Pep Guardiola says Arsenal “are back” as long-term Premier League title rivals ahead of Manchester City’s heavyweight clash at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Third placed Arsenal are just one point behind leaders City, making this weekend’s showdown a significant moment in the nascent stages of the title race.
The Gunners led the way for long periods of last season before faltering in the final weeks, allowing City to claim their third straight title, which was part of a historic trophy treble.
But City boss Guardiola has been impressed with Arsenal’s revival under his former assistant Mikel Arteta and expects them to be serious challengers for years to come.
“They were the biggest rival last season like in the past they were not there — they already arrived and will stay there for a long time,” Guardiola told reporters on Friday.
City head to north London looking to bounce back after the champions’ run of six straight league wins ended with a shock defeat at Wolves last weekend.
Guardiola insists the result of Sunday’s blockbuster clash would not be decisive as it comes so early in the season.
“This will not define a lot,” he said. “It will be different when they come here at the Etihad — then it will depend on the situations we are in.
“We know where we came from with the treble. And after that the tendency is to go down.
“We can play better or worse, but in general in the training sessions the focus is there.”
The City boss knows Arteta’s side will present a formidable challenge despite their poor recent record against his team.
“Absolutely (they will be title rivals), along with Liverpool,” Guardiola said.
“To analyse contenders, the idea is the first 10 games. We haven’t played 10. We have to wait but big clubs are always contenders.
“Arsenal is back. When I was a young boy and starting as a manager at Barcelona I know they fought Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United team.
“Then for many years they were not there but now they’re back.
“It’s a contender, yes, and when you see in the calendar it says you go to the Emirates (you know) it’s a tougher one.”
While City have domestic supremacy on their agenda once again, Guardiola said the main priority at this stage is qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages, which start in February.
The Champions League holders have won their opening two games in the competition to top Group G.
“We made an incredible step forward in the Champions League,” he said.
“What I want is to arrive here in February when we start the Champions League to be in the competitions and that it’s close.
“To be close to the top of the league and keep the distance short and make the last 10 games in our competition ‘OK let’s do it again’.”
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