How Mikel Arteta forged the spirit fueling Arsenal’s title charge
That, really, is what the game is all about. That is the sort of lift that raises teams to titles. It doesn’t mean that they will go on to win this one but does certainly mean that, even if Fulham lead late on Sunday, Marco Silva’s side are going to have to be cautious going into the closing minutes.
That is the sort of aura Arsenal are developing, to go with the pure force of their play. And yet the rawness of such emotion, visible in so many scenes from the stadium last Saturday, comes from careful calculation. That is in play as much as man management.
Arteta started to nurture this spirit by first being ruthless about his squad. It is why it was so important to get rid of anyone who showed any doubt or hesitation about what they were doing, such as Mesut Ozil or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. A bit like Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham side, that left the Basque a group of young and fervent players who were willing to give their all for the cause.
Arteta was ruthless with his treament of former captain Aubameyang
Everyone talks of a unique togetherness, that was in part born in the troubled early days of this team. At the dismal start to the 2021-22 season, Arteta made such a huge point of telling the squad to not get caught up in the “rollercoaster” of early results and the constant noise around the club, but just focus on their plan and everything else would follow. It has meant they are now supremely prepared for the rollercoaster of run-in games.
Those with knowledge of the dressing room similarly talk about how the “fearlessness of youth” is a huge part of this.
They are all believers, and that works in more than one way. It means that, when it gets to the fraught latter stages of matches, they do not just have faith they will score. They also have full trust in the tactical approach and can take it to higher levels.
This is something that was especially true in the 3-2 comeback against United, which was probably the most thrilling showcase of Arteta’s football so far. That wasn’t a case of Arsenal just laying siege or whipping in crosses. It was probing at pace with overlaps, seeking to hurt Erik ten Hag’s side in specific areas.
Arsenal’s dramatic win over Bournemouth maintained their five-point lead
This isn’t to say it will all indefinitely go one way of course. The emotion of such victories will propel a side but an excess of them can gradually be exhausting. It can take its toll. That can be the other side of youth, too, in that it is experience that brings a deeper knowledge of how to control the pace of games. That’s something, on the other side, City know only too well.
Guardiola’s side have already illustrated that superior nous in the way they asserted command in that first title clash at Arsenal last month. That could be where the champions have an advantage as it comes to the period when all this matters more.
It’s almost worth thinking of it like Argentina’s World Cup – which is something that has also been said about United of late. Such emotional intensity is sustainable for the self-contained nature of a month-long tournament, but can be too much for the longer challenge of a title charge.
That said, two of Arsenal’s last three wins have been vintage title race victories in other ways. One was an easy cut-loose against Everton, that was actually all the more notable given how Sean Dyche’s side almost created a crisis for Arteta just a few weeks before. Next was a ground-out 1-0 away to Leicester City.
They probably just need more of those, rather than repeatedly getting pushed to the limits of games and emotions. The great virtue, however, is that they’re more than prepared to go there. It means Fulham are another side that need to be ready on Sunday.
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