Whether Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is really as good as his reputation makes him out to be, there can be little doubt about where Arsene Wenger stands on the subject.
The Arsenal manager made it clear on Friday in his media conference, ahead of his side’s trip to City on Sunday, how he feels about the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona manager.
“He is one of the most respected managers in the game, if not the most (respected) and maybe rightly so,” Wenger said.
The 67-year-old Frenchman has a lot of direct experience to back that up.
This may be Wenger’s first meeting with Guardiola’s Manchester City, but it will be his ninth against Pep the manager overall.
The vast majority of those previous eight matches – four against Barcelona, four against Bayern Munich – have been hugely chastening, offering some of the worst reality checks of Wenger’s career.
Wenger has lost to the Catalan in half of those games, and all of the losses have been by two goals or more. ]
Even Wenger’s two victories came with considerable caveats.
The first 2-1 win over Guardiola’s Barca in the 2010-11 Champions League last-16 still saw Arsenal eliminated in the second leg.
Last season’s 2-0 win over Bayern in the Champions League was immediately followed by a 5-0 destruction at the Allianz that ensured Guardiola’s side would finish top of the group – that ensured they were once again superior.
In some of Wenger’s quieter moments, away from immediate pregame news conferences, he has willingly conceded that superiority.
Back in 2010, he described Barcelona’s 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium earlier in the year as “some of the best football I’ve ever seen.
They played outstandingly well for 90 minutes,” he said. “What was surprising was that they had no weak moment in that game.”
That, however, is precisely why this match offers such an opportunity for Wenger.
This City are not that Barca, nor are they Bayern.
There are many weaknesses in their game, especially in central defence, and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is still struggling to adapt to England, leading to many weak moments.
Those moments have added up. It has meant that, after 15 games, Wenger can finally “look down” on this manager he admires so much.
Wenger is at last ahead of Guardiola in a table and can really drive home that superiority on Sunday.
An Arsenal victory would put them four points clear of City.
That should represent much more for Wenger than just what it means in the title race, or the grand debate about Guardiola.
It will also mean a lot in the grand debate about Wenger.
It will re-emphasise his competitiveness in the modern game, how he is still one of the masters.
That is why a win here should be so important to him.