One of the certainties of the beautiful game of football is its unwavering cycle of evolution. Having attained unprecedented success with two of the most iconic and longest-serving managers, Arsenal and Manchester United once again find themselves in the same competitive state albeit significantly different from the unrivalled rivalry the two clubs created for half a dozen years from the late 90s to the early part of the new millennium.
Reclaiming the fierce competitive edge
Following the exit of their legendary gaffers, a sizeable chunk of the fortunes of the Gunners and Red Devils appears to have been lost in transit en route the destination mapped out by the stakeholders of both clubs, as they seek to restore the glory days that spectacularly generated several landmarks in English football.
Apparently the competitive hostility between the two clubs could best be described with the bad blood between Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane, who both happened to be captains of their respective teams at the time. Such prodigious ego of both was displayed on a number of occasions on and off the pitch, without any intention to call a truce. However, all that seems to have been confined to history, as what was an intense (although healthy) animosity led by the two skippers has only evolved into a far lesser degree of vocal and assured leadership. Following the confirmation of Granit Xhaka as Arsenal’s new captain, it is widely perceived that both players are not exactly fan favourites, but more importantly the significant drop in the mentality that fans of both clubs became accustomed to during the peak years of Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Having taken a gamble on David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho since the departure of Sir Alex in 2013, Manchester United decided to head into the direction of managerial selection within the United family which brought forth the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last December. Interestingly, the club opted to restore the history of British/homegrown recruitment that immensely contributed to the club’s serial success over the years and this was evident in the last summer transfer window, following the acquisition of British trio, Daniel James, Aaron Wan Bissaka and Harry Maguire, with the latter two regarded as largely responsible for the immediate improvement in the backline.
Opposing areas of strength
Conversely, while the red devils spent a little shy of £150 million to bolster their defence last summer, Arsenal made clear, their ambitious intentions by forking out £72 million on Nicolas Pepe from Lille to complement the two previous record signings in Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Indeed, the two extremes of the areas of strengths of both teams have already been evident in the six-weeks-old 2019/2020 Premier League campaign.
Fortunately, these two distinct areas of strength will be put to test when both sides clash at Old Trafford on Monday as the visitors seek to address a woeful record at Old Trafford that stretches to 13 years, having last tasted victory on that ground in 2006, courtesy of a late Emmanuel Adebayor strike.
The significance of United “finding their fit”
While Arsenal head into the game with an almost fit bunch, United’s preparation for the clash has been severely hampered by a number of players labelled as doubts for the pivotal fixture, thereby putting a dent to showcasing a satisfying identity that was my on show in their 4-0 Premier League opener win over fellow top-four rivals, Chelsea. Thus, as has been widely claimed, this represents a massive opportunity for Arsenal not only to finally get one over their fierce rivals, but it also presents a genuine chance to finally settle on a sustainable system especially against a top-six opposition, provided it matches the classy performance that earned the team a 2-0 win over Manchester City at the Etihad back in 2015.
Similarly, with Manchester United opting to stick with the British core policy as a means of smoothly undergoing the post-Ferguson transition, Arsenal have maintained the “francophone” brand that yielded unprecedented success in the Wenger years, with the purchase of the likes of Matteo Guendouzi, William Saliba and Nicolas Pepe joining Arsene’s last two big-money signings who also share a French Ligue 1 background.
Furthermore, for United, the quest to return to Fergie-branded success as soon as possible has left them in trapped and expensive cycles of misfortune in the last six years. The perfect illustration for this came in the 2014/15 season when the United manager at the time, Louis Van Gaal was backed with the big money acquisitions of Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw.
However, a cycle as costly as that could not be sustained and following several other attempts to restore United to a team filled with prodigiously established quality, the Old Trafford hierarchy have finally returned to their youth roots, giving rise to the emergence of players such as Marcus Rashford, Scott Mctominay and more recently Mason Greenwood, who will be looking to replicate Marcus Rashford’s announcement on the big stage with that significant brace against Arsenal on his Premier League debut.
High risk, high reward youth-based approach
Thus, such high risk and high reward approach on youth investment by Manchester United to help achieve top four success this term equally mirror the approach being adopted at Arsenal, with the heavy involvement of high-ceiling youngsters this season. The trio of Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka have all been on the score sheet as well as registering satisfactory minutes this season; a trend of generous game time opportunity that is expected to last throughout the season.
Unlike fellow Premier League rival Chelsea, who stumbled on the youth reliance approach due to the transfer ban placed on the club, Arsenal and Manchester United have both made conscious efforts to get rid of unwanted established players to create a direct pathway for their talented youngsters to break into the first team. Such ruthless approach has led to the respective exits of Romelu Lukaku, Alex Iwobi, Matteo Darmian, Mohamed Elneny, Alexis Sanchez (loan) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (loan), with both clubs deciding not to replace any of the departed with new signings.
Evidently, it is little wonder that one of the standout performers this season for both clubs happens to be youngsters with Matteo Guendouzi and Scott Mctominay continuously registering confident displays an impressive drive at this stage of the season. Fortunately we get to witness the battle for midfield supremacy when both square up against each other on Monday, and while both are a million miles away from being trusted to lead their respective teams like Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane, the performance of the rising pair may just give a proper indication into how consistently fortune will smile in the favour of both clubs a critical stage of an identity seeking transition process.
Post by @KingHenryTheFif
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