David Alaba has appeared set to swap Bayern Munich for Real Madrid.

Alaba is keen for a new challenge following a successful partnership with Bundesliga and Champions League holders Bayern.

But three of Europe's elite are still reportedly eyeing Alaba.

 

TOP STORY – TRIO NOT GIVING UP ON ALABA

Liverpool, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are still trying to sign wantaway Bayern Munich star David Alaba, according to Fabrizio Romano's Benchwarmers column.

Alaba will leave Bundesliga champions Bayern on a free transfer at the end of the season and he has been tipped to join LaLiga holders Real Madrid.

However, Liverpool, Chelsea and PSG are still pursuing the Austria international.

 

ROUND-UP

- RAC1 suggests Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is one of Barcelona presidential candidate Joan Laporta's targets if Ronald Koeman does not remain at Camp Nou beyond 2020-21.

Madrid are interested in Manchester United target and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, reports the Daily Star. Sancho was wanted by United at the start of the season but a big-money move did not materialise.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Atletico Madrid are tracking Lyon midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, who is valued at around €25million.

Manchester United and Premier League rivals Leeds United are eyeing Torino defender Nicolas Nkoulou, according to Tuttosport. The 30-year-old is set to become a free agent at season's end.

- L'Equipe says Mauro Icardi is free to leave PSG if a suitable offer arrives amid links to Juventus. Icardi is contracted to the Ligue 1 champions until 2024, but PSG are focused on re-signing Kylian Mbappe and making Moise Kean's loan deal from Everton permanent. If Mbappe departs for Madrid, PSG will look to raise funds by selling Icardi as they dream of Tottenham's Harry Kane and Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

Mikel Arteta felt Arsenal performed with "courage" to end a damning six-year run by beating Leicester City on Sunday.

The Gunners responded to an early goal from Youri Tielemans to win 3-1 at the King Power Stadium, with David Luiz and Nicolas Pepe scoring either side of an Alexandre Lacazette penalty.

It was their first Premier League win over Leicester since October 2018 and ended a run of 14 away matches without a victory against teams starting the day in the top three of the table.

Before getting the better of the third-placed Foxes, Arsenal's most recent away win over such lofty opponents came in January 2015, when they won 2-0 at Manchester City.

 

Manager Arteta was proud of the display, especially given their battling Europa League win over Benfica was only three days earlier.

"For me, it's not only about that," said Arteta. "It's how we play against opponents of top quality and just impose ourselves: try to be all the time us, it doesn't matter who we play against, and have the courage to do it against top-quality players.

"I'm proud of the way we won, but more about the way we have done it. Coming here after a very short turnaround after Benfica and going down very early puts the game in a difficult position.

"But we played some really good moments in the game. We were really solid, we dominated the game and overall we deserved the win."

Willian had an assist for a goal in a decisive substitute appearance against Benfica and continued that form at Leicester, crossing for David Luiz's opener and posting game-high figures of six accurate crosses and a 94 per cent passing accuracy.

"He was really good today, but we have seen that in training in the last few weeks," Arteta said of the Brazilian. "I think he is revealing himself. He is not accepting the situation.

"I think he was the player who changed the game against Benfica in the last few moments when he came on and today, I think he was terrific and the same for the senior players.

"Laca, the way he played; Nico, I think he grew in the game and had a big impact as well. And Granit [Xhaka]. I think a player that has played that many minutes, to play with the heart and passion he showed in every action, I think it's a great example for the rest of the players."

The downside to Arsenal's win, which lifted them back into the top 10, was losing Emile Smith Rowe to injury in a game that also saw Leicester's Jonny Evans and Harvey Barnes forced off.

Arteta thinks such incidents will only become more common as the season enters a hectic final third.

"Well, I think it is absolutely normal that it is happening," Arteta said. "That is why as well we needed to change players [today] because if not we were going to expose our players to get injured.

"But sometimes you don't have a chance as a manager [to do that] because you don't have enough players or you have the necessity to win and play them again.

"But it is insane, the amount of minutes and the games that these players are playing without any pre-season, without any break.

"You are going to get injured. We talked about it, all the managers raised our voices at the start of the season and it's happening."

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta admitted the club were "expecting many more things" from off-season signing Willian but believes his midweek assist can be a breakthrough.

The Gunners signed veteran Willian on a free transfer in August after seven seasons across London with Premier League rivals Chelsea.

However, the 32-year-old Brazil international is yet to score for Arsenal since his cross-town move and has had an underwhelming impact.

Willian came off the bench to provide the pass for Kieran Tierney's goal in Arsenal's 3-2 win over Benfica in the Europa League on Thursday in a boost which Arteta hopes can lead to more impact.

"I was really pleased with Willian on Thursday," Arteta told reporters.

"He totally deserves some credit because of the way he trains every day and he is trying.

"In games now you can see that he is starting to produce what we think he can do for the team so everyone has to step up and create big moments in games, because the front players in the end have to be the ones that decide the game for us.

"His team-mates like him and we were expecting many more things from him since he joined but for many different reasons he hasn't found his best performances.

"But hopefully Thursday's performance is going to give him the platform and belief that he is a really important player - he is a player I really like and I did a lot to bring him in and hopefully he can still give us more."

Arsenal make the trip to third-placed Leicester City on Sunday, with Willian in contention to make his first league start since December.

Arteta's Arsenal are 11th in the standings, 15 points behind Leicester and 28 points adrift of runaway leaders Manchester City.

Mikel Arteta knew the real Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was back when he watched the Arsenal striker get mad at himself for missing a penalty in training.

A double from Aubameyang rescued Arsenal's Europa League campaign against Benfica on Thursday, with his second goal, a late header, securing a 3-2 win and a 4-3 aggregate triumph.

The Gunners had been in danger of going out on the away-goals rule at the last-32 stage, having been designated as the home side for the game which was moved to Greece because of travel restrictions between the UK and Portugal.

But it was Aubameyang who saved the day, assisted by the increasingly impressive Bukayo Saka for the second time in the game.

Last season's FA Cup final hero, Aubameyang endured a dry spell in front of goal earlier this season but has scored eight times in 10 games in 2021 so far, at a rate of one every 98.25 minutes.

On Sunday, Arsenal return to domestic duties with a tough trip to third-placed Leicester City.

Arteta wants Aubameyang and Arsenal to kick on in the Premier League and sustain their challenge in Europe, safe in the knowledge their captain is back to his focused best.

"Sometimes when you go through difficult moments, you can have those difficult moments and get into a sad mode," said Arteta. "I think that's the worst thing you can do because nobody has to feel sorry for themselves when you're having those moments.

"What you have to do is get upset, get angry, work harder and approach the situation and face it - face the challenge in a way that creates more motivation and more hunger to do it, and I think in recent weeks I've seen that reaction.

"For example, in a training session before we played here he missed a penalty and he was really upset.

"Instead of going sad he got upset, and I said to the coaching staff that I like that and that he would be fine [against Benfica]. When you have that mentality, I think that's the right way to approach it.

"He is getting into much better positions, his rhythm during the games is much better with and without the ball, his movement.

"The week before when we played Benfica, he had three big chances and I am not worried about him missing them because I know if he gets in those positions, he is going to be scoring consistently so this is what he has to demand of himself.

"If we have Auba at his best, as a team we obviously have a much better chance to be successful."

Arteta, who said Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers should be a contender to be named manager of the season, has seen his team drop to 11th in the Premier League.

The late winner against Benfica felt like a moment that could swing their season, and Arteta's tenure, in a positive direction. Had Arsenal gone out, there may have been talk of a crisis.

"All the winners in European competition have to have a magic moment, a moment of luck, have to be able to overcome difficult situations. It's a good experience to have together," Arteta said. "Hopefully we can use it for the future in the next games."

A Champions League place is on offer to the Europa League winners, and that is Arsenal's only realistic short-term route back to the elite level.

Arteta spoke of that factor and said: "Obviously it is all the time in our mind because we know our league position at the moment. That has to improve dramatically but if we do well in this competition it gives us an extra chance and a hope to achieve something this season."

Saka shared the spotlight with Aubameyang on Thursday and Arteta said of the 19-year-old winger: "How good can he be is a question nobody can answer.

"He is a boy that is constantly willing to learn, to get better, to work on the things he can do better and he is a very humble and hard working boy. When that happens normally, and you have the talent he has, you can go a long way."

Mikel Arteta singled out Willian for "changing the game" against Benfica as Arsenal salvaged a dramatic victory to progress from Thursday's Europa League last-32 tie.

Arsenal, the designated home team, were on the brink of exiting the competition at the first knockout-stage hurdle for the second year running before a late turnaround on neutral soil in Greece.

Diogo Goncalves' impressive free-kick and Rafa Silva's finish into an empty net cancelled out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's opener to give Benfica a 3-2 aggregate lead.

Along with Thomas Partey, Willian was brought on two minutes later and the double change paid off as Arsenal hit back to salvage their campaign in the final half an hour.

Full-back Kieran Tierney lashed home and Aubameyang proved the match-winner three minutes from the end with a header to send Arsenal through 4-3 on aggregate.

Aubameyang took the plaudits with his late goal but Arteta felt Willian, who set up Tierney's goal, was the Gunners' real hero.

"Willian, specifically, I think he changed the game," Arteta said at his post-match news conference.

"He gave us much more composure in moments, produced some creativity, produced the goal for Kieran and we need everybody on board."

Willian completed 94 per cent of his 17 passes in the opposition half – the best return of any Arsenal player to have attempted at least three such passes.

The assist for Tierney's goal was the only key pass Willian played, with the Scotland international arrowing the ball away from Helton Leite at a crucial point in the tie.

Tierney, who became the first Scotsman to score for Arsenal in a major European competition since Willie Young against IFK Goteborg in March 1980 in the Cup Winners' Cup quarter-final, was also the recipient of individual praise from his manager.

"The way I'd describe him is all determination, all passion for what he does," the Spaniard said.

"The way he has come back from his injury and how willing he is to help the team. He gives us a big lift."

Aubameyang has now scored in seven of his last eight cup matches for Arsenal, netting 10 goals in total, with his only blank coming in the first leg against Benfica.

The Gabon international missed a big chance to send his side through at the same stage last season and is pleased to have put that miss against Olympiacos behind him.

"I definitely had that in my head but this is what gives me power every day to take the errors from the past and transform it to strength," he told BT Sport.

"The team showed a lot of character and we deserved the win. It was a hard game. What we showed tonight will be an example for the future."

Aubameyang now has 13 goals for the season in all competitions and Arteta added: "I completely trust him because we're producing the chances and you know when Auba has chances he's going to score goals."

Arsenal, who have now won on each of their last three visits to Greece, will learn their last-16 opponents in Friday's draw.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pounced for the goal that could save Arsenal's season as his late header earned a 3-2 win over Benfica in Greece.

The Gunners scraped through to the Europa League last-16 stage, winning the tie 4-3 on aggregate thanks to two goals from captain Aubameyang and one from Kieran Tierney, but it was very nearly a shocker of a night for Mikel Arteta and his team.

They took the lead through Aubameyang, but Dani Ceballos then blundered twice and Diogo Goncalves and Rafa put Benfica ahead.

Kieran Tierney hit back, yet it looked as though Arsenal, the designated home team, would be eliminated on the away-goals rule until Aubameyang headed in Bukayo Saka's cross in the 87th minute, ensuring their only realistic route into next season's Champions League was not cut off.

Mikel Arteta has challenged Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to do his talking on the pitch following criticism of the Arsenal forward's performance against Manchester City.  

Aubameyang had just 19 touches and attempted 11 passes in the 1-0 defeat to Pep Guardiola's Premier League leaders at Emirates Stadium, a result that leaves the Gunners languishing in 10th place in the table.  

Jamie Redknapp said in his post-match analysis on Sky Sports that the former Borussia Dortmund player was "past his best" and had "lost his superpower".  

"I saw him run past people when he first came to the Premier League. I saw him run past people at Dortmund. Now I'm seeing a player who looks like he's going to get bullied," Redknapp said of the 31-year-old. 

Aubameyang had scored a hat-trick in his previous league outing, a 4-2 victory over Leeds United, taking his tally in the competition to eight for the season – he managed 22 in his previous two campaigns with Arsenal.  

Arteta did not see Redknapp's comments but is aware of them, leading to him offering support for his under-fire captain ahead of the second leg of the Europa League tie against Benfica.  

"I'm here to support every single player and that is what I try to do all the time,” the Arsenal boss said.

"I try to give them the best possible advice and when they have a difficult moment, stay right behind them and that's what we try to do always." 

He added: "I think the best way to talk is always on the pitch.   

"Seven days before when he scored the hat-trick and he could have scored four or five against Leeds, he was again the main man.   

"He could have scored a hat-trick against Benfica easily with his qualities and it would have been different. At the end [of the day] it's about putting the ball in the back of the net for him and that's how he gets joy."

Arsenal go into the return fixture with the last-32 tie delicately poised at 1-1, Bukayo Saka's second-half goal securing a draw against their Portuguese opponents in Rome last week.

The teenager has been one of few positives for the Gunners in an otherwise difficult campaign, though Arteta is confident the England international can still get even better.

"His form in recent months shows that he's a very important player for us," the Arsenal boss said.

"I think he's getting better and better, his performance levels have been really consistent, so that makes him for sure one of the most important players in recent months.

"He's dealing with things at his age in a very unusual way, but that's why he's showing what he's showing, because his maturity is above his age and so is his intelligence as well."

Mikel Arteta appreciates the pressure is always on at Arsenal as he prepares his squad for a pivotal game against Benfica that will shape the remainder of their season.

Arsenal go into the second leg against their Portuguese opponents with the Europa League last-32 tie delicately balanced following a 1-1 draw in Rome. 

The English club did grab an away goal in the first meeting, though are without the benefit of home advantage for the return fixture. Due to coronavirus travel restrictions, the game is to be played in Greece. 

Out of both domestic cups and languishing down in 10th place in the Premier League, Europe offers the Gunners their last chance of success in Arteta's first full season in charge. 

"I always feel that it (pressure) is [on me], every time you're playing in a competition and you can go out you know the consequences and with this club [the aim] is always to win the competition that you are in, so that doesn't really change much," Arteta said.

"It's a big season and a really important [game], mentally and confidence-wise.  

"It's going to dictate if we're in another competition or not for a few more weeks. This is really what we need. It's a really tough opponent.  

"It's a Champions League team who have been playing in these types of games for many years with a manager with huge experience. For us, it's a final."

With an 11-point gap to fourth-placed West Ham and just 13 games remaining, it seems improbable that Arsenal can qualify for next season's Champions League through the domestic route. 

The Europa League, therefore, takes on added importance. They have won on each of their previous two visits to Greece as well, albeit both against Olympiacos, including a victory in this same competition a year ago. 

"I think while mathematically everything is possible, in football you have to try so hard," Arteta said. "We're going to do that in the league for sure.

"It's true that the Europa League gives you a completely different route and is a competition that we want to carry on playing, and try to win it.  

"Tomorrow is another opportunity to make a step forward. The better we are in the Europa League, the better we're going to be performing in the league and vice-versa. We need to be alive in both competitions."

Arteta revealed Thomas Partey is "very close" to a return from a hamstring injury, meaning the midfielder could feature against Benfica. Rob Holding, however, is ruled out due concussion protocols. 

Paul Merson says seeing Arsenal so far behind the top teams in the Premier League and not believing they can beat them has become "hard to watch". 

The Gunners were defeated 1-0 at Emirates Stadium by runaway league leaders Manchester City on Sunday. 

City were not at their brilliant best and Merson felt the match was another example where Arsenal's players did not believe they could beat a top side when a result was there for the taking. 

Arsenal are 10th in the table and two-time league winner Merson believes they have a long road ahead to be competitive again. 

"I can't see Arsenal doing anything between now and the end of the season to get into the top four," he told Sky Sports. 

"I played at Arsenal for a good number of years a long time ago and it is just a phenomenal football club. It's a Rolls Royce of a football club but when you look where they are now, it's just hard to watch. 

"Man City used to be a million miles away and talk about turning things on its head, they are so far ahead of Arsenal.  

"The only thing that can give you hope if you are an Arsenal fan is that you can watch City and think things can turn around. 

"I was so disappointed. It's so easy for me to sit and say Arsenal should have had a right go at Man City because I know you can end up losing 4-0 or 5-0, and then it looks an awful result.  

"But if you look at Arsenal's performance, they looked out of their depth and that was really worrying. 

"When they got to 75 minutes and were only a goal down, they had to have a right go. But it looked like the players just didn't have that belief. 

"It seems a long time ago now and it was a long time ago that Arsenal had that. They had that fear factor for teams playing them. I found it a really hard watch."

Merson advised Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta to focus on the Europa League, with their last-32 tie against Benfica evenly poised at 1-1 ahead of the second leg. 

Discussing the task at hand to revive the team, he added: "It's a real massive rebuild job at Emirates Stadium and I think it's going to take a long, long time.  

"That's unless they've got some money from somewhere and they have a right go, but we've seen Chelsea have a right go and look where they are.  

"We are talking about whether they will get in the top four and that was a lot of money, so there are no guarantees. 

"It's a really hard one to take for Arsenal at the moment." 

Pep Guardiola revealed he is learning from his former assistant Mikel Arteta, despite Manchester City overcoming Arsenal on Sunday.

City's storming form continued as they sealed an 18th straight victory in all competitions – making it 13 wins from their last 13 games in the league – thanks to Raheem Sterling's early goal.

The visitors started in superb fashion at Emirates Stadium though failed to keep up the blistering pace. Arsenal, however, managed only one attempt on target despite some promising flashes.

Guardiola's team are 10 points clear at the top of the table, and 25 ahead of 10th-place Arsenal, who have lost their last eight league games against City, their joint-longest run of consecutive league defeats against an opponent, along with an eight-game run versus Leeds United between 1973 and 1976.

Arsenal have lost their last four Premier League games against City without scoring a goal – the first time in their history they have failed to find the net in four consecutive home league games against an opponent – but Guardiola nevertheless hailed the skills of Arteta.

"Mikel knows everything. He is so good. It is not because he is my friend or because today I beat him," Guardiola told Sky Sports.

"I know what he planned, know how he works. He is so clever. I learn a lot by watching his team. Today I learned something, I can use it in the future.

"It's not because we were together – he knows everything about football."

For his part, Arteta was left frustrated by a tactical error from his team in the opening stages, which resulted in City having four attempts – including the goal – by the eighth minute.

"Absolutely [the start cost us]. We conceded the first goal, it's a really difficult situation, it puts the game exactly where they wanted," Arteta told Sky Sports.

"I think after that, the team reacted really well, we were on top of the game, tried to generate chances, momentum but we lacked the quality.

"We got something [tactical] wrong, we talked about something and then didn't do it in the first five or 10 minutes and they used the overloads down the side. It's a cross from [Riyad] Mahrez – you know where it is going – Sterling cannot head that ball in the middle of the goal. 

"The moment we clicked, we did what we prepared, they found it difficult. We found really good spaces but when we were there, in the final third, we lacked the final pass."

City may have been unable to add to their lead – Joao Cancelo wasting an opportunity late on – but still remained relatively untroubled at the back as they earned a 15th clean sheet in the Premier League this season, the most by a team after 25 games of a top-flight campaign since 2008-09.

Their winning run stretches back to December 15, and a 1-1 home draw with struggling West Brom.

Since that game, City have faced just 78 shots in the league – 21 lower than any other team (Liverpool – 99), and only 23 of those have been on target, while they have made just two errors leading to an effort on their goal.

"It was hard like we expected it to be. It is difficult to play against Arsenal, Mikel is so difficult," Guardiola said.

"That's why I give incredible credit to this victory. It's Arsenal away. We need to win these types of games. People think that 13 wins in a row, 18 victories in a row looks easy.

"It is so difficult. Look across all of Europe. The consistency in this last month, honestly I didn't expect it. More than grateful for the players and what they are doing, but winning these games 1-0, that is when we need to realise that everything is so difficult."

Kevin De Bruyne was handed his first start since January 20 as Pep Guardiola was also able to welcome Ilkay Gundogan back from injury for Manchester City's clash with Arsenal.

Having suffered a hamstring injury in a 2-0 win over Aston Villa last month, De Bruyne came on as a substitute to help Premier League leaders City beat Everton 3-1 on Wednesday.

City won that rearranged fixture at Goodison Park without Gundogan, who had stepped up in De Bruyne's absence.

The Germany international scored twice and won a penalty in City's 3-0 win over Spurs last weekend but later sustained a minor groin injury.

Both De Bruyne and Gundogan – who has scored nine league goals since the turn of the year – were named in Guardiola's line up for the meeting with the Gunners, managed by former City assistant Mikel Arteta.

Phil Foden, who scored against Everton, made way, along with Gabriel Jesus, seemingly accommodating De Bruyne's place in a false nine role he has occupied in several matches this term, with Sergio Aguero again only deemed fit enough for a place on the bench.

Guardiola made five changes in all, welcoming back captain Fernandinho, centre-back John Stones and full-back Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Meanwhile, Arsenal were boosted by the return of Kieran Tierney from injury. The left-back had been absent from the XI since January 18.

Arteta also made five changes from Arsenal's 4-2 win over Leeds United last week,

Tierney's introduction was one of five changes from Arteta compared to the side that started in the 4-2 win over Leeds United last week, with Pablo Mari and Rob Holding forming a new centre-back pairing.

Mohamed Elneny and Nicolas Pepe - the latter replacing Emile Smith Rowe - were also brought in.

Martin Odegaard has the character and intelligence to be a true leader for Arsenal, according to manager Mikel Arteta.

The 22-year-old has made four appearances since joining on loan from Real Madrid, where he struggled for starts, in the January transfer window.

He caught the eye in Thursday's 1-1 draw against Benfica in the Europa League, with no Arsenal player creating more big chances (two) than the midfielder, level with Hector Bellerin.

Odegaard also led the way for passes in the opposition half (29) and tackles (three), highlighting two different aspects to the Norway international's game.

Arteta has been impressed by what he has seen so far and has backed the loanee to grow in stature over the coming weeks.

"On the pitch he is showing a lot of character and intelligence - ingredients any leader should have," Arteta said. "He's been here a very short time but has adapted really quickly.

"He's gaining more and more respect from the players and staff. I think his weight on the team will increase week in week out."

Odegaard, who has previously spent time on loan with Heerenveen, Vitesse and Real Sociedad, is due to return to Madrid at the end of the campaign.

There has been talk of Arsenal signing the Stromsgodset player permanently, but Arteta remains unsure if Madrid will agree to a transfer.

"We've got him for a few months. We have to maximise this time with him to bring all his qualities to the team," the Spaniard said.

"At the end of the season we will see together if we can take this relationship forward. But at the moment that doesn't just depend on us."

Odegaard is in line to start Arsenal's clash against Manchester City on Sunday, with the Gunners seeking to end a seven-match Premier League losing run in this fixture.

The game will see Arteta reunite with Pep Guardiola, who he worked under as City's assistant boss for three and a half years before switching to Arsenal in December 2019.

Although Arteta acknowledged he shares many coaching similarities with Guardiola, the Arsenal boss intends to do things his own way at Emirates Stadium.

"You can share some values and ideas. The way we've been raised and educated in football is similar because we have the same background and worked together," Arteta said.

"But what do you do to make it work the way you need? You sometimes need investment, sometimes you have players who can already provide what you want. 

"You have to keep evolving and finding a way. There's not just one formula that works. If you try to do that you will fail."

Arsenal have won just three of their last 18 league games against the side starting the day in top spot, which is the position occupied by City heading into Sunday's match.

Pep Guardiola insists he has had no significant influence over Mikel Arteta's fledgling managerial career.

Arteta spent three and a half seasons working as one of Guardiola's assistants at Manchester City before leaving to take the top job at Arsenal in December 2019.

City travel to Emirates Stadium on Sunday looking to extend their record-breaking winning run of 17 matches in all competitions.

Thursday's 1-1 draw against Benfica in the Europa League means Arsenal have only won once in their past five games but Guardiola nevertheless expects a tough test from his former understudy, who he does not believe has been getting much luck of late.

"What I see the last month or two months, every game Arsenal plays better than the opponent," he said.

"Our dream as managers is to deserve the results. We play to deserve what we want to get. Sometimes you lose or you win, you cannot control.

"What we want to deserve he is doing and in the games over the  last month, always they are better than the opponent – analysis in terms of controlling the game, creating more chances and conceding few.

"We must have an incredible performance to play as good as possible with the ball and run a lot in the right tempo to get the ball because they have an exceptional build-up already.

"In the final third they have incredible energy with [Emile] Smith [Rowe], [Bukayo] Saka and [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang.

"In the future they will be a real contender to fight for the titles."

Despite such ambitions being a constant of Guardiola's career, he does not feel his influence is prominent in the work of a man who overcame him in last season's FA Cup semi-final.

"He doesn't need help. He is more than well prepared than to get help from me," he said.

"He is an important person in my life. We had a lot of contact in or period here in Manchester

"Everything going well for him makes me happy."

Guardiola added: "No, I didn't inspire him. What he knows he knows for himself.

"I'm not, absolutely in this case, any influence. What he is doing is all the credit for him and his backroom staff."

A look at some of the Opta data behind the two teams' performances this season backs up Guardiola's assertion that Arteta is not simply building a replica of City in north London.

City's patient build-up play is a hallmark of Guardiola's style and their 582 open-play sequences with 10 or more passes is almost 100 more than the next highest team in the division on this metric (Chelsea 493).

Arsenal are fifth in terms of such passages of play behind Liverpool and Manchester United, although their 338 is a significant drop on the numbers City's domination of matches has allowed them to rack up.

Similarly, when it comes to build-up attacks – sequences of 10 or more passes that end in a shot – City are top of the pile with 141, while Arsenal's 73 is once again fifth best.

When Guardiola teams are playing well, it generally follows that they are pressing very well. For high turnovers – those sequences that start 40 metres or less from an opponent's goal – only Liverpool (227) fare better than City (224) this term.

Arsenal are 10th in the league with 160, while they allow opponents 13.7 passes per defensive action on average, compared to City's 11.9, which further suggests a more aggressive pressing approach from Guardiola's men.

Mikel Arteta warned Arsenal must be more ruthless after they had to settle for a 1-1 Europa League round of 32 draw with Benfica in the first leg at Stadio Olimpico.

Bukayo Saka equalised just over two minutes after Pizzi had opened the scoring from the penalty spot, with Emile Smith Rowe punished for handling a Diogo Goncalves cross in the second half in Rome on Thursday.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang inexplicably wasted a glorious chance to put the Gunners in front in the first half and the captain missed another couple of opportunities five days after scoring a hat-trick against Leeds United.

Saka's away goal in the first of two legs played at neutral venues due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions gives the Premier League club a slight advantage.

Arsenal boss Arteta was frustrated that his side were so wasteful, though, leaving the tie finely poised ahead of the second leg at Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens next Thursday.

"We were very dominant and created some big chances," he told BT Sport. "We have to be more ruthless.

"It was disappointing the way we conceded the goal. We gave them the ball then it was 1-1 and all to play for.

"We conceded a corner then, from the corner, we did not react quick enough and conceded the penalty. Looking at it, it's difficult to judge. We had a great reaction and scored a great goal.

"We tried to maintain the level. Both teams dropped in the last 20 minutes, but overall we should leave the ground with more."

Saka knows Arsenal have little margin for error after the 19-year-old became the youngest Premier League player to have scored 10 or more goals and provided at least 10 assists since the start of last season.

The versatile England international said: "It is about managing the game. Last year when we went out to Olympiakos we conceded a silly goal. We can't put a foot wrong because if we do we will make it difficult for ourselves."

Mikel Arteta described criticism of Willian as "normal" after the Brazilian came under fire from Arsenal legend Tony Adams. 

Willian has made 18 Premier League appearances for the Gunners since joining the club on a free transfer from Chelsea, though he has struggled to produce his best form and has yet to score a goal for Arsenal. 

In contrast, 19-year-old winger Bukayo Saka has netted five times in 21 league appearances this season, while 20-year-old Emile Smith Rowe has impressed in midfield, prompting Adams to question the club's decision to bring in Willian, as well as the more recent arrival of Martin Odegaard in the January window. 

Arteta admitted there is pressure on Willian to perform, saying of the criticism from Adams: "I don't say it's unfair. 

"The expectations of Willian and the goals he can score, the assists he can create. It's normal that people will write things about him. 

"We have to protect him as much as we can." 

Adams also took aim at Odegaard, suggesting the Premier League club did not need to bring in the Norwegian playmaker, particularly given the recent emergence of Smith Rowe. 

However, Arteta is backing the 22-year-old acquisition from Real Madrid to succeed during his loan spell, saying: "He's got the potential [to become one of the best] because he's done it. 

"I followed him very closely when he was at Real Sociedad and he was impressive for long periods. That's why I was so convinced he could be a player for us." 

Arsenal face Benfica in the Europa League round of 32 on Thursday, with the competition appearing to present their best route to qualifying for next season's Champions League. 

Both legs of the tie will be played in neutral venues due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, meaning Arsenal travel to Rome for the 'away' leg on Thursday. 

Arteta underlined his side's determination not to let the setting affect their progress, saying: "It's very unusual but as much as we can we must try to maintain the integrity of the competition." 

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.