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Arsenal’s long run sets an example for Manchester United as Ten Hag inherits Old Trafford mess

Sunday’s Premier League clash at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Arsenal is a game that in years past would have had important ramifications in the title race.

United and Arsenal spent most of the 2000s battling for honors in the early years of Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. It was box office stuff.

This pair of legends have since quit and both clubs have stuttered accordingly, with title glory now moving beyond the realm of expectation as teams focus instead on securing a top four finish and Champions League football.

In the 2022-23 season, neither will be in Europe’s elite competition, with Arsenal in the midst of a five-year Champions League drought and United finishing sixth last season – the fifth time in nine seasons outside of the first four.

Mikel Arteta and Erik ten Hag are the men tasked with improving that record at their respective clubs, with the Gunners holding firm despite the struggles of the start of last season and United turning to the former Ajax boss ahead of the news. country.

In modern football, unlike the times of Ferguson and Wenger, it is not just management that has a direct influence on proceedings, with executives within the club hierarchy having a say in transfer market activity .

Both clubs fell into market disarray following the departure of their long-time managers, with Arsenal making costly mistakes in Nicolas Pepe and United spending nearly a billion on a range of signings in the post-Ferguson era.

Under Edu’s watch, Arsenal now appear to be moving forward with a clear plan alongside Arteta, showing a ruthless drive over the past few years to oust many high-earning players from the squad – creating room for rookies like Gabriel Jesus.

In the three seasons since Edu has been in charge of transfer business, following the departure of Raul Sanllehi, the Gunners have allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil, Willian and Shkodran Mustafi to leave the club by canceling their contracts .

Following these bold moves, Arsenal did not easily seek out similar replacements, instead freeing up space in what was seen as a bloated wage bill.

Along with this, Arsenal have made a conservative effort in the transfer market to create a team that can be successful for years to come, especially over the past two seasons.

Since the 2021-22 campaign, Arsenal’s only signing over the age of 25 is the capture of goalkeeper Matt Turner in the current window – a player who bills as the understudy for first-choice stopper Aaron Ramsdale and a substitute of Bernd Leno, who joined Fulham.

Edu appears to have learned the lessons from 2020-21, his first season at the helm, where five of the six rookies were over 25 – Thomas Partey, Pablo Mari, Alex Runarsson, Willian and Cedric Soares.

At United, the overall look of the recruitment campaign paints a very different picture. Over the past two seasons, five of nine rookies have been in the 25-or-older category; Raphael Varane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tom Heaton, Casemiro and Christian Eriksen. In the previous season, Alex Telles and Edinson Cavani fall into this category.

It is also worth identifying the sums paid for players of this ilk, with Arsenal’s deal for Turner potentially up to £7.5million if add-ons are met, a figure which is dwarfed by the reported spend of United.

Since the 2021-22 transfer window, United have reportedly spent over £100million on deals to land Varane, Ronaldo and Casemiro – with add-ons in those deals which could lead to further cost increases.

While Ronaldo was able to repay his costs with 18 Premier League goals last season, he pushed for an exit in the current window due to a desire to play in the Champions League but, in Varane’s case, United have splashed more money on Lisandro Martinez despite already having Varane and Harry Maguire in the squad.

United’s questionable approach to the market has also come under scrutiny amid deals reportedly considered but not completed, including apparent intentions to sign Marko Arnautovic and Adrien Rabiot in the current window, then target Ajax’s Antony and land a whopping £86m deal.

Time will tell if Arsenal’s approach is successful, but the club seem to have all their major elements heading in the right direction, while at United it’s hard to pinpoint the exact plan.

Sunday’s result may give the winning team bragging rights, but in the long-term battle, there seems to be only one winner.


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