EPL

Pep Guardiola says Arsenal ‘took us to our limits’ and targets Champions League

By Sports Desk May 21, 2023

Pep Guardiola insisted Manchester City’s latest Premier League title success should not be demeaned by suggestions Arsenal ‘bottled it’ in the run-in.

Yet the City boss conceded his side would need to go on to win the Champions League to be regarded among the greats.

City were confirmed as English champions for a fifth time in six years and a third season in succession after Arsenal lost to Nottingham Forest on Saturday.

The Gunners had led City by eight points as recently as last month but their form deserted them at a crucial stage.

Guardiola, however, paid tribute to his former assistant Mikel Arteta’s team after City celebrated their triumph with a 1-0 victory over Chelsea on Sunday.

Guardiola said: “There’s a tendency to underestimate. They are winners.

“We pushed Arsenal but they are exceptional. They should be proud of where they have come from. They have to sustain it, that is the reality, but for me they are winners.

“They made me think a lot what I had to do to beat them, and they did it to us. Our relentlessness and not giving up, and having the feeling that we had to win otherwise it would not be possible, helped us a lot.

“With the relationship I have with Mikel – congratulations for what they’ve done. He’s brought them back to what Arsenal was in the past.

“Similar to Liverpool in previous seasons, they took us to our limits.”

City hope the Premier League will prove the first leg of a glorious treble, with the FA Cup and Champions League finals to follow next month.

Guardiola, who won the European competition twice as Barcelona manager, said: “We have the feeling we have done something exceptional in terms of the Premier League, but of course to be considered one of the greatest in Europe we have to win the Champions League.

“Otherwise people will say our time here is not complete.”

City have now won 12 Premier League games in succession in their charge to the title but Guardiola denied that would make their latest title win more special than the others.

He said: “I’d not say it is more important. The Premier Leagues have been so tight, so this is not more special than the others. Every one is.”

Chelsea’s interim manager Frank Lampard, whose side were beaten by an early Julian Alvarez strike, believes his side can learn a lot from the champions.

The Stamford Bridge side’s season has been a huge disappointment, with a top-10 finish beyond them, but Lampard admits a huge amount has to change for them to even get close to their rivals.

“Man City have not won three in a row through trotting out at half-intensity. To get to this level where you are lifting trophies there is a lot of work,” he said.

“Everyone’s personal responsibility is ‘if I want to get to be like (Erling) Haaland and (Kevin) De Bruyne I need to put in the work those boys have put in’.

“It is in their hands. I can’t say that how long it will take, it is down to the players, the direction of the club. To get where Manchester City are a lot of things have to align.

“There is clearly talent in the squad, young talent, maybe a lack of stability and imbalance and they are maybe club issues.”

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    Pep Guardiola has thanked Sir Jim Ratcliffe for ‘helping him do his job’ by stating his admiration for Manchester City.

    New Manchester United co-owner Ratcliffe recently spoke of his ambition to knock neighbours City, and another of their rivals in Liverpool, “off their perch”.

    Yet in doing so he conceded United had fallen well behind both of those clubs and admitted much could be learned from their success.

    He even went as far as to say City’s 4-0 demolition of Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League semi-finals was “the best quality of football I’ve ever seen”.

    Guardiola says such compliments are a source of pride and feed his continuing desire for success.

    The City manager, whose side host United on Sunday, said: “I just say thank you so much.

    “Sometimes they are more than the titles, the compliments of the personalities that make this country, like Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s comments. It is a complete honour for us.

    “One can produce emotions and feelings for the players and our rivals. That helps to do our job. Thank you so much on behalf of all of us.

    “But I am sure tomorrow they will try, one way or another, to inoculate the Man Utd players with the best performance to try to beat us.”

    This weekend’s derby could be a key encounter for champions City in their bid to win a fourth successive Premier League title.

    Considering their recent superiority over their neighbours, and United’s inconsistency this season, City are expected to come out on top but Guardiola is wary of the pitfalls of the fixture.

    He said: “Do you remember when United went to Anfield this season? Last season it was 7-0.

    “Remember the comments? How many goal are Liverpool going to score? It would be easy for Liverpool.

    “What was the result? Liverpool didn’t win.

    “It is United. The past is the past. Tomorrow it is 11 players with pride, with a manager – we cannot deny how good he has done in the past in Amsterdam – trying to do his best.

    “In different situations, with City in the position of United, I know my players would behave at Old Trafford with pride and the best character. It is going to happen to United on Sunday.

    “It will be a tough game, another final for us. I know how difficult it will be.

    “It has been more difficult here than at Old Trafford in our period together. We lost more (derby) games here than Old Trafford. We have to perform really well to do it.”

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    Eve gave debut starts Tiger Tanks Club Sando pair of left back Shervohnez Hamilton and midfielder Kai Moos, while AC Port of Spain's versatile wing back Liam Burns also got his first start for the twin island republic. The overseas-based pair of Kai Garvey and Justin Obikwu, who started at the left wing and centre forward positions respectively, also found favour with Eve, who felt the new players adjusted well in their first outing.

    "It is going to be difficult for these guys (Garvey and Obikwu) coming from where they are coming from and trying to adjust in just a couple days of work. I thought they adjusted well. They tried to bring the strengths they had to the group," Eve said in a post-match conference.

    "For the most part, I thought the group did really well. We gave up a really soft goal and we could not get ourselves back in the game. I think it was a lack of belief and that happens when players are not accustomed to playing at this level consistently. For effort, you must give all of the guys an A," he added.

    Still, with the main objective being to identify players to fit into his final squad for the upcoming Copa America playoff fixture against Canada on March 23, Eve is expected to look at a different line up with hopes that they will be mor fluid and consist in their play to give the coaching staff much to think about.

    "I thought it was a great exercise for the guys. When you look at the starting team, we had about six or seven players who were uncapped. We need more exercises like this to expose these guys and give them the opportunity because they have been doing well in the league," the tactician shared.

    "So, it's now to give the guys who are more established a run out going into the playoff game. Rhondel Gibson was good on the ball and when he came on, the team started to believe a little bit more. He wasn't afraid to get to the ball and those are the type of players we are looking for to be that brave and show themselves," Eve ended.

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  • Villa boss Unai Emery hails Ollie Watkins as ‘an example for other players’ Villa boss Unai Emery hails Ollie Watkins as ‘an example for other players’

    Unai Emery hailed Ollie Watkins as one of the best strikers in Europe after his double helped Aston Villa to a dramatic 3-2 win over Luton at Kenilworth Road.

    A header in the 89th minute from substitute Lucas Digne ensured Villa won for the third game in a row in the Premier League to stay five points clear of Tottenham in the race for Champions League qualification.

    Emery’s side were comfortably on top in the first half and went in at the break with a commanding two-goal lead given to them by Watkins’ brace.

    Luton struck back, seemingly re-energised by the looming prospect of a fourth straight league defeat, with goals from Tahith Chong and Carlton Morris, but Digne’s late intervention settled the contest in Villa’s favour.

    However, it was the contribution of Watkins that was singled out by Emery.

    “Fantastic, brilliant,” he said of his team’s top scorer, who now has 21 for the season.

    “He’s an example for other players. Every day working hard, every day trying to learn more.

    “His mentality, to increase his level, practising and practising on the training ground. His commitment to work in the tactical areas we are planning every match.

    “He’s scoring, he’s getting chances, he’s assisting, defending set-pieces. He has been available to play 90 minutes more or less, keeping fit to play a lot. He’s fantastic.

    “But he needs his team-mates as well to help him. We are a team. We have to try to get our performances through the team. With the commitment he’s showing, for everyone he is an example.

    “For mentality, it’s difficult to find a player better than him. But his skill is also a high level.

    “He wants to learn every day, to increase his level. Of course, his first objective is scoring goals, but then as well, tactically, his work has been fantastic. Understanding, being clever.”

    Asked if Watkins was one of the best in Europe, Emery said: “Yes, of course, he’s showing. The Premier League is the toughest league maybe in the world.

    “But as a person he’s humble. He avoids the ego changing him. He’s fantastic as a person and as a professional.”

    Luton boss Edwards, whose team are four points adrift of safety with 12 games to play, reflected on a result he found difficult to take.

    “Bitterly disappointed,” he said. “The goals were avoidable, all three of them, as they always are.

    “There was so much to like about the performance. Villa are so organised and a good team and it is not easy to score goals against them. They can hit you hard with counter-attacks or control the game.

    “They are a very good team, but I thought we dominated the second half and had an outstanding performance.”

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