At 4pm on Sunday, one of the classic fixtures in English football will kick off. Arsenal versus Manchester United, a famous contest that has been seen Premier Leagues won and lost over the years. But this weekend will see these two teams play with completely different agendas.
Manchester United snapped up the title on Monday night with a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa. Now, Sir Alex Ferguson is pushing his team to win their remaining games, and reach the magical points tally of 96. A number that would see them take Chelsea’s record of the most points in a Premier League season. Of course, for Fergie, it’s all about winning records after United’s 20th league title.
Down south in London, it’s all so different. Arsenal are in a desperate fight to qualify for the Champions League next year, and their match against Manchester United is their toughest test left. With Chelsea and Tottenham both scrapping with Arsenal for the top 4, Arsene Wenger will be fully focused on beating his old rivals.
It hasn’t been easy on the Arsenal fans. Once a side capable of going the entire season undefeated, now Arsenal are well short of their title winning past. While Manchester United have remained at the top, the Gunners have fallen down the table and are now struggling to guarantee football in Europe’s elite competition. Something that hasn’t gone unnoticed with the fans. Some supporters, most notably celebrity fan Piers Morgan, have called for Wenger to be sacked, and have reminded fellow followers about the huge gap in quality between themselves and their old nemesis.
So Morgan won’t want to be watching the two teams come out on the Emirates pitch on Sunday. After winning the league on Monday, this will be United’s first outing since guaranteeing the trophy. Which means it falls to the hands of Arsenal to hold the guard of honour. A painful moment for the fans, who will be watching on with more jealousy than respect. It will hurt more when they watch their players stand and applaud as former striker Robin van Persie struts past, with a winners medal to his name in his first season since leaving the Gunners.
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There is a cloud of doubt over how the supporters will respond on Sunday. Some fans will be able to control their disappointment at their side’s drop in quality, but others may not. Their jealousy at United turned to dislike after van Persie’s transfer in the summer, and it could be that some fans boo and make the voices known of how they really feel about Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. But is it United that they should be angry at?
Arsenal are now just a shadow of the side they used to be. Once called The Invincibles, the Gunners currently look like an entirely different club that once were unbeatable The blame for that lies purely on the shoulders of Arsene Wenger and the board. Eight years have past since Arsenal won a trophy, a statistic Gunners fans are sick of hearing. But it can be different with just two, fairly big, changes.
The issue that cripples the club before the season has even started is the board. Chief executive Ivan Gazidis has been very strict with Stan Kroenke’s money. A bit too strict. The chants of Arsenal being a selling club have hurt the Gunners’ loyal supporters, who have watched key players like; Henry, Viera, Toure, Fabregas, Nasri and van Persie all sold to bigger clubs over the years. And it’s fair to say a lot of the players that have been brought in haven’t been able to fill their boots. Cazorla and Arteta have been recent signings that have proved their value, but the club are a long way from having a squad strong enough to fight for the Premier League. United have made some transfer mistakes themselves. Looking back, Sir Alex may regret letting go of Gerard Pique and Paul Pogba. But with a team that has won the league, the Scottish manager won’t be too concerned.
Hindered with his best players being sold in the summer, Arsene Wenger’s job isn’t easy. With the replacements struggling to live up to the club’s former glory, it seems every year Wenger’s squad is going to be falling further and further down the league. But is the Frenchman actually helping his side survive, or is he also costing the club? Soon to start his 17th season with the club, Wenger has suffered nearly every up and down there is at a top-flight club like Arsenal. The only down he hasn’t undergone is missing out on qualifying for the Champions League.
But for a club that have won 13 league titles, 10 FA Cups and 2 League cups, is it really acceptable that Arsenal haven’t won a trophy in 8 years? Wenger hasn’t had the best of squads, but he too is to blame for Arsenal’s fall from grace. The Frenchman has a clear philosophy: to focus on young players whilst having his first team play elegant, precise football. But unfortunately it’s Wenger’s only attitude to football. Often criticised for having his side almost try to pass it into the net, Wenger’s forward style has often won over doubting fans and neutrals.
However, it’s the defence of Arsenal that is forgotten about by Wenger. Long gone are the golden days of Keown and Adams, and in their places have been centre-backs who have always been Wenger’s afterthought. Stewart Robson spent five years at the club as a player and seven years as a summariser for Arsenal TV. But when speaking to The Sun, Robson accused Wenger of ‘not coaching the current players properly, and blocking Steve Bould from working with the defence.’ Robson also went on to slam Wenger’s tactical awareness, in a scathing attack on the manager of his former side.
With claims of Wenger dictating the training, and not allowing Steve Bould to teach the backline how to defend, Wenger is slowly costing his team week in week out. With fans every matchday questioning the defensive performances from their side, Wenger seems oblivious to the supporters’ cries of concern. With his training damaging the team, before Gazidis and Kroenke then go on to sell their best players, it’s only a matter of time before Arsenal crumble under their current set-up. With a squad sizably weaker than their rivals’ Chelsea and Tottenham, the Gunners would have done well to qualify for the Champions League this year. But without change, they may not be so lucky next season.
So before the fans start to disrespect the guard of honour for Manchester United on Sunday, maybe they should listen to some of their fellow supporters’ criticism of the board and manager. You can’t override the owners, but when your manager is damaging your club like that, maybe it’s time for change. It’s never a nice thing to say, but Piers Morgan might actually be talking some sense.
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