MIKEL ARTETA will be sitting in the directors’ box when Arsenal visit Aston Villa on Saturday — and they had better be ready to beef up their security.
The last time these teams met at Villa Park, the rival tech nerds had a proper punch-up in the stands, which resulted in Villa’s head of performance analysis Victor Manas getting a three-match stadium ban and an £8,000 fine.
So sticking the volatile Arteta into the mix is only going to pour petrol on the flames of an already bitter feud.
The Arsenal boss collected his third yellow card of the season for the unspeakable crime of “excessively celebrating” Tuesday’s 4-3 stoppage-time victory at Luton.
It means he will be banished from his usual position an inch from the side of the pitch this weekend.
And that might just come as a blessed relief for his players accustomed to a 90-minute ear-bashing from football’s ultimate micro-manager.
Yet there can be no doubt that Arteta’s methods are working and all those people awaiting another Arsenal collapse are going to be sorely disappointed.
Because there is a steely determination about these Gunners, which we haven’t seen for a very long time. Declan Rice’s 97th-minute winner at Kenilworth Road was their seventh stoppage-time goal this season.
Maybe we should start calling it “Mikki time” because if you add three more goals netted in the final five minutes it means an extra nine points for the table toppers.
They have the meanest defence and the best away record in the Premier League and will provide the ultimate test for Villa’s 14-game winning streak at home.
So throw in Unai Emery’s lingering bitterness over the way he was dismissed by Arsenal to make way for Arteta and we have all the ingredients for a proper grudge match.
Villa’s incredible transformation under Emery has prompted some observers to suggest Arsenal would be champions by now if he had been allowed to continue in the job.
But that’s a grotesque rewriting of history because Arsenal were an absolute shambles when the axe fell on Emery four years ago and Arteta had to completely rip up the squad he inherited to sort out the mess.
He might have spent around £600million to get the Gunners to the top of the league but there has hardly been a duff signing among them.
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And the soundest investment of the lot has been the club-record £105m spent last summer to buy England international Rice.
Because even at that eye-watering price, there hasn’t been a better buy in 2023 than the 24-year-old central midfielder who has transformed Arsenal’s title prospects.
A group of “hilarious” fans have even set up a GoFundMe page to pay West Ham an extra £25m for their former captain.
Yes, Rice really has been that good, a guaranteed seven or eight out of ten every week.
He will be crucial at Villa Park and at Anfield in two weeks for a potential title decider.
Win those two games and Arsenal could be nine points ahead of champions Manchester City by Christmas.
Pep Guardiola will point out his team were further behind at one point last season yet still won the league.
But this time it feels different because one team is conceding late goals and the other is scoring them.
City have become gorged on success. Arsenal are still hungry for glory.
UNITED’S BAD CALL
MANCHESTER UNITED claim they banned a number of journalists because they didn’t call the club before running a story that Erik ten Hag has lost the dressing room.
And if those reporters had actually asked United to check out the information, I’m sure they would have been told: “Yes, you’re right, the players all hate the boss and they are trying to get him out.”
Many years ago, a famous manager once rang to complain that I had not checked out a story with him.
Yet even when I pointed out that he had blatantly lied the previous time I had put in a check call, he still couldn’t understand why he wasn’t given the opportunity to carry on telling porkies.
SO Harry Maguire has been named the Premier League Player of the Month for November — because Manchester United beat mighty Fulham, Luton and Everton.
Good job they didn’t take into account seven Champions League goals conceded against Copenhagen and Galatasaray. Or three they shipped at home to Newcastle in the Carabao Cup.
And has Maguire really been the best player in the top flight — or simply less s**t than he was at the start of the season?
JARVO IS NO JOKE
YOUTUBE ‘prankster’ Daniel ‘Jarvo’ Jarvis was at it again, sabotaging the Euros draw in Hamburg with sex noises.
It was the latest stunt from the Colin Hunt of sport who has disrupted football, cricket and rugby events — and was once jailed for a fake robbery.
Only last year he was handed a suspended sentence for running on to The Oval pitch and colliding with Jonny Bairstow.
Time for another spell in solitary for this tiresome attention seeker.
GI’S COP UPSET
THE RIDICULOUS Gianni Infantino popped up at Cop28 in Dubai the other day because he says climate change and sustainability are vital to Fifa.
So important that he has recently awarded the 2030 World Cup to six nations spread across three different continents 6,000 miles apart.
What an eco-warrior he is…
REMEMBER when football hooliganism used to be known as “the English disease”?
Nowadays it seems we’re just about the only country whose fans are not intent on smashing up every European city they visit.
Legia Warsaw thugs caused mayhem at Villa Park last week.
Our knuckleheads are all too busy protecting statues.
Source: The Sun
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