It only lasted a matter of seconds.
As Leandro Trossard’s shot deflected beyond Alisson to seal Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Liverpool, manager Mikel Arteta tore down the touchline, arms outstretched.
He pivoted and sprinted back towards his bench, high-fiving fans as he yelled what has become his and Arsenal’s battle cry: “Vamoooooooos!”
And yet those brief moments have become the most talked about of the afternoon. Not Trossard’s impudent skill to create the chance, nor the comical defensive errors from either side. In a match which included bookings for dissent and time-wasting, the real scourge of the game has been discovered to be… celebrating.
Criticism of Arteta seems to ignore quite how high the stakes were for his team. Lose, and they were out of the title race. In winning, they managed to keep their dream alive. What you saw was a man experiencing considerable relief.
In such a high-pressure role, managers are always going to be prone to explosions of emotion. In May last year, Roberto De Zerbi marked Brighton & Hove Albion’s 3-0 win over Arsenal with a knee-slide along the Emirates turf. Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp was once charged by the FA after sprinting onto the field to hug one of his players after a late winner against Everton.
So why is the reaction to Arteta particularly pronounced?
This question has come up before. Why is it that, when he joins the clamour of managers complaining about the standard of officiating, it attracts so much attention? Why is it that when he leaves his technical area, it’s such a heinous crime? Why is it that when he celebrates a huge win over a title rival, it’s something to be criticised?
It’s partly explained by the position Arsenal occupy within the landscape of English football. They are a very big club, who’ve not won the very biggest prizes for some time. Consequently, they make for quite a soft target — and the size and vociferous nature of their fanbase creates a cycle of outrage, a backlash to the backlash. Having a dig at Arsenal does good numbers.
But there’s more to it than that. Some of the outcry feels very Arteta-specific. The 41-year-old manager doesn’t appear to be particularly popular outside of Arsenal. Something about him rubs people up the wrong way.
Arteta has never been inclined to treat his career like a popularity contest. He has a relentless focus on the job at hand. He was the same as a player: an intense character, not always the easiest to get along with — but universally respected.
He has been similarly zealous in the pursuit of his coaching career. He doesn’t court the media. Occasionally it can feel as if he approaches press conferences with the same steely-eyed focus as a matchday: keep it tight, give nothing away, emphasise the core principles.
Some may find it difficult to reconcile that stiff persona with those exuberant displays of emotion on the touchline. But context is everything: when Arteta is at the Emirates Stadium, he is at home. He is among the fans he calls “our people.”
He asks the supporters to feel the game, to live every moment. It’s only natural that he should do the same. His energy has invigorated a once-sleepy stadium.
There is no doubting the sincerity of Arteta’s determination to restore Arsenal to greatness. His approach has inspired great devotion among the club’s fans — and, more importantly, among the players. That is Arteta’s clear priority.
There are those who suggest a surfeit of emotion will ultimately topple Arsenal. Equally, there are others arguing that the surge of emotion created by Klopp’s impending exit could propel Liverpool to the title. Neither position seems particularly rational. Either Arsenal or Liverpool winning the league would surely prompt a more emotional response than Manchester City adding to their bulging trophy cabinet. Isn’t that what the neutral should want?
And there’s a simple solution to all this: win.
The difference between Arteta, Klopp and Pep Guardiola is not so much in their demeanour, but in their track records. Arteta is still the upstart pushing for legitimacy. If he succeeds in winning either the Premier League or Champions League, the narrative will change, and his idiosyncrasies will be embraced as virtues. The foibles currently under attack will be applauded as part of the package that make him a ‘winner’.
Then we will see what a real celebration looks like.
(Top photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)