It’s fair to say that the reputations of Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho and Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta preceded them when they arrived in north London at the end of last year. The contrast was stark too. While doubts lingered over Mourinho despite his massive success in the past, with some claiming his powers have been diminished in the modern game and that he had been left behind tactically, Arteta was seen as the next big thing, the young guy with bright and fresh ideas having learned from the best after working under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
However, as the pair prepare for the north London derby on Sunday evening, it’s Mourinho who is flying and Arteta who is still trying to find the right recipe for success. As we entered derby weekend Spurs sat at the top of the table, while the Gunners were all the way down in 14th, something unimaginable during Arsenal’s decades of local rule as they claimed the title at White Hart Lane, home of the enemy, in 2004. This is their worst start to a season since 1981, a record Arteta will not enjoy but will likely ignore as he knows this is a building job and a process. The fans will not ignore it though and he and his team have to get it right against Tottenham, for London pride depends on it.
Spurs, thanks to Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, have been in the goals with clinical counters on the back of a sturdy defence, a Mourinho staple, and are the only side to not have double figures in the goals conceded column of the table so far this season. Though for Arsenal, they haven’t been able to find such synergy in the team.
Arteta has made them more compact and difficult to play against, that’s for sure. On the back of the difficult final Wenger years and the mess under Unai Emery, he has certainly fixed some issues and, having come in fresh from a crash course in football with Pep, Arsenal fans will have been hoping to see swashbuckling, attacking football with verve at the other end. That’s not really been the case though - in doing the work at the back, the frontline is broken right now and Arsenal, even with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leading the line, the man with 22 goals in each of his last two seasons, are stuttering in the final third. There is a lack of creativity and guile upfront - the Gabon international’s last goal from open play came on the opening day of the season against a porous Fulham and the Gunners have scored just ten goals in ten league games. Only the bottom three have hit the back of the net fewer times.
That is where experience comes into play. Mourinho knows how to tighten things up but still punish teams. Arteta is still learning and finding out. For context, ‘the Special One’ came into a relatively settled Spurs squad that enjoyed an upward trajectory under Mauricio Pochettino which included a Champions League final appearance. Arteta had a much bigger job on his hands and did win the FA Cup while juggling several problems.
The time the pair have had in management is vast - when Mourinho was winning the European Cup with Porto, Arteta was a 22-year-old struggling for game time at Real Sociedad after spells with PSG and Rangers and soon to be rescued by Everton. Nobody is saying Arteta should be anywhere near Mourinho right now, but the demands of the club he is at means comparisons will always come.
So, while Arteta may have been en vogue last year, he has much to prove though still has plenty of time to add substance to his style. Their stocks will rise and fall depending on Sunday’s result but Spurs fans will tell you, you just can’t beat a classic like Mourinho.