Manchester City edged past Arsenal in the FA Cup fourth round on a night when the two managers avoided any major flashpoints.
For a while at the Etihad last night it looked like the intermittent white lines signalling the technical areas were, to quote the Pirates of the Caribbean, more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.
Fourth official Rob Jones probably cursed his luck when he was handed this Friday night gig involving Manchester City and Arsenal. Trying to control Mikel Arteta is a task most of his colleagues are having a difficult time with at the moment.
Jones and Arteta were certainly close acquaintances. Arteta never once made use of his seat, instead spending the entire game on his feet, watching intently, hopping from one foot to the other and often getting animated, with his own team and the officials.
Pep Guardiola certainly knows all about that side of Arteta’s character. It’s one of the few aspects of his managerial character and style that wasn’t harnessed under the Catalan at the Etihad. Instead, Guardiola believes that the sense of fury that sometimes overcomes the Arsenal boss is a part of his hereditary make-up.
He had it in him at City, as well, it just wasn’t as visible. He would regularly complain to Guardiola about refereeing decisions and would even take umbrage in training.
They certainly have a different approach in (and around) their technical areas. Arteta celebrates enthusiastically but when Nathan Ake gave City the lead Guardiola just turned on his haunches and pointed to the crowd.
It took 23 minutes for the Catalan to take his seat and when he did he looked perplexed again at aspects of his team’s performance. He would regularly trespass outside to try and get instructions across, although not to the extent of Arteta, who at one stage was six yards down the touchline just to pass on instructions at a throw-in.
The Arsenal manager seems keen to get his bench involved. Assistant Albert Stuivenberg spent most of the match standing with him, substitutes regularly applauded their teammates and when Rodri fouled Eddie Nketiah after just nine minutes a member of the backroom staff on the back row of the dugout waved an imaginary yellow card.
But for all the animation and enthusiasm relations remained cordial this time. When the final whistle went Arteta made the first move, turning immediately to walk across and shake Guardiola’s hand. It was a night when both would have probably been satisfied. Arsenal can concentrate on the league and avoid a destabilising defeat, while City got a win they needed for their confidence.
Arteta certainly kept his calm compared to recent weeks, which is why his actions have become such a talking point. Guardiola can laugh at it all and that’s what he has been doing so far, but the relationship and the dynamic between the two will surely change over the next few months. Their previous meetings on the touchline have come either in behind-closed-doors games with a sanitised atmosphere or at a time when Arsenal were easy pickings for City.
Now, they are their closest challengers. In fact, they have the upper hand, with a five-point lead in the Premier League and a game in hand. But the season has only just reached the halfway point and they still have to play each other twice. That’s what made the FA Cup tie all the more dramatic. It can’t but influence the league games to come.
Guardiola said on Thursday that even if they have a fight on the touchline, he will laugh it off eventually with his former assistant. It didn’t come to that in round one, but there will surely be a flashpoint at some stage over the next three months.