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Pep Guardiola refused to be drawn into a row with England boss Gareth Southgate over the injuries that have ruled John Stones and Kyle Walker out of Manchester City’s crucial Premier League title clash with Arsenal.

Guardiola is clearly angry Stones was asked to start both of England’s games against Brazil and Belgium during the international break given that they were friendlies and that no account was taken of City’s hectic schedule as they chase a second successive treble.

Walker is facing several weeks out after he pulled a hamstring after only 20 minutes of the 1-0 defeat by Brazil at Wembley on Saturday evening.

Stones played the full 90 minutes in that game but lasted only 10 minutes of Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Belgium before pulling up with a groin injury that is likely to rule him out for several games.

Asked to comment on the decision to start Stones – who has suffered a long list of injuries in his career – in both games, a tight-lipped Guardiola said: “I don’t have any comments on that. Kyle and John are out. It is what it is.”

He also refused to give timescales on the injuries, adding: “Kyle is tougher than John but I don’t know how many games.”

Guardiola will have noted also that Phil Foden played the full 90 minutes in both friendlies that were more intense than usual, given the quality of the opposition.

Foden appears to have come though unscathed – although fatigue may be a factor – but the absences of Walker and Stones are a real blow for Guardiola at the start of a hectic spell of fixtures when City will play twice a week throughout April.

Sunday’s showdown is followed by a home game against Aston Villa on Wednesday and a trip to Crystal Place before the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final in Spain against Real Madrid which falls three days before their FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea.

Guardiola hails former target Rice

Meanwhile, Guardiola believes Declan Rice, a player he tried to sign last summer, has made a big difference to Arsenal this season and that any club in the Premier League would want the midfielder. He said Rice was not the first player to turn down City and won’t be the last.

“Sometimes here we have many players we wanted,” Guardiola added. “And they didn’t decide to join us. He’s not the first one who we wanted who didn’t join us. We have a long list.

“Basically they either don’t want to come or it could not happen because of the price or whatever. He took his decision, a good one, and good luck.

“I think all the teams in the Premier League would have signed Declan Rice. He is an international captain for the national team from England and a young player playing a lot of games regularly. That’s why Arsenal pushed [to sign him] the way they pushed.”

Guardiola also thinks Arsenal are reaping the rewards of keeping faith with Arteta, his friend and former No 2 at City, when some fans were calling for him to be sacked a couple of years ago.

He said: “Same manager, same players. They control many aspects of the game and every time they are better and better.

“When you have consistency in terms of ideas and the same manager, you always improve. If you change manager and players, it is more difficult.”

Jamie Carragher

Man City vs Arsenal can become Premier League’s defining rivalry in post-Klopp era

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