Well, here we go again. After one last international break, Arsenal kick off the final 11 weeks of the season on Sunday against Manchester City. Ahead of that game, I talked with Renato Gonçalves of SBN’s Manchester City blog, Bitter and Blue, to get his thoughts on Pep, City, and the rest of the season. Here are my answers to his questions.
TSF: City are currently in third, but just two points out of second. Are you assuming that second place is the new first given Chelsea's form, or is a title challenge still a thing?
B&B: It's very clear that Chelsea will not drop points and the Premier League title is theirs, so the only goal for City is to finish in second or third, because we want to avoid the Champions League Playoffs, which are never fun because they're gigantic for the season and they happen in early August.
TSF: After some early challenges and struggles, do you believe Pep has fully adjusted to the style of the Premier League?
B&B: Not fully, but he's done quite well. I don't think there's any question Pep is a top-three manager in the world today, and he's proven it with an old, apathetic squad like City's. We're not the most intense team in the world, but Pep has made the players fight very hard and play very good matches. With a squad that fits him better next season, we'll really challenge for the Premier League.
TSF: What has been the biggest surprise - either positive or negative, or both - of this season so far?
B&B: The surprise is really the increased intensity of the team. One thing we could always blame the team was their lack of passion and their sloppy play in previous seasons, but with Pep the players leave everything on the pitch and I personally relate to the players a lot more than I used to. They may lose, but they'll fight not to, and that's something I really appreciate.
TSF: Was the Liverpool draw a case of a hard earned point, or two points lost?
B&B: That was the best Premier League game of the season, no question. Both teams wanted to attack and rip each other apart, and they did that. Somehow we only got two goals, and no team deserved to lose. And to me both teams won. It was a truly amazing match and I'm not angry or sad at all with the draw. That was Pep vs. Klopp at its best, and I loved it.
TSF: Fill in the blank: For Arsenal to beat Manchester City this weekend, Arsenal must (blank)
B&B: Score more goals? Seriously, though, they just have to out-City City. The two coaches think football quite similarly, and I'd argue that City play a more intense Arsenal style these days. I might be wrong, but I think that Arsenal must equal the will to win before anything else, and then do what they do really well, because City will try to do the same thing and the team that plays a very similar style better than the other will get the victory.
I have immense respect for Wenger and I'm not joking when I say he's still a great manager that is capable of leading his team to a great performance against us. It won't be easy at all. I'm expecting a very good game.
Bonus question: is Mikel Arteta's hair still perfect?
If his hamstrings were as good as his hair, Arteta would be a Ballon D'Or winner.
Bonus question #2: will Patrick Vieira coach Manchester City someday?
I'm not sure, but if Pep stays for more than five years Vieira will probably be his assistant and get ready to replace him. The NYCFC is a good test drive, and Vieira is doing well there. He'll learn a lot, and I think he could be a good coach for us.
Thanks to Renato and Bitter And Blue for taking the time!