Arsenal and Chelsea will contest Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley – led out by two of the new generation of managers.
Gunners’ boss Mikel Arteta, who will be 38 years 128 days on the day of the final, and Chelsea counterpart Frank Lampard, at 42 years 42 days, are the two youngest Premier League bosses.
And both have a major trophy in their sights at the end of the first season at their respective clubs, in the surreal surroundings of the first behind-closed-doors FA Cup final.
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Impressive game management and intelligence has already characterised both men.
Both have shown the tactical flexibility and swift learning to even outmanoeuvre their mentors and two managerial masters this season.
Arteta learned from a heavy 3-0 loss at Manchester City to turn the tables on Pep Guardiola, the manager he left behind to take over at Arsenal in December, to reach Saturday’s showpiece with an outstanding 2-0 win at Wembley.
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Pat Nevin, who has observed both managers closely as a BBC pundit, said: “I like to be surprised by a manager.
“Frank has done surprising things such as out-thinking Jose Mourinho home and away, going for a 3-4-3 against Spurs in December which Chelsea hadn’t used since Antonio Conte.
“A game that jumped out was when they went down 3-0 at Sheffield United. It may not have worked but he tried an incredible amount of changes in that game. He is courageous tactically.”
Arteta, who is winning plaudits with Arsenal’s intense, attacking style, has also impressed Nevin.
Nevin said: “He has a brilliant player in Kieran Tierney and he has worked out he has got a left centre-half who can play left-back or left wing-back.
“And of course we have David Luiz. I saw him have the stinker of all stinkers at Manchester City in that first game after the break and yet Arteta kept faith, delivered the system that suits him best and we have seen how good he can be.
“He needs to have two players either side of him, exactly what Antonio Conte did when he brought him back to Chelsea and they won the title, and you saw what he can do in that semi-final.”
‘Superb man management’
Arsenal’s two landmark performances under Arteta have been victories inside four days against Premier League champions Liverpool and then the FA Cup semi-final triumph.
They were wins based on qualities Arsenal’s critics have always accused them of lacking – grit, character and a fearless they-shall-not pass defensive resilience. They were fully committed for their manager.
Arsenal had 31% possession against Liverpool and 35% against Manchester City.
Liverpool are regarded as the benchmark for work-rate and immense physical commitment and yet Arteta’s side out-ran them 112.1km to 108.1km.
Nevin added: “Arteta has got into the heads of these players. You can see the way they work for him. You don’t win games like that unless you are fighting for the shirt.”
And at the heart of it all is the much-lampooned Luiz, who was the outstanding player against Man City at Wembley to set up Saturday’s final.
Nevin said: “There were a few saying he would never play for Arsenal again after that City game but Arteta found a way he could fit in and didn’t just give up on him.”
He is equally impressed with Lampard, saying: “Frank’s man-management has been brilliant. Olivier Giroud did not start for a long time and there was talk he would leave. He is suddenly playing, in great nick and desperate to do well for the team, same with Marcos Alonso.
“When Pedro leaves Chelsea it will be with a smile on his face because Frank was utterly straight with him, which is what players respect, even if some may not like it. If you are straight, players will fight for you.”
Managerial duo with a ruthless edge
Neither Arteta or Lampard would have had the careers they enjoyed without possessing steel and a ruthless streak.
It has been in evidence at Arsenal and Chelsea.
Arteta’s refusal to pander to the whims of Mesut Ozil saw him excluded from a list of nine substitutes for the FA Cup semi-final while Matteo Guendouzi’s Arsenal career looks over (or at least in need of unlikely resurrection) after his ill-disciplined display during and after the late loss to Brighton.
Lampard’s cold steel has been shown in his handling of £71m goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who was dropped for Chelsea’s crucial final game of the season against Wolves.
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Kepa may have been the safer choice but Lampard’s cold-headed decision-making reaped the reward with a 2-0 win and that all-important top four place.
It is also another sign that the FA Cup final will be contested by two of the new managerial generation who show signs of being around for the long haul.
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