27 January 2023

Pep THREATENS Arteta: "we're going to fight". Direct quote.

Ahead of our FA Cup fourth-round clash, Pep Guardiola has levelled some rather incendiary words at his protégé/prodigy, saying "we're going to fight" and "I want to beat him" and "it's going to happen sooner or later". Those, my friends, are fightin' words. Those are also words taken out of context. In reality, Pep was practically gushing over Arteta's development, which, of course, reflects back on the him as if everything Arteta has accomplished thus far is a direct result of the 3.5 years Arteta spent at Man City rather than the product of a lifetime that has built to this moment. We'll get to the full context of Pep's words in a moment. In the meantime, I hope you don't mind my bait-and-switch.

Here's what Pep actually had to say in his pre-match presser:

Anything can happen on the touchline in the moments of the game. He’s a rival, of course. Tomorrow he wants to beat me and I want to beat him. I know in defeat we are not the best friends in the world. From my point of view, I have a huge respect as a person, as a manager. That’s not going to change.

If we’re going to fight on the touchline – it’s going to happen sooner or later I guess – it won’t change the respect. I teach him a few things, but this comes from himself, his mum and dad, his character and that was already there. Mikel, I know him, and I had the feeling during the time we worked together that what he is doing is not fake.

It's genuinely rare to see this level of respect and connection between two would-be rivals, even if we can't claim genuine rival status despite our, well, despite our current status as Prem leaders with a five-point gap and a game in hand. It's almost enough to turn my skeptical head; I've been guilty of using the "Fraudiola" epithet, based on the notion that Pep's tactics only work when he he has established world-class players at every position. It's a far cry from Arsène's ethos of not buying superstars but making them—something not too far off from Arteta's approach, come to think of it, albeit with more financial backing. 

Indeed, Arteta is doing something special here. He's grafting the best of Pep's vision to the best of Arsène's. We're playing exciting, dynamic football and doing so with the youngest squad in the Prem. With apologies to the injured Gabriel Jesus, it's really only Thomas Partey who joined with more pedigree than potential.

There's been a lot of talk about how much we should commit to this tie. The debate signifies a remarkable shift in our fortunes. For the last decade, the FA Cup has represented a pinnacle, the highest point we could hope to achieve in the absence of other honours or trophies. Here we are now, with an active if ill-informed debate over whether we should take this particular trophy seriously. The resolution to this debate lies just beyond our grasp, sad to say. If we could secure a few more signings, we could state with greater confidence that we should fight for this on our way to a domestic double. Should our reach then exceed our grasp? Should Arteta field a full-strength side here? Having signed Trossard and Kiwior, and with Smith-Rowe returning to fitness, it does start to feel like we're deepening the squad.

Is this enough? Hell, yes. Winning the FA Cup adds just four more matches to our fixture-list. Defeating Man City on Friday would of course see us advance to the fifth round, but it would also send a plant a massive flagpole in front of our Prem rivals. If we go full-strength and lose, we shrug our shoulders and take it on the chin. We were away to Man City, after all. If we go full-strength and win? Well, that's a horse of a different color. All of a sudden, we're on the front foot in the FA Cup and the Prem, and I darseay that a few Europa League ears will prick up as well. For the second time in as many posts, damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!

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