For some it will feel ironic that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has survived two managers careers at the clubs biggest rivals Tottenham. Both Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho have been sacked under Arteta’s mindful watch over at the Emirates Stadium. Yet one would have to wonder has Arteta really been that much better than the two coaches to justify his stay at the Gunners?
Straight away of course we have to remind ourselves that Arteta won the FA Cup with Arsenal and it was an unexpected one. Having to beat Manchester City in the semi-finals and then Chelsea in the final was a brilliant achievement. Winning the FA Cup for clubs is still important but Arsenal had reached a level well before where finishing the season with just a cup win wasn’t good enough. Imagine for example Manchester City winning only the FA Cup in the season, to most clubs that would be glory beyond glories, for City it would gloss over that they had failed elsewhere.
At the same time no one was expecting Arteta to come into a team that had fallen out of the Champions League under Wenger in his final often lethargic years and win the title. But could one not have presumed Arsenal to be challenging for a top four place? In the past 18 months Arsenal have become a team who have flirted with 10th position. Tenth position? The Gunners are a proud team, a fantastic history, and they still have quality amongst their ranks. Three years ago you would have been laughed out of every football stadium in the country if you had suggested that Arsenal would become a mid-table team who would spend the majority of the season battling between 9th and 10th. This is no joke, but a reality.
Of course this season only marks Arteta’s first full one in charge. When he first came in it was already halfway through the season. It was never going to be easy to steer the club to instant victories, the Gunners had become shadows of their former brilliance under Unai Emery. Let’s not blame Emery for everything because in truth the rot had set in for Wenger’s final two years in charge. When Arsenal managed to finish in 8th place last season again after flirting with 10th it seemed like some sort of jaded victory, the FA Cup win propelled hopes way too high for the die hard Gunner but of course it was welcomed.
Arteta of course will be judged on results and week in and week out Arsenal are not justifying their grand name. With 5 games left to go for the Premier League season they are in 10th place. Newly promoted Leeds United are a point in front and West Ham for three decades well in the shadow of Arsenal are 9 points clear of them. Arteta’s former boss Pep Guardiola is enjoying a 31 point gap to Arsenal. On league terms alone Arteta is surely lucky to still be in a job, but he is and the pressure from the media hasn’t even begun yet, why is this?
The answer is quite simple, Arsenal have reached the Europa League semi-finals and they have looked assured and confident in the campaign. They will play Spanish side Villarreal this week in the 1st leg and will start as the favourites. Ironically Villarreal were the team the Gunners had to face in the Champions League semi-finals 15 years ago. If script goes to hand Arsenal could well reach the final, they could face Manchester United in it, and they could win it. If so a season has turned around within 3 games. Not only would Arteta have the prestige of winning Arsenal’s first European trophy in 27 years but the club would automatically qualify for next seasons Champions League, not bad for a business unit who wanted to jump ship to the Super League’s riches last week.
Of course that version of events is the glory one, the other version is Arsenal being knocked out to Villarreal who currently sit in seventh place in La Liga and have lost 3 of their last four games. Arteta should heed the warning signs if the Europa League dreams crashes down before the club just like it did with their rivals Tottenham, who were outplayed in a 2nd leg, chewed and spat out by Slavia Prague and Mourinho was out of a job less than a month later.
Let’s remember that Unai Emery was sacked after a win rate of 55% currently Arteta has 50% and that doesn’t look like rising anytime soon. Everything now is for the Europa League, and so much depends on it for Arsenal and Arteta going forward.
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