Big Match

City up for title tilt: Pep

Following their shock loss to Newcastle, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has issued his men a wake-up call ahead of a tricky game against Arsenal tomorrow.
Following their shock loss to Newcastle, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has issued his men a wake-up call ahead of a tricky game against Arsenal tomorrow.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Manager insists his team will continue to attempt to overhaul leaders Liverpool

LONDON • Pep Guardiola has denied Manchester City are lacking motivation in their bid to reel in Premier League leaders Liverpool.

The champions blew a golden opportunity to close the gap to one point in midweek when they slumped to a shock loss at Newcastle and they rued that even more the day after when the Reds dropped two points at home to Leicester.

At his pre-match press conference yesterday, Guardiola was in a defiant mood, claiming his players "would not be here" if they were not up for "the challenge".

He told reporters: "We are not happy about the last performance. We knew immediately at half-time and after, we know that.

"(But) that is the process many times when people say (we are) the perfect team and invincibles. Every game is a challenge to see what we can do better and how we can beat the opponents.

"All the results this week it was difficult for (Manchester) United and the teams in the top six to win their games. There are a lot of games and to sustain, it is tough."

Although he was comforted after the Liverpool draw, he warned his players if "their level was the last game, (then) it doesn't matter".

The 48-year-old also brushed off the controversy surrounding a now-deleted tweet from City defender Kyle Walker, who appeared to mock the league front runners following their slip-up at Anfield, saying he was "not concerned as I can't control it".

DENIS THE MENACE?

He has adapted very quickly and also his ambition, he wants to do something important here. It is a good challenge for him and for us.

UNAI EMERY, Arsenal manager, on new boy Denis Suarez who is on loan from Barcelona.

Turning his attention to their league game with Arsenal at the Etihad tomorrow, Guardiola felt Unai Emery's men "were a tough side", before singling out Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as their dangermen.

New loanee Denis Suarez will likely be given his debut against his former club given that Arsenal have "a lot of problems with wingers".

The Spain midfielder, who made only two appearances for City from 2011-13 before returning to his country, was the Gunners' sole signing in the January transfer window, which closed on Thursday evening.

Arsenal have the option to make his loan move from Barcelona permanent for £20 million (S$35.3 million) in the summer and Suarez knows impressing against City will go a long way to ensuring his future remains at the Emirates.

His manager Emery also backed the 25-year-old to win over naysayers like pundit Alan Smith, who has dismissed him as nothing more than a "squad player".

The former Arsenal striker told the Mirror: "How much will he play though? Arsenal fans would have loved to have seen a little bit more business in January."

But Emery defended their lack of activity in the market, insisting Suarez's qualities "can help us".

He said at his pre-game interview: "I know the player (the Spaniard coached him at Sevilla in the 2014-15 season). He started individual training yesterday and today, with the group.

"He has adapted very quickly and also his ambition, he wants to do something important here. It is a good challenge for him and for us."

Denying that Suarez's arrival meant there would be even less playing time for Mesut Ozil, Emery insisted there was "no change" in the squad's pecking order.

He also confirmed his side's defensive crisis had eased up slightly, with captain Laurent Koscielny back in full training and in contention to play against Guardiola's men.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2019, with the headline 'City up for title tilt: Pep'. Print Edition | Subscribe