The top four race is coming down to the wire and with ten games left Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur remain locked in a tussle to secure Champions League football. However, as the pressure mounts the managerial mind games have begun for some.
Mikel Arteta spoke of his frustration at the fixture schedule after Arsenal had to play Aston Villa in the early 12:30 Saturday kick-off having played Liverpool in a 20:15 evening match the previous Wednesday. Made worse when their rescheduled match with Chelsea was also given a Wednesday slot ahead of the clash with Manchester United on the same early Saturday kick-off.
Arteta was not pleased and echoed the thoughts of managers who have also complained about the Premier League’s decision-making regarding fixtures such as Jurgen Klopp. However, Antonio Conte was quick to criticize Arteta’s stance about him on the topic.
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Interrupting the question on the fairness of fixture scheduling Conte reacted by saying, “Yeah but I only want Arteta to remember the game postponed. Tottenham – Arsenal, okay? If we speak about unfair. I stop. “
Pushed to answer the question more generally he replied, “But In general, I think my answer is enough. Okay, yeah, it’s enough. If someone wants to speak about fair or unfair. We postponed the game, Tottenham-Arsenal, if you remember. I don’t. I don’t forget this, and I think that it’s not right to speak about fair or unfair. “
Arsenal and Tottenham’s top-four rivalry has been a regular feature of the last two decades and the loser of this particular bout faces far tougher challenges next season, especially in the transfer window. It is therefore not surprising to see Conte trying some tricks to unsettle his opponent.
However, Arteta has proven a shrewd operator himself and was not drawn into a battle of words between the two coaches. Speaking after the 1-0 victory over Aston Villa which gave the Gunners a six-point lead over Spurs at the time, the Spaniard simply refused to discuss his rival’s comments by him.
“I give my opinion, I never comment on other managers’ comments. I give my opinion, ”Arteta explain.
This is the perfect way to handle the provocation of the Italian. Put the focus back onto Arsenal’s performance and away from the drama.
Mikel Arteta has shown very few moments where he lost his nerve. The most famous was arguably earlier this season at Anfield. A verbal scrap with Jurgen Klopp with the scores level on Merseyside preceded a collapse of his team’s composure and an eventual 4-0 loss.
Perhaps from this moment, Arteta realized the connection between his professional image and his young team. Without a doubt a side of so many young players Arteta has become more than just a manager but a figure many will look up to.
It wasn’t therefore surprising that his side fell apart at Anfield after his outburst on the touchline. His words about him in response to Conte’s prodding was one of control. Arsenal are in control of their top-four fate and their boss encapsulates that in his actions di lui.
It will be interesting to see how Tottenham respond. Will they keep control or will they let their emotions get to them like their manager so often has?