Patrick Vieira and Mikel Arteta meet again as managers tonight, when Vieira’s Crystal Palace host Arsenal in what could be a vital match at Selhurst Park, after their teams played out a 2-2 draw at The Emirates in the autumn. And although this is only the second time that they have managed teams against each other, there is a possibility that their managerial rivalry could become a key one, starting tonight.
Patrick Vieira v Mikel Arteta Could Become a Modern Day Managerial Rivalry
Both Are Contenders for Manager of the Year
Outside of “The Big Two” – Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, whose teams are dominating the Premier League again and could yet dominate Europe – Vieira and Arteta are arguably the managers of the year for transforming their teams and taking them to the brink of a major achievement that would have been almost unimaginable at the start of the season. However, both men know that the hardest part of the season lies ahead and that the next two months could have a huge impact on their own career as a manager. Indeed, for Arteta tonight’s match is itself utterly crucial.
Vieira has taken to managing in the Premier League almost as effortlessly as he took to playing in the Premier League. The coltish but complete young midfielder who was at the heart of all of Arsène Wenger’s great Arsenal sides has effected a transformation at Palace that may not be as impressive as Wenger’s at Arsenal but is still hugely impressive. He has almost completely remodelled Roy Hodgson’s effective but ageing side, remaking it in his own image as a more youthful, more vibrant and above all more attacking side, with the addition of key signings such as Odsonne Édouard and Michael Olise adding to the existing talent of Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze. As a result, he has not only achieved his primary objective of keeping Palace in the Premier League but taken them to Wembley, where they will meet Chelsea in the semi-final.
Arteta’s remaking of Arsenal in his own image as a much younger, much hungrier side (although, thankfully, not one full of Lego quiffs like his) has been much slower and far more controversial, principally because of the far higher expectations placed upon him as Arsenal manager than are placed upon Vieira as Palace boss. Nevertheless, after two Covid-ravaged seasons and an awful start to this one that left the Gunners bottom of the Premier League after three games, Arteta has rebuilt his side’s confidence and defensive structure. And just like Vieira, he has also proved to be a shrewd operator in the transfer market, buying Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu to completely rebuild Arsenal’s backline.
Challenges Lie Ahead for Both Patrick Vieira and Mikel Arteta
Both Vieira and Arteta have surprised many people by getting their teams to within touching, or at least dreaming, distance of silverware (in Vieira’s case) and Champions League qualification (in Arteta’s). However, both will know that they still have huge challenges ahead if they are to achieve those targets.
In Palace’s case, given that they are completely safe in the league, they can afford to focus on the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea in a fortnight’s time. They will be optimistic about facing a Chelsea side who initially circled wagons when Roman Abramovich announced that he was selling the club but against Brentford on Saturday they completely collapsed, as if the pressure on and uncertainty surrounding the club are finally beginning to take their toll. However, Vieira will know that even if they beat Chelsea to make the FA Cup Final, they will then face arguably an even harder task, as they will meet the winner of the other semi-final between Liverpool and Manchester City.
Perhaps Vieira can draw inspiration from his old club Arsenal’s most recent FA Cup win, under Arteta in 2020 (in June, after the pandemic delayed the end of that season). That year, Arsenal were very much the fourth favourite of the four semi-finalists, as the other three were Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. But with Aubameyang at his brief best as an Arsenal striker, the Gunners beat City in the semi-final and then Chelsea in the final, so Vieira will hope that Zaha, for example, can turn on his magic for two games to win the Eagles their first ever major trophy.
Similarly, Arteta has done exceptionally and quite unexpectedly well to bring Arsenal to the brink of Champions League qualification. Frankly, given the team’s wretched start to the season, to be in contention for any kind of European qualification is impressive. Nevertheless, just like Patrick Vieira at Palace, Arteta knows that the toughest tasks are still ahead, starting tonight at Selhurst Park.
“Crystanbul” was the name that Palace fans gave to the night in 2014 when Palace fought back from 3-0 down against Liverpool at home to draw 3-3 and effectively end Liverpool’s title challenge that year, with the name given to that match a knowing reference to Liverpool’s own extraordinary comeback against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul. A win tonight against Arsenal would not be quite as momentous or historic a result, but it would be further vindication of Vieira’s attempts to revive and reinvent the club.
Mikel Arteta will not so much fear “Crystanbul II” as “Brentford II”. Arsenal, of course, lost their opening match of the season away at Brentford, in a match that has considerable similarity to the game at Palace, with the Gunners facing a young confident side on their home ground, and under the lights that make a regulation Premier League match feel more like an FA Cup or even European match. However, Arteta will hope that his new and fast-improving Arsenal side can demonstrate just how far they themselves have come this season.
Consequently, the scene is set for a potentially classic Premier League match tonight. And whatever happens tonight, it is entirely likely that Vieira and Arteta will continue to clash as managers in the seasons ahead, perhaps not just in London as the Palace and Arsenal managers but further down the line, and further afield, as potential replacements for Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, a club with which both men have strong connections. For now, though, all thoughts of future clashes will be forgotten, as Vieira’s young and hungry Palace meet Arteta’s young and hungry Arsenal, in a match that will have most football fans drooling at the prospect.
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