As is true in any sport, football is played as much in the mind as it is on the field. And, when it comes to the mental aspects of the game or simply, mind games, the thought essentially veers to coaches, or managers as they are called in England.
The FA Cup semi-final was as much a battle between Arsenal and Manchester City as it was between Pep Guardiola and his former understudy at the Etihad, Mikel Arteta.
Even during the build-up to the game, which Arsenal eventually won 2-0, pundits were of the opinion that while the footballing world was eagerly waiting to see two big Premier League outfits square off again, all eyes would also be on the current Manchester City manager and his former assistant at the club, as they try to outdo each other in the tactical game.
Many felt that Mikel Arteta, having spent considerable time honing his managerial skills at the Etihad and working with the Manchester City boys, would be able to bring his knowledge into the game and plot his rival’s downfall based on his previous experiences at the Manchester-based club.
While both Arteta and Guardiola are in charge of big clubs, they’re battling different challenges.
Having steered the Citizens to two Premier League titles in 2017-18 and 2018-19, the Pep Guardiola has already stamped his legacy at the club.
But the failure to guide the team to Champions League glory, despite the owners splashing the cash to attract the best footballing talents to the Etihad, has somewhat dimmed the halo around his head.
On the other hand, Mikel Arteta, who took charge of Arsenal after the north Londoners parted ways with Unai Emery in December last year, seems to have settled into his role at the Emirates.
Although the old habits of conceding late goals through slack defending and failing to show up against top teams have continued to hurt the club, Arteta has overseen a run of good results recently.
His immediate priority, as he himself put it, is to help Arsenal qualify for the Europa League next season, and bring in new players as part of a long-term rebuilding plan.
Hence the stakes were higher for Mikel Arteta, a former Arsenal player, as the two teams lined up for the FA Cup semi-final over the weekend.
FA Cup glory would not only assure Arsenal a place in the Europa League next season, but it would also help the club to win some silverware, something which they have lacked in recent years.
Despite Liverpool romping to the Premier League title this season, their first in 30 years, Manchester City still had hopes of winning a ‘treble’ going into the FA Cup semi-final.
Having already lifted the League Cup, the Citizens have a 2-1 advantage over Real Madrid after the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 match.
However, two stunning finishes from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on either half and a tight defensive display saw the Gunners score a rare win over Manchester City as they stormed into the FA Cup final, where they would face Chelsea.
While the win showed that Arsenal are progressing well under Mikel Arteta, it gave Manchester City some glaring warnings, ahead of their crunch clash against La Liga champions, Real Madrid.
Even before Arsenal’s triumph over Manchester City, Pep Guardiola was full of praise for his former understudy, Mikel Arteta:
“I expect a terribly tough, tough, tough game, because they’ve something special already. They have team spirit Mikel has created. From the outside, maybe I’m wrong, but what I see in their games, how they celebrate, how they fight for every single ball, they’re creating something special for this club.”
If that isn’t a vote of confidence for the managerial chops of his former assistant, one wonders what is.
Safe to say Mikel Arteta won this round against his former boss. Over to the next.
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