In Arteta, Arsenal Has Found Their Guardiola, Who Outmanouvered A Technically Confused Lampard

It was a game between two former captains of their teams, both in the first year of their managerial careers. For a long time and with plenty of justification, Frank Lampard has been a golden boy of the game.

Rightly revered as a player, Lampard’s short management career has already drawn plenty of praise.

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His first season as a Premier League manager seems to have been widely viewed as a success, despite finishing one place and six points worse off than Maurizio Sarri did in the 2018/19 campaign.

And while they have only the very flimsiest of chances of overturning a three-goal deficit against Bayern Munich in Germany next Saturday, Chelsea locking in a place in next season’s Champions League is a credit to Lampard.

But here was proof, if it was needed, that Lampard is still on a steep learning curve

His team, quite mostly, simply, lost its discipline – tactically, defensively and mentally – at key moments. Arteta noticed this quite early by ensuring that his team immediately grabbed the injured area vacated by Pulisic who gave Arsenal a torrid time. He was tactically helped off the pitch.

Without the pace of Pulisic to keep Arsenal’s defence on the back foot, Frank Lampard’s side were bereft of a cutting edge in the final third as the trophy slipped from their grasp.

Arteta bolsters growing reputation

Mikel Arteta enhanced his reputation as one of the Premier League’s brightest young managers with another tactical masterclass.

Having out-witted his mentor Pep Guardiola in Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final success against Manchester City, Arteta showed his acumen again to leave Chelsea boss Frank Lampard out of answers.

Arteta’s use of long passes into the channels behind Chelsea’s two attacking full-backs exposed the flaw in Lampard’s defensive system and led directly to Aubameyang’s equaliser.

Leading Arsenal to their 14th FA Cup success — which brings them a place in next season’s Europa League — showed the 38-year-old Spaniard is the man to restore the club’s tattered reputation.

Arsenal may have endured their lowest league finish for a quarter of a century this season as Arteta battled to steady the ship following Unai Emery’s sacking in December.

But he has won over his players with a direct approach to discipline — banishing malcontents Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi — and his astute game-plans.

Winning the FA Cup will buy Arteta time to continue his rebuild and it was fitting his first trophy as Arsenal manager came in the tournament that brought the last major silverware of Gunners legend Arsene Wenger’s reign.

Here against Chelsea the genius in him manifested , he saw that gap between right-sided defender Cesar Azpilicueta and wing-back Reece James early on and pretty soon he was bellowing at Ainsley Maitland-Niles in a foreign language to exploit it.

Yes, his career will be judged in years and decades rather than the first few months. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that, when he took over at Arsenal in December, he was not bequeathed a glorious situation which suggested major honours were heading their way.

And there have been times, even in the post-lockdown period, when you wondered just what he had walked into, whether he had taken on more than he could manage. That calamitous game at Manchester City to restart the season, followed by the collective breakdown at Brighton the following weekend, did not bear any of the signs of the defiance Arsenal have shown to collect their fourth FA Cup in seven seasons.

Chelsea have developed this knack, though it deserted them yesterday, of rescuing awful seasons with a major trophy at the end of it. And Arteta in the last few weeks has shown steel, intelligence and a resolution that belies his quietly spoken demeanour. He has acted on instinct at times. Mesut Ozil, his finest playmaker when engaged with the team, was not in the squad here, nor was Matteo Guendouzi, after the petulance on display at Brighton.

And he has shown himself his own man since breaking free from Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Schooled at Barcelona as a teenager, Arteta is however relaxed about eschewing possession. He made the point by dumping his former boss out of this competition in the semi-final with 29 per cent of the ball.

Here, he saw that gap between right-sided defender Cesar Azpilicueta and wing-back Reece James early on and pretty soon he was bellowing at Ainsley Maitland-Niles to exploit it.He noticed the awkward running style of Azpilicueta when put under pressure and he asked Aubameyang to run directly at him. The point was enforced at the drinks break and Kieran Tierney was listening attentively. It was he who launched the long ball over the top to catch out Azpilicueta in the 28th minute, which induced the panic and caused him to clamber over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and concede the penalty. The late Graham Taylor, who enjoyed an FA Cup final here and was pretty much the antithesis of Guardiola, would have approved.

Aubameyang duly converted the penalty and Azpilicueta, asked to turn and sprint into the space behind him one time too many, would depart five minutes later, his hamstring not up to the task.

The second goal Chelsea conceded also exposed all the faults that have become so familiar to Frank Lampard’s team this season. Antonio Rudiger diving in allowed Hector Bellerin the run at goal. Andreas Christensen at least attempted the tackle but could only direct the ball to Nicolas Pepe, who moved it on to Aubameyang.

Kurt Zouma was then wrong footed, exposed by the quick mind of his opponent. Chelsea have been busy in the transfer market but defence and a new goalkeeper is where they really need to strengthen.

Arteta at 38 and Lampard at 42 both carry with them the privilege of a playing career which opens doors shut to so many others. Yet what you can say is they have both seized their opportunities. Lampard has qualified for the Champions League yet this was Arteta’s day.

He has revived Granit Xhaka, who looked to have filed for divorce from the fans, he has perhaps done enough to persuade Aubameyang that this is a club worth remaining at and he has stuck by David Luiz when we were all howling for the axe. He steadied the ship through lockdown when the club pressured players into taking pay cuts. He could have lost his team at that point. Yet they seem to love him.

And they will play in Europe next season, the 25th successive season that Arsenal will do so. It will be in the Europa League, a reminder that they are a long way from the top table. But the steps he has made are encouraging. Arsenal have some direction. More importantly, they seem to have found a leader, more in the Guardiola mould

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