An Arsenal sans firepower and a disjointed United

What is wrong with Arsenal and Manchester United? The Gunners are struggling to string together five decent results on the trot, while United, despite spending a fair bit of money on transfers, isn’t doing as well as expected with its brand of football rapidly diminishing.

Embattled: Arsene Wenger is largely seen as one responsible for Arsenal’s decline. The ‘Should Wenger Go?’ brigade has now switched their banners to ‘Wenger Should Go.’   -  AFP

No one’s talking about Manchester City anymore in the context of the English Premier League. No one should. The team that famously won the title on the last day of the 2013-14 season has made it a no-contest this time, and there are still seven game-weeks left to play. This then brings me to talk about the others, and I’ll further narrow that down to Arsenal and, in bits, Manchester United.

While Pep Guardiola’s side has made every other team look so ordinary, Arsenal is fighting a completely different battle with itself. The club (with different players, of course) that remarkably went unbeaten in the 2003-04 season, is struggling to string together five decent results on the trot. Incidentally, that was the last time Arsenal laid its hands on the Premier League title.

Arsenal lacks leaders

Much has changed since. Highbury was Arsenal’s home then; now it’s the Emirates Stadium. The club had Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp in the red and white jersey then. Now Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are at the helm. Don’t get me wrong, these are world class players we’re talking about. But leaders? Maybe not. And that is what Arsenal needs the most at the moment.

But for all that has changed since that magical era, the one thing that has remained constant is now being heavily touted as the reason for Arsenal’s decline. Even the ‘Should Wenger Go?’ brigade has now switched their banners to ‘Wenger Should Go.’ It’s no longer a question. It’s not even a plea. It’s a movement.

I have enough and more respect for what the Frenchman has achieved, and more importantly built at Arsenal, to sit and conduct an autopsy to find where he’s getting it all wrong. But the truth is that Arsenal’s problems are beyond tactical. And that is worrying. Something as basic as the body language of the players tells you they aren’t up for the fight.

Alarming tactical decisions

In comparison, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United seems to be getting it a bit wrong with the line-up for certain games. Some of his tactical decisions against Sevilla in the Champions League were alarming. The thing with Mourinho is that has the knack of coming up with the right game plan for big nights, but that skill seems to be wearing thin far too often now. He pulled off a fantastic win against a very strong Liverpool team the weekend before he let an average Sevilla side deal him two blows, as United sat back and watched.

Also, there is a growing feeling that while Mourinho is a good manager of situations, the same cannot be really said about his players. This is the same manager who didn’t make too much of Kevin de Bruyne, Mohammed Salah and Mkhitaryan as players with much to offer. Yes, maybe they didn’t fit in his system, but somewhere down the line I feel that he surely could have used them better.

Alexis Sanchez’s barren form isn’t helping things either and it’s going to take more than just his regular genius for Mourinho to swing things around, and soon. What should worry the United supporters is that the club has spent a fair bit of money on transfers, but its brand of football is rapidly diminishing.

Mourinho needs to adapt

Personally, I feel Mourinho has got to be willing to adapt and step down from being stubborn like he often is. It’s going to be a process, but one that United is willing to go through considering it has given the manager more time on his contract.

Talking about contracts, it’s going to be very interesting to see what the Arsenal board does with Wenger. The Gunners are in the last eight of the Europa Cup, and it would be nice if the team makes one almighty effort to win this for the man, after which Wenger’s decision to walk away should be easier. Then again, will winning the title reinforce his belief that he was doing the right things all the while and have him stay longer?

Running into rough weather: Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has the knack of coming up with the right game plan for big nights, but that skill seems to be wearing thin far too often now.   -  Getty Images

 

Like I said earlier, Arsenal still has the ability to play some very entertaining football. But that will win you games, not championships. The days when Arsenal has to grind results out is when it needs leaders, and that is what the team lacks. You need to have at least four or five Vieiras on the pitch.

All said and done, Arsenal needs an overhaul, most importantly in attitude. Wenger may have overstayed his welcome, but his efforts in shaping the club deserve one last title to go with it.