Pep Guardiola admits trying to replace Rodri for Manchester City’s trip to Arsenal is a challenge but says he will not “cry” over the absence of a player he rates as one of the world’s best defensive midfielders .
Rodri will serve a three-match ban on Sunday for his red card in the 2-0 win against Nottingham Forest last month. Kalvin Phillips started the 1-0 Carabao Cup defeat at Newcastle as Rodri’s replacement, while Mateo Kovacic took over the role in last weekend’s 2-1 Premier League defeat at Wolves. At the top of the table, City is one point ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham.
Guardiola said: “(Rodri is) perhaps the best or one of the two or three best midfielders in the world.” When you have an absence as important as him, you have to find a solution. I won’t deny how important Rodri is, as is Kevin (De Bruyne), but if they’re not here we can’t start crying. The moment in my head when a player is not there is completely outside and I don’t think about it. He is not there.”
Arsenal finished second last season, five points behind City, with Guardiola insisting they were once again one of his side’s biggest title rivals. “Absolutely – along with Liverpool, from what we’ve seen. Arsenal are back where they were when they struggled with Sir Alex’s side (Ferguson’s Manchester United). When I got here (in the summer of 2016) they weren’t there and now they’re back.
“In the calendar (look for) when you have to go to the Emirates Stadium. The recruitment they did in the summer is exceptional, with (Declan) Rice and (Kai) Havertz.”
John Stones, recovering from a hip problem, is unavailable for the Arsenal game despite being an unused substitute in Wednesday’s 3-1 Champions League win at RB Leipzig. “He is not ready to play,” Guardiola said. “Maybe for the national team (England), but not for us.”
De Bruyne is expected to be out until the new year after undergoing thigh surgery, although the coach pointed out that the 32-year-old’s recovery is faster than planned.