Manchester United must follow in Arsenal’s footsteps for success

As the whistle blew during the 98th minute of play in early October, the atmosphere of Old Trafford was electric. Moments earlier, substitute Scott McTominay managed to grab two stoppage-time goals to wrest all three points from Brentford.

McTominay’s short, but impressive, cameo saved Manchester United and Erik Ten Hag from going into the international break with a losing record. The Scottish international’s last-gasp heroics may have drastically altered the mood of the Manchester side during the international break and United has managed to cobble together a string of underwhelming victories against Sheffield United and FC Copenhagen. Still, they faced an entirely different sort of challenge last weekend in the Manchester Derby.

The 3-0 trouncing United received from their local rivals will put coach Erik ten Hag’s job in the most tenuous of positions since he took over last year. The situation got even worse as the Red Devils lost by the same score at home to Newcastle in the EFL Cup. From his team selection to a shift to tepid pragmatism, United and the Dutchman look lost.

Fortunately for Manchester United and its supporters, they only have to look at Arsenal’s recent resurgence for instruction on how to dig themselves out of their hole.

Return to form: a guideline

Arsenal and longtime manager Arsène Wenger only parted ways as recently as 2018, but the Frenchman’s era feels as if it is in the distant past. The very same weekend United struggled to dispatch Brentford, the Gunners defeated the defending champions in a solid 1-0 display. That saw them leapfrogg Manchester City to move to second place behind Tottenham Hotspur. After finishing as runners-up in the title race last season, Arsenal strengthened in the summer window and looks set to be the main challenger for the title this season.

The North London side has spent half the time that United has without their most successful manager, but looks a decade further in the rebuild process. Though the direction of the club was in doubt for much of the Kroenkes ownership – who became majority owners in 2011 – in the years after Wenger, they have been steadfast in their commitment to building a better footballing squad and decisive in the club’s management.

After the quick, failed experiment with Unai Emery, the Kroenkes appointed Mikel Arteta as manager. Since the beginning of Arteta’s stewardship, he and footballing director Edu Gaspar have been entrusted to make the decisions regarding the style of play and the composition of the 25-man squad.

Neither Arteta nor Edu, despite both playing under Wenger, proved to be too sentimental in player selection. Former youth players Theo Walcott and Héctor Bellerín were shown the exit. Superstars Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng and Mesut Özil rode the bench while Arteta favoured others. Moreover, former record transfer Nicolas Pépé, had his contract terminated earlier this year.

Arteta was allowed to shape the team in the image he desired. Even more crucially, after positive results did not immediately follow, he was granted patience by the club’s owners. In 2020, the Spaniard’s side claimed two points during a seven-game run in the Premier League and his future as manager seemed in doubt. When other owners have shown themselves to be quick to sack, the Kroenkes displayed a surprising amount of restraint. Since then, even though his tenure has not been without some disappointment, the Gunners have been on an upward trajectory ever since.

Uncertainty of the future

United’s owners, the Glazers, have not shied away from using the club’s deep pockets when shelling out for transfer. So far, they have seemingly been tolerant of ten Hag’s disciplining of Jadon Sancho. However, it remains to be seen how forgiving they will be if United’s current run of form continues.

To further complicate matters, United’s footballing concerns may soon be at the discretion of Sir Jim Ratcliffe as INEOS have offered a bid for a minority stake in the club. With all the uncertainty off the pitch, United could stand to benefit from some long-term stability in the manager’s box.

Ten Hag, like Arsenal’s Arteta, must be trusted to clear the house of expensive transfers like Danny van de Beek and Sancho – if they are not in his plans – and given the patience required to establish his vision. If not, Manchester United risks having to scrap it all in the bin and start over again.

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