LONDON • Raheem Sterling could have joined Arsenal in August as Manchester City tried to secure the £60 million (S$107 million) signing of Alexis Sanchez, but both deals ended up falling through.
Pep Guardiola refused to allow the England international to leave the Etihad Stadium and now the City manager is reaping the rewards of his decision.
Sterling is City's leading scorer this season with 10 strikes and that increased goal threat has particularly caught the eye, with the 22-year-old having never scored more than 11 in a campaign.
The flying winger declared last month that he never considered the prospect of moving to Arsenal, and he was determined to make himself a success at City.
Guardiola has made clear to Sterling that he needs to be a regular scorer to secure his long-term City future and he has stepped up this season, thanks to hard work, a fearless attitude and help from City co-assistant coach Mikel Arteta, a former Arsenal captain.
"I think Raheem is enjoying scoring goals. He's not scared, he's not afraid to take a risk," said Guardiola ahead of tonight's clash against Arsenal. "And now he's seeing how fun, how good it is to score goals. Now he's more focused on that.
"Mikel Arteta is working many hours and days after training specifically about the last action on the pitch - that control in the last moment to make the right movement in the final three or four metres.
"Raheem has wanted to stay on the training pitch to improve, to practise, to shoot at the goalkeepers. He knows a striker has to score goals and he has to do that if he wants to achieve the next step.
"You won't survive in the high-level teams in his position if you don't score goals."
Goalscoring used to be a problem for Sterling - who often looked nervy when chances came his way, particularly in his early career.
But he has scored four in his last five matches and is on course for his best scoring season.
Unbeaten City's season shows no sign of losing momentum with 15 wins from 16 in all competitions after Wednesday's 4-2 Champions League victory at Napoli. City have not lost a competitive match since April, but that defeat came in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal.
Guardiola has called on fans to help re-energise his side tonight.
"Arsenal played without their real squad on Thursday (Europa League group game against Red Star Belgrade), so they have effectively rested for one week. We will lack energy, so our fans will be important."
MAN CITY V ARSENAL
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