THE sarcastic chants of ‘Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay!’ are a distant memory now.
In Unai Emery, Arsenal have a manager whose stickability will be less popular with Tottenham supporters.
AFP5 Arsenal are ready to take back the North London bragging rights
On Sunday, the Gunners will head into Sunday’s first Wengerless North London derby in 22 years with a newfound steel and stamina, on the back of an 18-match unbeaten run.
It is now clear to an English audience, as they already recognised in Spain, that Emery and Pochettino are cut from the same cloth.
With an emphasis on team structure, an appreciation of workaholic players and a willingness to make unpopular decisions, Emery has introduced himself at Arsenal in the same vein as Pochettino did at Spurs four years earlier.
Emery – only a few months older than Pochettino but with greater managerial experience – recommended the Argentine as his successor when he left Valencia back in 2012, a tip which was ignored.
Getty5 Arsenal go into the derby without Arsene Wenger for the first time in 22 years
Getty5 Unai Emery has led Arsenal to an 18-match unbeaten run
There is a genuine mutual appreciation and affection between the two, which should avoid any Wenger-Martin Jol touchline flare-ups.
Of course, players, managers, directors and supporters of the two north London clubs will tell you that they aren’t obsessed with one another and do not judge themselves against their hated local rivals.
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Arsenal types will tell you they have always been the bigger grander, greater club – while those at Spurs are adamant they now have bigger fish to fillet, since finally overhauling the Gunners a couple of years ago.
But don’t believe a word of it. For instance, it’s no coincidence that Tottenham’s alleged new stadium has a capacity of 61,000 – just 1,000 more than the Emirates and an intentional statement in terms of the battle for ‘bigness’.
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Of course, Wenger’s much-derided latter years should not be allowed to obscure the fact that, under the Frenchman, they finished above Spurs for 20 consecutive seasons.
Gerry Francis, the previous Spurs boss to achieve north London superiority in 1995, kept the same mullet hairdo ever since in apparent recognition of his historic feat.
Gunners fans would celebrate St Totteringham’s Day, whenever it became mathematically impossible for Spurs to finish above their team, right up until Pochettino had their little ‘holiday’ cancelled in 2016-17.
Poch has always had loftier ambitions that merely surpassing that lot up the road – just as he claims not to value domestic Cup competitions either.
But his achievement in finishing above Arsenal and building a superior squad – with decent understudies for all but Harry Kane – cannot be undervalued.
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Arsenal’s wage bill continues to dwarf Tottenham’s and however sharply the balance of power seems to have swung over the past couple of seasons, that fact alone means Emery must wrest back control of these local squabbles before long.
The way Emery has ruffled feathers – benching Mesut Ozil and sanctioning Aaron Ramsey’s departure next summer – is reminiscent of Pochettino’s early days, when Emmanuel Adebayor, Andros Townsend,
Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Nabil Bentaleb went from first-team regulars to outcasts.
Pochettino is still capable of shelving players anyone who is off-message – Kyle Walker received the same treatment before his move to Manchester City.
When Poch arrived he faced a different challenge to that concerning Emery – to establish Spurs in the top four after years of flirting with Champions League status under several managers.
But he achieved it by changing the culture of Tottenham – a club with an age-old emphasis on individual brilliance.
Twelve Footballer of the Year and PFA Player of the Year awards for Spurs since their last league title in 1961 pretty much sums it up.
Under Poch, Spurs continue to employ great flair players – but without a supreme team ethic, none are welcome these days.
Whether or not Emery is right about Ramsey or Ozil is a matter of hot debate – Ozil remains a world-class creative player and Ramsey’s all-round quality is undoubted.