Antonio Conte's masterclass on and off the pitch mounts pressure on Arsenal and Mikel Arteta in Champions League pursuit

Antonio Conte’s masterclass on and off the pitch mounts pressure on Arsenal and Mikel Arteta in Champions League pursuit


After one of the great victories in the North London derby, Antonio Conte delivered one of the great media performances.

He ruthlessly and relentlessly went for Mikel Arteta, the same way he made his Tottenham Hotspur side go after Arsenal. It wasn’t quite ‘I’ll love it if we beat them’, or even his own public exchange with Jose Mourinho, but let’s be fair. It was a vintage piece of Premier League pantomime, the type that brings real drama to the competition. This is what spice up the games. It was such a vast and condescending display that it could well give rise to a real management feud.

It was a sketch on how to weaponize a press conference.

Conte started by noting how much Mikel Arteta had complained about referees and other issues, only to mention it several times himself.

The same message was repeated several times, in different ways.

First: “I think Mikel Arteta is a very good coach. He is a very good coach. He just started doing this job and I think I hear him complaining a lot. I think he needs to focus more on his team and not complain.

Second: “Because he has just started his work and I think he has to be calm and try to keep working. Because he is very good but listening to a coach complaining a lot of times is not good… I think that’s the advice if you want to accept the advice.

Third: “I don’t see what happened on the other side, but I repeat that he is a very good coach and I think he can become an important coach in the future. But in six months , I heard him complain a lot, and I think I repeat that it is only advice, nothing else, because he is very good and it is not good to complain a lot, and also because he has just started doing this job.

Fourth: “If you remember, he complained about the game. It’s not good to complain. »

By then, of course, we would have gotten to the root of it all. Conte even had the audacity to say he could complain about a lot of things after every game, considering that’s what many say he does precisely, and that’s exactly what he was doing here. . It wasn’t really “you can’t hear me complaining”. You totally could – but there was at least an implicit acknowledgment here of what it was partly about.

Much of that was wrapped up in Arsenal postponing that game in January. The anger focused on this could be seen in every challenge, every block. Spurs made a point by winning three.

This was another theme that Conte kept coming back to.

“Of course it was not a good situation because we were ready to play at that time and seeing the game postponed in a strange way made us angry.

And again: “Arsenal were good at postponing a match in an incredible way with the Covid and they only had one player with the Covid. I haven’t forgotten it.

Enough. Arteta will no doubt remember that. Because, despite all that this recall has concluded in the past, what happens next is more relevant.

There is potential for a feud – and Arteta and Arsenal are making a few people worse off in the Premier League – but the question is whether that will have any effect on the current season.

A lot of this was after all about anger and whether you could focus that anger.

Spurs, for their part, focused their concern on the postponed game. It had an immense effect, especially since Arsenal were so emotionally frenzied. They reacted to the penalty frantically, which only led to worse decisions from their players.

The referee attempts to maintain order before Rob Holding (far right) is sent off

(Getty Images)

That’s why, even if they had fair grievances with at least two of the appeals, they should mostly look to themselves.

It reminded me of Jock Stein’s side’s conversation with his Celtic players as they trailed 1-0 to a highly dubious Internazionale penalty at half-time in the 1967 European Cup final.

“If you have a grievance against the referee, there’s only one group of people who can do something about it: you. Go out and fix it yourself.

Celtic did so then, winning 2-1. Arsenal no.

There is also a more important point. Arsenal can certainly dispute the decisions, and they can certainly argue that all the big calls have gone Spurs’ way. But it would be weird to deny that there wasn’t at least one land for all of them, and in particular the Rob Holding cards. Arteta refused to criticize his players and the referee, but the latter was only because he did not want to be suspended for a crucial game at Newcastle United on Monday.

It’s of course possible that some of this is also a public act, meaning he can castigate his players privately in that vintage managerial way.

It’s just that the red cards keep coming, meaning the problem hasn’t been fully addressed yet.

And that brings us back to Conte’s confrontation at a press conference.

It was clearly meant to be a huge dig at Arteta, but was it also to destabilize him, to make Arsenal even more frantic against themselves in their next game?

That remains to be seen. Of Arsenal’s 11 league defeats this season before that, a whopping eight have come in bunches or doubles. This is something that also happened to Arsène Wenger’s teams. They often lost matches in pairs, and it was reported as something psychological. This is a worry for Arteta. If that happens this week, it will surely be goodbye to the Champions League. This is perhaps what Conte relies more on.

At the same time, Arsenal have shown admirable resolve as a result, not least in the way they recently responded to three straight defeats with four straight wins – so far.

There’s also the reality that, despite Conte’s demagoguery – and admittedly the superb record of big games – his own team isn’t exactly immune to such meltdowns.

Their biggest win of the season before that, that 3-2 victory over Manchester City, was immediately followed by the lowest. It was the 1-0 loss to Burnley that saw Conte so furious that many honestly believed he would quit.

The Italian mentioned it himself, because the next step? The same contrast.

Conte celebrates after Tottenham’s convincing win over Arsenal

(Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

“We lost to Burnley and you know very well that after that game it made me very, very angry. I think it was a good step for me, for my players, for the club to understand what that I wanted from my players and now to stay in that position I think at that time none of us could think that two games to go we would have had the possibility of playing for a place in the Champions League .

It would be very modern Tottenham to beat Arsenal in a game like this and then slip, or still not make the Champions League.

But it would also be a very modern Arsenal to be four points clear of fifth with three games to play and still fail to qualify for the Champions League.

That was why focus and anger – and, really, mentality – was such a theme of the evening. It’s also why the press conferences could, for once, have been little more than Premier League pantomimes.

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