Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City’s next three matches will determine if they retain the title, after watching his side humble Arsenal 4-1 and close the gap on the leaders to two points with two games in hand.
City can go top if they win at Fulham on Sunday, as Mikel Arteta’s side next play Chelsea on Tuesday. The champions then host West Ham on Wednesday, before Leeds’s visit on Saturday week.
Guardiola was asked how the chance to become leaders on Sunday can inspire. “I had the feeling the next three games will dictate a lot – game by game [we] will see what happens,” said the manager. “The next three games are really important, Fulham on Sunday, then two games at home, these three games will dictate if we can do what we have to do.
“Fulham, the season they’ve done has been amazing. Then we have West Ham and Leeds at home – I don’t want to anticipate but this season with our crowd we feel comfortable. But it will be close – the reality today – it sounds naive – is that we are behind Arsenal, they are two points in front of us.”
Two goals from Kevin De Bruyne and one apiece from John Stones and Erling Haaland were answered only by Rob Holding’s late finish.
Of De Bruyne, who also created Stones’s goal, Guardiola said: “When we can find Kevin and he can run, he’s unstoppable. Kevin is a master of the assist with or without Erling. Erling scores goals all the time with or without Kevin. But together, with space behind, they are so dangerous.”
Arteta indicated his side may need to win all five remaining matches to have a chance of the title. “I think so,” he said.
The Spaniard denied his players lacked courage. “I don’t think they were scared but the way we started the game didn’t help us. We lost all the races, the first and second balls, and when that happens it opens space up to attack and that created uncertainty. We could not grab the game and they won it, and they were really good.
“The analysis is clear. The better team won the game. They were probably at their best, especially in the first half, and we were nowhere near our level. When that happens the gap becomes too big and the first 30 minutes all the basic things you have to do against an exceptional team in terms of competing, winning duels, understanding what the game requires, we didn’t do it and we were punished.”