FRIDAY'S BIG STORIES
There is seemingly a deeply-held belief in some corners of football, including the Arsenal boardroom, that Mikel Arteta is a truly great football manager in the making. The theory appears to be that spending three and a half years as a close contact to Pep Guardiola on the Manchester City bench has conferred some deeper level of understanding about football. Maybe he is. Maybe it will.
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But simply being Pep adjacent for a prolonged period of time is not and never has been a qualification for managing at the top level. After a wretched Europa League exit at the hands of Villarreal and Unai Emery, which effectively ended a wretched season overall, the question really is: after 18 months in the job, what evidence is there that Arteta really, genuinely, knows what he is doing?
At this stage, there is almost zero evidence that Arteta is an elite manager, or certainly one with the talents required to turn around the deeply failing institution that is Arsenal, with its hated absentee owners and dysfunctional executive set-up.
It is true that this is not a favourable environment for a rookie manager, and maybe Arteta would thrive in a more sensible club, but at the moment his performance recalls that famous Man Utd tweet about David Moyes: Arteta must improve in a number of areas including team selection, game management, player motivation and transfer dealings.
All of these faults were laid bare across two legs when Arsenal were put to sleep by none other than Emery, the last bad Arsenal manager. From the confusing and botched team selection for the first-leg defeat in Spain, keeping Dani Ceballos on when he was a walking red card, another bemusing selection in the second leg when leaving Thomas Partey to wander alone around midfield, to the total lack of any apparent recognition from his players that Arsenal needed to score a goal. There was just nothing there. No urgency, no character, no movitation.
In fairness, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was unfortunate to hit the post twice (before being immediately substituted!) but two shots on target across 90 minutes was a perplexing return for a home side who… needed to score to save their season. Players went missing in all corners of the pitch and honestly, when the last 10 minutes rolled around there was never even really the sense that Arsenal might have the character to make anything happen.
Barring unexpected developments in the Premier League, Arsenal are out of Europe for the first time in 25 years. This club’s decline did not begin with Arteta’s appointment, nor is he the primary factor behind it (hello, Stan). But you simply cannot make an argument that he is currently doing anything to arrest it.
Even his one glowing achievement amid a catalogue of confusing, disappointing or frustrating performances offers a clue to why it’s time to move on. Arsenal brought great joy to their fans when winning the FA Cup last season. But they only beat Chelsea by one goal. Frank Lampard’s Chelsea. Lampard, who is a greater club legend than Arteta is at Arsenal by several degrees of magnitude. But Chelsea didn’t waste any time when it was clear that experiment was not working and now they are in the Champions League final.
'Trust the process' is Arteta’s catchphrase. But what is process without progress?
The Arteta experiment was worth a go. It was an imaginative solution to a situation where Arsenal needed a manager mid-season. But we have surely reached the end of the road now. With scant evidence that things are improving, in fact quite the opposite, it’s time for Arteta to go.
Cavani stars as United reach final
In the night’s other Europa League semi-final, we witnessed the battle of Jose Mourinho’s ghosts of Christmas past and future as Manchester United and Roma contributed to the most un-Mourinho European semi-final of all time, a rip-roaring 3-2 home win on the night which ensured an 8-5 aggregate win for United.
There were times in the second half where a previously impregnable lead looked, well, pregnable, but David de Gea pulled off some superb saves and Edinson Cavani gave a magnificent centre-forward display with two goals to assuage any fears that United might somehow find a way to throw away a 6-2 lead from the first leg.
Aside from all that, The Warm-Up’s favourite moment was this:
A proper player, Cavani. You’d not bet against him settling the final against Villarreal.
Hazard says sorry
Over in Madrid, Eden Hazard has taken to Instagram to try and recover his reputation with Real Madrid fans following the massive controversy over his laughing and joking following their defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League.
If you are the only human on the planet still unaware of how Spanish TV show El Chiringuito opened their segment following the semi-final exit, take a minute to treat yourself to potentially the most dramatic moment in the history of television.
The Madrid-based press is in uproar with Marca claiming ‘Total Deception’ on the part of the forward, who has suffered a spate of injuries and generally done very little indeed to warrant the massive price Madrid paid to bring him from Chelsea.
“I am sorry. I have read a lot of opinions about me today and it wasn't my intention to offend Real Madrid fans,” Hazard wrote. “It has always been my dream to play for Real Madrid and I came here to win. The season is not over and together we must now battle for La Liga. Hala Madrid!”
On one hand, why shouldn’t a person laugh and joke with former colleagues even in a moment of personal despair. On the other hand… YOU PLAY FOR REAL MADRID. If you don’t understand how being a massive disappointment and then giggling after being kicked out of Europe will play with that local press or supporter base then you are much more naïve than The Warm-Up would ever have imagined Eden Hazard might be.
IN OTHER NEWS
This is quite lovely.
IN THE CHANNELS
After Mason Mount was irked by some comments from Toni Kroos prior to the Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Real Madrid, the German didn’t quite land his reply on Twitter yesterday after being kicked out of the competition.
Is that a slight dig with a mention of “first CL final” from a guy who has been in four? Either way, the internet’s biggest James Blunt fan hasn’t covered himself in glory.
The race for the top four continues tonight as Leicester, currently third, face Newcastle United with a win taking them eight points clear of West Ham. This weekend, as well as being the start of the Giro d’Italia (live on Eurosport!), Manchester City will wrap up the title if they beat Chelsea in a dress rehearsal for the Champions League final.
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