Pep Guardiola said the Premier League title race has finally swung Manchester City’s way after they thrashed Arsenal 4-1.
Guardiola insisted for weeks that Arsenal are favourites, but after moving to within two points of Mikel Arteta’s side with two games in hand, he changed course and said City are now in pole position to win a fifth title in six years.
Arsenal still top the table, but asked whose position he would rather be in, Guardiola said: “Absolutely my position now, because it’s in our hands. We have to win the games in hand, but it depends on us. Until today, I preferred Arsenal’s position.
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“The next three games are really important. Fulham on Sunday, then two games at home. These three games will dictate if we do what we have to do. It sounds naive, but we are behind Arsenal, they are two points in front of us.”
City crushed Arsenal thanks to two goals from Kevin De Bruyne and one each from John Stones and Erling Haaland. The prolific Norway striker also set up both De Bruyne goals and afterwards Guardiola said the pair of City attackers had decided the game.
“The game belongs to them,” Guardiola said. “I didn’t teach them how they find each other in training. Footballers are more natural than you expect. Erling knows when Kevin has the ball. Kevin is a master of the assist with or without Erling. Erling scores goals all the time with or without Kevin. But together, with space behind, they are so dangerous.”
Despite the lopsided scoreline, Arteta refused to concede defeat in the title race, but he admitted Arsenal may have to win all five remaining games to have a chance of finishing above City.
“It is a very difficult night after the way we lost, but we have to stand up, look at the bigger picture and the fact we are competing toe-to-toe with this team and that is incredible to be fair,” Arteta said. “We want to compete, we are not going to give up, it is five games and in this league anything can happen.
“We were beaten by the better team, that is for sure. They were exceptional and when that is the case it is extremely difficult. You have to start, first of all, by competing. We were punished and we could have been even more punished.
“Those players deserve a lot of credit to be 9½ months against this team being where we are. And there are still five games to play.
“I’ve been almost 22 years in this country and I’ve seen a lot of things and I know how much it shifts from game to game. There are not two equal games in this league. First of all, we have to lift our players who suffered tonight and played against an exceptional team. We are an exceptional team as well but today we were not at the races.”
Asked whether Arsenal would need to get to 90 points by winning all five remaining games — against Chelsea, Newcastle United, Brighton, Nottingham Forest and Wolves — Arteta replied: “I think so. I don’t know what is going to be required.
“We first have to lift the players up tonight because they suffer and it was a difficult one to swallow and lift them up.”
Arteta denied suggestions his players froze on the night after falling behind with just seven minutes played in a game which City dominated from start to finish.
“I don’t think they were scared, but obviously the way we started the game didn’t help us because we put ourselves in trouble in many situations,” added the Gunners boss. “We lost all the races, the first and second balls and when that happens, they started vertical attacks and it opens space to attack, and that created an uncertainty.
“We could not grab the game in the way we wanted, and they were really good.”
Despite his manager’s confidence and the prevailing feeling that City will win the title and perhaps even the treble, City’s De Bruyne was quick to remind everyone that there is a long way to go.
“We know what people will say, but it is still seven games,” De Bruyne said. “I know we have games in hand but we are still behind them. We will not give in until it cannot mathematically be done. Our schedule is hectic and there is a lot of things going on.”