It’s been clear for some time that Mikel Arteta is one of the most intelligent and young tacticians working in football. But who knew that the Arsenal manager is also a comedy genius?
Arsenal’s 4-2 comeback victory away to Aston Villa was among the best, most dramatic matches of the Premier League season so far.
Tensions ran high, particularly for the visiting contingent, as Unai Emery’s resurgent Villa side twice took the lead. The Gunners showed their mettle to twice battle back and equalise, but their recent blip was in danger of becoming a wobble as the game ticked towards injury time.
In the end, Arsenal got their title challenge back on track thanks to a freak own goal from Emiliano Martinez in injury time. Even the Argentinian World Cup winner, king of shithouses that he is, will probably see the irony of the bounce off his bonce in the added time that his antics helped clock up.
Then, having gone up for a corner, Martinez was caught out, giving Gabriel Martinelli the chance to celebrate before he even slotted away his finish into the keeper’s abandoned open net.
You’ll be hard-pressed to see a more dramatic – and frankly, funnier – end to a match for the rest of the season.
But those moments of high drama weren’t even the funniest of the closing stages. That honour goes to Arteta, in the 89th minute, when he was still a coiled spring of frustration out on the touchline.
Just as it looked as though Arsenal were drifting towards more dropped points, Arteta was a picture of sarcastic rage.
Referee Simon Hooper signalled to stop a quicky-taken free-kick by Arteta’s men, as they looked to capitalise on the counter, due to the ball not being still.
Hooper did the internationally-recognised roly-poly hand gesture to signify this, which gave Arteta an opportunity to do an imitation that was as wonderfully childish as much as it was perfectly executed.
— @TULNI (@reece24_) February 18, 2023
Arsenal fans will be well aware of the issues with officiating right now. Lee Mason has just stepped down as a Premier League official after his VAR error last week.
The issue is that there isn’t a ready-available next generation of competent referees ready to step up. This goes back to the grassroots level, where some officials will start wearing body cams to underline the issue.
Of course, it would be ridiculously po-faced and over-the-top to link those kind of issues with Arteta’s touchline comedy act. Though we can think of one Doha-based broadcaster that would give it a really good go.
“My fear is and I’ve said it for a long time now, that the guy in the middle there [Arteta] is the one that’s most to blame for the inflammatory behaviour on the touchline,” Richard Keys responded after a Tottenham attempted to kick Aaron Ramsdale.
“And if he’s not behaving himself, then it’s likely that others in his team are not going to either. Who ultimately then becomes the master of discipline? That isn’t anyone.”
We can’t wait to see what Keys can muster up in response to Arteta’s latest touchline antics.
The fact is that at the top level there are issues with setting a bad example, abusing the match officials and making a difficult job worse. This is categorically not one of those times.
It’s a healthy state of affairs when managers in high-pressure situations are able to vent their frustrations without stepping over the line. If that means gently taking the piss and doing something hilarious in the process, all the better.
Long live Mikel Arteta, master tactician and comedy genius. Keep winding up all the right people.