning that City were the team to beat, probably with Liverpool because of what those teams have won in the last six, seven years.

"We were the ones that wanted to be closing that gap as much as we possibly could.

"We are toe-to-toe with them. We knew we had to go to the Etihad. We know that after that we have another five difficult games.

"That game is going to be really important, but is it going to define the season? The answer is no.

"If we win tomorrow night, we haven't won the league that's for sure. It will shift a little probably, the percentage, but five games in this league with the games we still have to play, very tricky still.

"The belief is there. We really want it, and we're going to show that again tomorrow night. But then you have to deliver in the right moment, the right performance, and it has to be perfection.

"It's going to be a tough night and challenge, but the opportunity is incredible for us. We knew from the beginning that if you want to win the Premier League you have to go to Spurs and you have to beat them. You have to go to Chelsea and beat them. This is what we've been doing, and that's why we are here.

"Now we go to City, and we have to beat them. If you want to be champions you have to win those matches, it's as simple as that."


It helps that Arsenal have title winners in Zinchenko and Jesus within their ranks.

"For sure. The experience is key when you've been in those moments, to handle those moments and understand the importance of certain things," Arteta said.

"When they came in, after two or three weeks they said we can win the league. It's been going on since August. This process has been coming for a long time."

Arteta, a former assistant coach at City, said he has not spoken to Guardiola recently, and it will be pure business between the former colleagues on Wednesday.

Arsenal need to stop Erling Haaland, but they will be aware threats come from all quarters with City, exemplified by Riyah Mahrez hitting an FA Cup semi-final hat-trick at the weekend.

"Obviously we are working on their threats as well as working on their weaknesses, and we know what they are," Arteta said. "You have to control every single one.

"Let's focus on us. We know what they want to do, what they're going to try to do. They can do so many things. You have to focus on certain principles to try to take the game where you want."

Reminding his players of their position, Arteta pointed to Arsenal still being firmly in the race for the title, even as the focus shifts to City's recent scorching form.

"They build up this incredible form and look where we are in the table still, so that means we've been as well in incredible form, and that's why we are where we are," the Arsenal boss added.

Looking at the challenge of handling Haaland, the Premier League's 32-goal top scorer, Arteta said: "When you look at the numbers, there's no comparison with anybody else. He's able to produce that because the set-up is done in the right way for him. Preventing the source is something that is probably the best recipe."

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    The audio recording of the discussion between the match officials that led to Luis Diaz’s goal being wrongly disallowed has been made public, with VAR Darren England swearing twice upon being told of his mistake.

    Diaz was incorrectly adjudged to have been offside on the field after netting in the first half of Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat at Tottenham on Saturday, a decision which was not over-ruled by England and his assistant Daniel Cook.

    Liverpool asked for a recording of what happened and Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) has taken the step to publicly release the communication into how the bungled verdict was reached.

    PGMOL said England “lost sight of the on-field decision” due to “a lapse of concentration and loss of focus”.

    In the recording, England says “check complete, check complete. That’s fine, perfect” before the replay operator and then Cook question whether the correct decision has been made.

    England swears upon realising the error and then says “they’ve restarted the game. Can’t do anything, can’t do anything” as the replay operator makes repeated calls to delay the match.

    England then issues another expletive before the tape finishes, the end of an incident in which PGMOL, the referees’ body, admitted immediately after the match that a “significant human error” had occurred.

    Liverpool said “sporting integrity has been undermined”, while they released a statement the following day indicating they would explore their options given the “clear need for escalation and resolution”.

    PGMOL said in a statement accompanying the audio: “After the on-field officials had disallowed the goal for offside, the checking phase and process started and was carried out correctly by the VAR.

    “In a lapse of concentration and loss of focus in that moment, the VAR lost sight of the on-field decision and he incorrectly communicated ‘check complete’, therefore inadvertently confirming the on-field decision. He did this without any dialogue with the AVAR (assistant VAR).

    “The match then restarted immediately. After a few seconds, the replay operator and then the AVAR queried the check-complete outcome with the VAR and asked him to review the image that had been created, pointing out that the original on-field decision had been offside, but this was not communicated to the on-field team at any point during the match.

    “The VAR team then gave consideration as to whether the game could be stopped at that point, however the VAR and AVAR concluded that the VAR protocol within the laws of the game would not permit that to happen, and they decided intervention was not possible as play had restarted.”

    England and Cook have not been included among the officials for duty in the coming weekend’s Premier League fixtures.

    The pair had already been replaced for the remainder of their matchweek seven duties – England was due to be fourth official at Nottingham Forest v Brentford on Sunday, with Cook scheduled to be assistant referee for Monday’s Fulham-Chelsea clash.

    PGMOL has vowed to learn from this incident, stressing accuracy over all else, including efficiency, to its video match officials and, from now on, a VAR must confer with their AVAR in the check process before relaying the final decision to the on-field officials.

    The Premier League announced a wider review of VAR, amid scathing criticism in the fallout of what happened at the weekend, is set to be held in conjunction with the PGMOL.

    A Premier League spokesperson said: “It is clear that there were not only human errors but systemic weaknesses in the VAR process. We accept PGMOL’s immediate recommendations to ensure that such failures are not repeated in the future.

    “However, a wider review to seek consistently higher standards of VAR performance will be conducted by the Premier League and PGMOL, supported by other stakeholders, and where necessary further recommended actions will be brought forward and implemented.

    “We have communicated fully with Liverpool FC on this matter and have shared PGMOL’s findings and relevant footage of the incident with all Premier League clubs.”

    England and Cook have come under further scrutiny since Saturday after it was reported they were part of a refereeing team in the United Arab Emirates two days before the Tottenham-Liverpool match.

    PGMOL added: “PGMOL and The FA have also agreed to review the policy to allow match officials to officiate matches outside of FIFA or UEFA appointments.”

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    PGMOL said in a statement on Tuesday evening that “standards fell short of expectations” and it has identified three key learnings “to mitigate against the risk of a future error”.

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    It was arguably the most contentious of all decisions taken since the technology was introduced and prompted the Merseyside club to issue a strong statement saying “sporting integrity” had been undermined.

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    He said: “I understand completely how upset Liverpool must be in that case.

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    Guardiola did not have any suggestions himself on how the system could be improved.

    “I am not a professional at that,” the Spaniard said. “I rely on the people and we have to apply it as best as possible. I am not involved and I don’t care.

    “Everyone knows they made a mistake and Liverpool suffered the big consequence of that. In this type of game it is so important. But, no worries, the consequences will dictate the players and the managers.”

    Guardiola was speaking to the media via a Zoom call after City were forced to rearrange their travel plans for Wednesday’s Champions League game at RB Leipzig.

    He had been due to hold a pre-match press conference at the RB Arena on arrival on Tuesday afternoon but their flight was rescheduled for evening due to strong winds in the German city.

    Guardiola brushed off the impact of the disruption ahead of the Group G encounter.

    He said: “It’s no problem. That it’s safe to fly and land, that’s the important thing.”

    John Stones and Bernardo Silva were due to travel with the squad having recently returned to training following injury.

    Stones has not played since the Community Shield due to a thigh problem while Silva has missed the last three games with a knock.

    Guardiola said: “They feel better, Bernardo better than John. Both travel and we’ll decide tomorrow. We’re really happy they’re back.”

    Rodri, who still has one game of a domestic suspension to serve, will feature before being given time off ahead of the upcoming international break.

    The Spain midfielder was sorely missed in last weekend’s defeat at Wolves and his absence will again be felt at Arsenal on Sunday but Guardiola hopes some good can come from the situation.

    He said: “You always have to take the positive. Rodri’s going to play the game tomorrow and then I’ll give him a rest, go to the Maldives for four or five days before joining the national team.”

    Guardiola, wearing a black armband, also paid tribute to former City player and chairman Francis Lee, who died this week.

    He said: “We are here (because of) people like Franny Lee, Mike Summerbee, Colin Bell, part of the generation that created a part of this organisation, this club.

    “On behalf of the team, to his wife and all the family, a huge hug.”

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