LONDON • Pep Guardiola admitted that Manchester City are not ready to sustain their level of play for 90 minutes after they ground out a 1-0 win over Arsenal in the Premier League on Saturday.
City dropped points in their two previous league games before the international break and were again far from their free-flowing best without the injured Kevin de Bruyne and Aymeric Laporte.
But after a short preseason and a host of positive coronavirus tests and injuries, Guardiola is content just to stay "alive".
"We are not unfortunately able to sustain for 90 minutes the way we want to play, but these games help us achieve it," he said. "We need time to grow as a team. I think this game is going to help us to make a step forward."
The Spaniard added that his side were not afforded "the preparation that Liverpool or Arsenal had".
"They had three more weeks than us, then we have four guys with Covid and after that, Joao Cancelo and Bernardo (Silva) were injured in the internationals," he added.
"With the position we have, it's important in games to take time and come back. Laporte is out and (Benjamin) Mendy is out... We cannot be 90 minutes in the top level but we did it... We struggled a lot in the beginning, for the lack of preparation and amount of absences but even with that, we're still alive."
In a matched billed as a meeting between master and apprentice, Guardiola won the battle after leaving his former assistant Mikel Arteta bemused by the most fluid of formations.
Arteta got the better of his old boss when the sides last met in the FA Cup semi-finals in July and Guardiola responded with a change to a 3-5-2 system to match up with Arsenal. That pushed Raheem Sterling up front alongside Sergio Aguero, who was making his first appearance since June. And Sterling was on hand to grab the only goal after Bernd Leno could only parry Phil Foden's initial effort.
Arsenal remain without an away league win against one of the "Big Six" in 29 games dating back to January 2015. And despite a spirited performance, losing again at Liverpool and the Etihad in the first five games of the campaign shows the strides Arteta still has to make to restore the Gunners as title contenders.
"We've come a long way," said Arteta. "I am upset because I think we deserve more from the game.
"I am extremely happy about the performance, the attitude, the courage to play they way we did today. I cannot demand much more from the players apart from the three big chances we have, you have to score."
Arsenal were left to rue two huge opportunities late in the first-half as they were denied by City goalkeeper Ederson. They also saw strong penalty appeals fall on deaf ears with the final action of the first-half when Kyle Walker's high foot was not punished as he challenged Gabriel Magalhaes inside the area.
Early in the second half, Aguero disputed a throw-in call then put his arm on the shoulder of female assistant referee Sian Massey-Ellis.
The Argentinian, playing his first game since June after knee surgery, was criticised on social media and his former team-mate Micah Richards said on Sky Sports that Aguero should "know better".
Under rules introduced in 2016 players can be cautioned or sent off for touching match officials depending on the nature of the incident.
But City's all-time record scorer went unpunished and in his post-match press conference, Guardiola defended his player.
"Come on guys. Sergio is the nicest person I ever met in my life," he said. "Look for problems in other situations, not in this one."