George Graham firmly believes Mikel Arteta has what it takes to beat Tottenham on Sunday and go on to put one over on his mentor Pep Guadiola by winning the title. Having watched the Spaniard in action close-up thanks to the Prime Video All or Nothing documentary made last season, he thinks Arteta is planting the seeds of a career that could stretch to the very top of football management.
Graham was particularly impressed by the sort of left-field thinking that had the Arsenal manager putting his players through their paces ahead of a trip to Anfield in front of giant speakers booming out You’ll Never Walk Alone. “No, we never did that before going to Anfield in 1989,” Graham chuckled, recalling the famous 2-0 win at Liverpool that secured the Gunners the title.
“Although we did travel up the day of the game, which was unusual. I was fed up with going up there the night before and being bombarded with, ‘What are you doing up here? You’re not going to get anything – you might as well turn around and go home again.’
“I thought, ‘I have got to cut that out.’ Even before the game, there is such negativity and it gets to you – and nobody expected us to win that day at Anfield anyway. So you do need a plan.”
Some inspirational whiteboard doodles from the Spaniard and a separate demonstration that ended with a number of different electrical cords illuminating a light-bulb were also featured in the documentary. And Graham – for all his association with a more old-fashioned era – is a big fan.
“Why do you think Guardiola kept him so close for so long at Manchester City?” Graham said. “Thinking differently is what marks out the very best managers. He clearly has a lot of ideas. At the same time, a lot of Pep will have gone into the way Arteta manages – he likes a lot of possession and they are really good to watch. He just needs to work a little bit more on what his team does out of possession, but they are a long way towards getting there.
“If they just had Harry Kane up front there would be no question. Eddie Nketiah is doing a good job but he is not quite there yet. They are sharing the goals out among themselves but
it is always nice to have a top striker.”
Kane will of course be lining up against Arsenal on Sunday, looking to hand out a similar lesson to the one Tottenham delivered against their neighbours in one of the final days of last season. This season, though, Graham feels things will be different – not just this weekend but for the first time in 19 years.
“I think they will edge it at the weekend… and they will hold on to win the league in May,” the man who masterminded title wins in 1989 and 1991 said. It is going to be tough – and that’s the way it should be. The Premier League now is as tough as it ever has been.
“What will it take? You can talk all day about having confidence and experience. But in truth the only thing they need to close it out is more points by the end of May than anybody else!”
Meanwhile, Antonio Conte has to be persuaded to stay on as Tottenham boss if another of George Graham’s former clubs is going to win anything again any time soon. Due to his Arsenal connections, Graham was never a popular figure at White Hart Lane, where he held the reins from 1998 until 2001.
But he did at least deliver the trophy-starved club the 1999 Worthington Cup at Wembley. “Have they won a trophy since I was there?” he joked. “Maybe one! So occasionally they win something. But I am sure they would like to win a lot more. That is why Conte is the right man to be in charge. It has been too long.
“But Conte is up there among the best coaches in England at the moment and I think he is doing a good job. The trouble is that if he does not think he will be more successful he will not be there for very long.”
The Italian’s mood does not appear to have been helped by a run of just three wins in the last eight Premier League matches which has seen Spurs drop out of the Champions League places even. Nevertheless, Graham remains convinced he is the right person to revive the club’s fortunes.
“Conte still knows more about that winning mentality than anybody and if anybody can get that through to the Tottenham players, it is him.
“If he were to stick around for another couple of years, I am sure Tottenham will win something.”