AHEAD of Arsenal’s trip to Manchester City in the FA Cup fourth round tomorrow, Mikel Arteta feels Arsenal will be taking on the best team in the world right now.
As the club continue to go toe-to-toe with the reigning Premier League champions at the top of the table, the first encounter between the two this term will come in the cup at the Etihad Stadium, with the world relishing the long-awaited match-up.
Mikel is under no illusions of the size of the match, and indeed task at hand given the knockout aspect of the tie and a Premier League meeting on the horizon next month, but feels it is a challenge he is relishing.
“It’s a big match, and a big test for us against in my opinion the best football team in the world,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it because it will tell us a lot about where we are.
“I think there are going to be two very, very different games [between the FA Cup and league matches], and to put similarities into them is very unreal. Maybe because of the players on the pitch, but as well the context is extremely different.
“Let’s see – obviously it is important to win and play well. That gives you more momentum, more confidence and prepares you better for the next match, and that’s our focus on Friday.”
As well as facing what he considers to be the leading lights in world football, Mikel also feels he is going up against the best manager on the planet in his friend and former boss, Pep Guardiola.
Despite the two pals seeing their teams first and second in the league, Mikel has admitted that their friendship and respect for each other remains incredibly strong, and nothing will affect that despite both wanting league and cup progress at the other’s expense.
“I always hoped that [a title challenge between the two] was going to be the case one day, and it’s happening this season,” Mikel chuckled. “But that’s not going to change any friendship or the moments that we have, how important he is in my life or how important he is in my profession.
“We are both willing to win and defend our clubs in the best possible way, and that has always been the case since day one.
“This league brings you incredible challenges. You have the best coaches in the world, and the best coach in the world. To be at that level, you have to find other things to try and compete with them and that’s where opportunities come as well.
“We are on that pathway but understand that we haven’t done anything yet and there are still a lot of things to improve.”
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