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Guardiola pins hopes on Chelsea wobble

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is pictured on the touchline during his side’s Premier League match against Arsenal on December 18, 2016 © AFP / Paul ELLIS

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Dec 19 – Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said his side will be ready to pounce if Premier League leaders Chelsea falter following their impressive 2-1 comeback victory over title rivals Arsenal.

Chelsea have streaked clear at the summit thanks to a storming run of 11 consecutive victories.

City trail Antonio Conte’s side by seven points, having climbed to second place by coming from behind to beat Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, and Guardiola says the leaders are in their sights.

Asked if the win, secured by second-half goals from Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, would give City a psychological boost, Guardiola nodded and replied: “A lot.

“Seven points is a huge distance and when a team can make 11 victories in a row, you just can say congratulations.

“But at least to be there as much possible, and waiting if the opponent fails sometimes, and waiting until the last part of the season to be there, to fight for the title.”

Since Guardiola’s arrival in England, following stellar stints at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, there has been huge interest in whether his passing principles will prevail in the pell-mell Premier League.

The City manager triggered his team’s comeback by moving Kevin De Bruyne up front at half-time and switching Sterling to the right flank, but he played down the significance of the decision.

“Because we won, now the trainer is a genius!” said Guardiola, who faced criticism following recent one-sided losses to Chelsea and Leicester City.

Guardiola said he had apologised to John Stones after benching the centre-back, a £47.5 million ($59.3 million, 56.8 million euros) recruit from Everton, for the second game running.

But he hailed Yaya Toure, who has become an increasingly vital cog in City’s midfield despite Guardiola initially freezing him out.

– Arsenal’s ‘horrible week’ –

Asked if Toure’s form might earn the 33-year-old an extension to his contract, which expires at the end of the season, Guardiola replied: “No answer to that question.

“I know he finishes his contract. Now we have time to discuss about that. What I am impressed most (by) is his huge quality.

“He looks like a boy. He played awesome. It is not in terms of when he has the ball, it’s the personality.

“When we are in trouble, he goes there, asks for the ball, pass, pass. When Yaya plays at that level, because he is fit and focused, he is an exceptional, exceptional player.”

German winger Sane cancelled out Theo Walcott’s fifth-minute opener two minutes into the second half, bursting onto David Silva’s lofted pass to slot his first City goal past Petr Cech.

He was given the benefit of the doubt in a tight offside call and Arsenal were aggrieved that Silva also got away with swishing a foot at Sterling’s decisive 71st-minute shot as it flew past Cech.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said his side had fallen to “two offside goals” and suggested match officials were unfairly protected from criticism, likening them to “lions in the zoo”.

He had previously been critical of the referee following Arsenal’s 2-1 loss at Everton last Tuesday, arguing the winning goal had stemmed from an incorrectly awarded corner.

The successive losses leave Arsenal nine points below Chelsea and Wenger said his team would need to tighten up defensively before they could even think about chasing down the pace-setters.

“We have to come back next week and win our game (at home to West Bromwich Albion),” he said.

“We had a horrible week, absolutely horrible, and what is worse, out of two good performances we get zero points and out of two leading positions, we lost two games. That of course is very disappointing.

“Before we think about the nine points, we have to come back to be realistic. For a while we have not kept a clean sheet (eight league games).

“If you want to play at the top, you have to keep clean sheets.”

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