Wenger ex­pects high stakes to ig­nite clash with fal­ter­ing City

Ar­se­nal man­ager says both teams need to bounce back Guardi­ola’s Barcelona were ‘the best team I ever played’

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - PREMIER LEAGUE -

tele­vi­sion im­pre­sar­ios might be tempted to present this af­ter­noon’s meet­ing not as Su­per Sun­day, but as the fi­nal of the Great Bri­tish Flake-off.

There is one sig­nif­i­cant change to that 2015 ex­am­i­na­tion, how­ever: City have in their dugout Pep Guardi­ola, a man­ager who, over the past few weeks, has been given a bru­tal in­tro­duc­tion to the Premier League’s bear traps. His prin­ci­pal goalscorer los­ing his head, a gap­ing hole where his cen­tre-backs should be, a goal­keeper pro­vid­ing all the sense of se­cu­rity of a card­board crash bar­rier; the doubts about the man­ager’s true ef­fec­tive­ness now he is en­gaged for the first time in a prop­erly com­pet­i­tive league are gath­er­ing.

“The ques­tions al­ways come af­ter you’ve had a de­feat,” sug­gested Wenger. Cer­tainly he was not in­clined to join in the mock­ery of Guardi­ola’s sug­ges­tion last week­end that he was un­aware of the mean­ing of the word ‘tackle’. Wenger had not no­ticed, he said, that any of the Spa­niard’s teams were de­fi­cient in the abil­ity to win back the ball. “They do not tackle less than Ar­se­nal or any­one else when you look at the num­bers.”

Wenger pre­ferred to point out that Guardi­ola was re­spon­si­ble for co­or­di­nat­ing the best team he had faced in his ca­reer.

“With Ar­se­nal we faced maybe Barcelona at its peak – at the time when Xavi was still young enough, Ini­esta was com­ing up, Alves was still young. They were the best team I have played. They were all com­ing up with a huge de­sire. They had Eto’o and Henry and Ibrahi­movic and Messi. Imag­ine what that was.”

One name he did not men­tion in his roll call of hon­our was Alexis Sánchez, the for­ward he man­aged to prise from Guardi­ola’s grasp. Yet this is the player he be­lieved had the ca­pac­ity to make the dif­fer­ence against City. As the ne­go­ti­a­tions stall about the Chilean’s fu­ture, Wenger knows his value.

“He is a leader in his way on the foot­ball pitch, be­cause he is not scared of any­body,” he said. “That’s a kind of lead­er­ship. Sánchez sur­prises you a lit­tle bit be­cause of his size – you do not ex­pect such a dy­namic, strong win­ning at­ti­tude.”

He is the player who Wenger hopes will make his side party like it’s 2015 again. Not least be­cause, un­like City’s tal­is­man Ser­gio Agüero, he will ac­tu­ally be avail­able for se­lec­tion.

Amid all the nos­tal­gia for that vic­tory, though, it is worth point­ing out one thing: that win at City was not enough to de­liver Ar­se­nal the ti­tle. That went to Chelsea. His­tory, it ap­pears, can re­peat it­self in more ways than one.

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