Pep Guardiola accepts he will probably have a touchline bust-up with Mikel Arteta “sooner or later”.
The Manchester City manager fears this is inevitable with his friend and former assistant now an increasingly formidable rival.
Yet Guardiola insists any row with the current Arsenal boss, who like him is known for his emotional reactions, would not alter his opinion of someone he continues to hold in high regard.
“Merry Christmas and Happy New Year was the last time (we spoke),” said Guardiola, who hired Arteta as his assistant when he arrived at City in 2016.
“He’s a rival, of course he is. He wants to beat me and I want to beat him.
“From my point of view I have a huge respect for him as a person, as a manager. That’s not going to change if we’re going to fight on the touchline.
“Sooner or later it’s going to happen, I guess, but when that is going to happen it’s not going to change the respect I have (for him) or anything.”
Arteta’s conduct in the technical area has been the subject of criticism in light of his booking during last week’s victory over Manchester United, but Guardiola was keen to defend him in this respect.
Speaking at a press conference, Guardiola said: “When you are top of the league they have to undermine you for another reason, and they are doing that right now. I know quite well this situation.
“Anything can happen on the touchline in the moments of the game. I teach him few things but this comes from himself, his mum and dad, his character and that was already there.
“I know him and I had the feeling during the time we worked together that what he is doing is not fake, it is him.
“When we were making a training session and in a game, always he was complaining about referees, and that was as an assistant coach. It is what it is.
“So after that I am not a judge. Everyone is everyone and sometimes I behave as well in this way.”
Arteta left his role at City to take up the Arsenal post in 2019. After some difficult times – notably at the start of last season when the Gunners lost three games in succession – his side have emerged as a strong force.
They currently lead the Premier League by five points with a game in hand and Guardiola admits he could not have stood in Arteta’s way.
He said: “Everyone has dreams. I know he went to ‘his’ club, the team he dreams of. He’s a supporter, for the fact he played there, he was a captain there. He loves the club.
“I remember when we were together here, when we scored goals, he jumped a lot and celebrated except (against) one team. It was Arsenal. It was that moment I said, ‘That guy likes Arsenal!’
“I’m not a person to say, ‘Stay here and sign a contract’. People have to fly when he believes is the best. Life is too short.”