A Mirroring Identity Crisis; Arsenal and Manchester United

The Present Crisis;

Arsenal and Manchester United are in an identity crisis.

A state of confusion in an institution or organization regarding its nature or direction.

I watch Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich for two reasons; first, the football is exciting and free-flowing whilst the second is to reminisce about times when my club had such established structure and order in how we played and brought players in.
Great veterans who know and understand the clubs identity, young players who look excited and honored to play for the club and a manager who represents everything the club is about. Arsenal and Manchester United are trying to get back to who they were. The pressure to perform right now from the fans and shaky transition plans leave much to be desired from both clubs.

Who Are The Present Arsenal and Manchester United?

In the era under Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson both clubs were routinely considered to be amongst Europe’s elite sides in terms of quality of football. The English sides were stacked with technically brilliant players in attack and defense but the integration of youth has been a major factor in their success. Under Mikel Arteta and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, the football quality is very erratic, the squads are stacked with technical marvels but lack leaders like Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira  who’s mentalities lifted their teammates or carried them through tough stretches but to both managers credit they’ve returned to the mentality of bringing through talented young players even if both managers are becoming too reliant on these young talents to come through for the club.

Midfield Dilemma’s

The two clubs lack pure leaders, Granit Xhaka has been the most frustrating example, a tempo dictator who plays without urgency or intensity, your central midfielder’s play mirrors the way the team will perform. The Swiss international is a slow, passive and non- defensively gifted midfielder and Arsenal’s entire team seems to mirror his play.

At United Paul Pogba‘s disinterest has spread across the team and his position in the starting 11 has rightfully been eased out allowing the less technically gifted player in Fred has been tasked with establishing the tone for the midfield and thus United as a whole. Fred isn’t Andres Iniesta, but he works extremely hard for the team and that has a ripple effect across the team. Fred is an engine who can get down and dirty with the best of them and as side, United have evolved into a scrappy team that goes all out for 90 minutes because Fred refuses to seize doing his job. All credit to Fred but if hard work could overcome technical ability Mark Noble would be up there with Diego Maradona. Fred is limited as a creator and scoring option and playing next to Nemanja Matic has left the majority of the midfield’s offensive burden to Bruno Fernandes who is putting up Hall of Fame numbers as a result. Roy Keane did everything Fred is doing now but was actually one of the most technical midfielders of his generation, a born leader and spark plug for many United teams. Patrick Vieira was deceptively athletic for his size, passed with energy and was a defensive stalwart for plenty of great Arsenal sides, Vieira was also an all-time Premier League tempo setter, he passed with urgency but almost never panicked and fed Arsenal’s attack well for almost a whole decade, hopefully Thomas Partey can mirror majority of his attributes while one of the younger midfielders (e.g Matteo Guendouzi) can grow and focus solely on setting the tempo.


The Second Problem – A Lead Defender

I believe this is the longest either club has gone without a lead defender in the back for as long as I’ve been watching football. The Gunners have suffered longer but the Red Devils are in a worse situation, they actually think they have one. Harry Maguire is a great defender but he is a more Scottie Pippen-type great than a Michael Jordan-type great. He would actually thrive next to a Rio Ferdinand or a Virgil Van Dijk defender who will allow him to be the natural risk-taker that he is.

Maguire has had to play both roles at once, he is good at both skills but doesn’t seem to excel at either on the above graph but that’s due to not being able to specialize, if he was to play with an Aymeric Laporte or Van Dijk in a defined system he would be discussed in a much more positive light.


The blueprint has been laid, the long-term options as managers (at least Arteta) have been chosen; all that is left to fix is the issues that appear with personnel.

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