Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal take on Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham in the North London Derby on Sunday.
It’s easy to forget now, but things could have been so very different.
As Unai Emery edged closer to the sack early last season Mourinho’s name was high on the list of candidates to replace him.
The rumours sent Arsenal fans in to a frenzy of debate across social media. Many believed the former Manchester United and Chelsea boss who had once labelled Arsene Wenger a “voyeur” should be avoided at all costs, while others thought his controversial antics were a necessary evil to restore the Gunners to their trophy-winning glory days.
As it was, the Portuguese coach was appointed by Spurs nine days before Emery got the sack. Just over a month later Mikel Arteta was appointed Arsenal boss and the rest is history.
But did the Gunners make the right choice?
On paper the answer would seem to be an obvious no. Arsenal may be ahead of Tottenham in the trophy stakes but they currently sit firmly behind them in the league. Spurs are top, while their rivals are 14th with their lowest ever points tally after 10 games of a Premier League season.
But, consider for a second, how Mourinho would have handled what Arteta has had to put up with in his short managerial career.
Firstly, there is the issue of transfers. Mikel Arteta took over following a summer where Arsenal had uncharacteristically been one of the Premier League’s biggest spenders.
Finally free of the debt from the Emirates Stadium the Gunners were able to spend £72m on Nicolas Pepe, and a further £51m on Kieran Tierney and William Saliba.
Spurs were not far behind, although this was considered to be something of a surprise. Daniel Levy had gone two windows without delivering fresh recruits for Mauricio Pochettino, and the general consensus around the club was that after moving into a new stadium, finances were tight.
And yet when the January transfer window came around, Mourinho was reportedly afforded over £70m on new players. By contrast Mikel Arteta was able to bring in just two loan signings despite his good start to life at the Emirates.
If Mourinho had been in a position where he had received such little backing then he has already shown in his time at Manchester United that he is not afraid to publicly criticise the board. Even after the Portuguese manager had been allowed to spend around £420m in two and a half seasons he still left Old Trafford demanding more.
Despite infighting above him that has seen Raul Sanllehi and Huss Fahmy lose their jobs, Arteta has always been able to maintain cordial relations with his superiors in public.
The main argument against Mourinho coming in was that his ‘pessimistic’ brand of football would be the antithesis to the attacking flow Gooners have become accustomed to in the 21st century.
However, 10 games into the Premier League this season and it is Spurs who sit atop the scoring charts. On the other hand only Burnley, West Brom and Sheffield United have scored fewer than the Gunners who have been tough to watch at times this season.
It’s slightly ironic to think that Arsenal are the side who have won more trophies in the time the two managers have been at their respective clubs so far, when that was supposed to be what Mourinho guaranteed at Spurs.
The Portuguese is certainly a manager for the here and now. Squad building in the way Arteta is currently doing by blooding the likes of Bukayo Saka and Ainsley Maitland-Niles alongside astute signings like Thomas Partey and Gabriel has never been to the liking of ‘the special one’. To be fair to him that isn’t what Spurs want right now.
Part of what makes the rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham so fierce is how different the two teams are. There are certain standards of practice at the Emirates the Jose Mourinho wouldn’t have met, while the same goes for Mikel Arteta with Spurs. Ultimately both teams made the right decision in their managerial appointments.