- Mikel Arteta has led Arsenal to the top of the Premier League for the better part of the Premier League season
- Arsenal have only lost once this season in the Premier League, half-way into the season
- Mikel Arteta would have been a perfect fit as Pep Guardiola’s successor at Manchester City.
That is according to Guardiola himself, who had Arteta as part of his coaching staff at the Etihad Stadium from 2016 up until Arsenal hired their former midfielder as Unai Emery’s replacement just over three years later.
Although Arteta at Arsenal took some time, they are not only championship challengers this year but also possess a commanding five-point lead over City at the top of the Premier League.
If Arteta could have replaced him at City, Guardiola told reporters before of the teams’ first encounter in any tournament this season: “I’m quite convinced that if I’d left before, and he would be here, then he would be the best [option], without a doubt.
“But I accepted [a new] contract, I’m sorry, and he couldn’t wait, so it could not happen, but definitely.”
Arteta may have seemed like the ideal choice to Guardiola, but does the evidence support that?
Undoubtedly, Arteta’s Arsenal has tried to replicate Guardiola’s City in a number of ways.
For instance, the inverted full-backs that Guardiola occasionally employed during his six and a half years in Manchester are also frequent fixtures at Emirates Stadium.
Oleksandr Zinchenko, the left-back for Arsenal who was acquired from City, finished with a touch map more akin to an attacking midfielder than a full-back in Sunday’s 3-2 victory over Manchester United.
But that is clearly not a City Mk case. II. Arteta has created a team based on his own abilities.
It has taken effort, time, and some risk. Since he took over in December 2019, Arsenal has made 16 mistakes that resulted in goals in the Premier League as they acclimated to the Spaniard’s favoured style of play.
However, City only had four more than that. Although this strategy carries some risk, the benefits are obvious.
Under Arteta, Arsenal has scored 193 goals in the top flight, including 45 in just 19 games this season. They are on track to surpass the previous term’s high water mark of 61. City scored 290 goals in the same span, although it’s fair to assume that they had better players available than Arteta had.
Although the Gunners had a superior defensive record than City this season, the disparity in goals conceded is not as large on defense, with Arsenal giving up 124 to City’s 94.
In fact, Arteta has seen the attack steadily get better. Expected goals (xG) for Arsenal increased from 52.2 in his first full season to 69.6 last year, and the growth of Martin Odegaard, Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka, and Gabriel Martinelli has shown the 40-year-aptitude old’s for fostering the success of young players.
Given his experience with those players, it is difficult to believe Arteta would have been unsuccessful in bringing out the best in Phil Foden or City’s other up-and-coming youngsters.
Arsenal’s defense was tighter in 2020–21 than in 2021–22 (an xGA of 43.3 versus 51.8), but their 17.2 xGA this season reveals a well-rehearsed defense.
Even though Arteta appreciates possession, his average of 53.5 over 116 league matches isn’t quite as high as City’s 66.2 over the same period.
The similarities are obvious, but Arsenal has a little bit more dynamism—at least this season. For that, Thomas Partey’s physical condition and Granit Xhaka’s resurgence as a superb box-to-box midfielder have been essential.
The information indicates that Arteta might yet succeed Guardiola in the north west at some point.
He will initially try to upset his former coach in the cup before finishing the job in the league.