Mikel Arteta is not enjoying battling Pep Guardiola for honours, describing the "challenge" he faces in taking on someone he considers a close friend.

Arteta spent three and a half years as Guardiola's assistant at Manchester City before taking the manager's job at Arsenal.

After finishing eighth, eighth and fifth in the Premier League in his first three seasons in charge at Emirates Stadium, only now has Arteta put together a team capable of matching City.

Arsenal are five points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand over Guardiola's second-placed side.

Seeing City suffer is not easy for Arteta, however, given his attachment to his former boss.

Ahead of an FA Cup tie between the two sides, their first meeting this season, Arteta said: "I would prefer to do it with someone else, to be fair.

"I want the best for him, genuinely the best for him, and when you're challenging like this, something comes in between.

"It's a strange feeling. It is what it is, and that's our challenge."

However, with City the standard-bearers in English football, Arteta knew this day would come if he was going to turn Arsenal into contenders again.

"I always hoped that was going to be the case one day, and it's happening this season," he said.

"Obviously that's not going to change any friendship, the moments we had, how important he is in my life, how important he is in my profession.

"We're both wanting to win and defend our clubs the best possible way. That's always been the case since day one."