There was a time when Manchester United and Arsenal were the dominant forces in the Premier League. Under the tenures of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, the two clubs enjoyed one of the fiercest rivalries in the history of the game.
However, both teams have since fallen into a decline that has seen the Red Devils cycle through managers with regularity with the potential of another on the way should their patience with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s rebuild run out. Arsenal’s fall from grace under Wenger was sad to see, and his successor Unai Emery was unable to oversee an improvement before being sacked four months into his second season.
After being the pacesetters for so long, they are now both looking up at Liverpool and Manchester City, who are achieving levels of greatness at the top of the table that not even Arsenal and Manchester United were able to muster.
The Arsenal Invincibles’ record from the 2003/04 campaign of being the only team in Premier League history to remain unbeaten throughout a season remains intact for now. But at the time of writing, Liverpool are unbeaten and are looking imperious in a potential march towards the crown.
Even at this stage of the season, the Reds are backed in the football betting odds as the 1/4 favourites to win the division for the first time in 30 years. Manchester United and Arsenal aren’t even in the picture and are battling to remain in the top six, never mind the Champions League places.
How have the two teams fallen so far away from competing for the title?
Both sides have recruited poorly over the last decade, failing to find the calibre of players that can not only provide quality but also have the character to thrive under pressure of big matches.
Mesut Ozil has typified Arsenal’s problems finding the right player to cope with the burden. He has all the talent in the world with incredible attributes in the final third. Ozil is paid like one of the best players in the league, but time and again he does not contribute in big games. The other great issue has been signing defenders.
Almost every move in the backline since Kolo Toure left the club has resulted in disaster. Among the current strugglers, Shkodran Mustafi has been an atrocious signing, while Sokratis Papastathopoulos has not been a great deal either.
The Gunners are so far removed from their teams that dominated the Premier League in the early days of Wenger when Tony Adams and Martin Keown held down the line before Sol Campbell matched those same levels of excellence.
Manchester United have endured the same problems with their transfer policy, failing to add the calibre of players that made them successful during their glorious run under Ferguson. Paul Pogba is their own version of Ozil, with the Frenchman seemingly having all the attributes to light up the Premier League, although more often than not he flatters to deceive.
There seems to have been some recognition from the top levels that their transfer policy is not sustainable. The club have gone back to their roots of fielding their academy players as well as signing solid England internationals – notably Harry Maguire. Whether Manchester United are able to see it through under Solskjaer remains to be seen.
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It will be a long road back to the top for both the teams and unless they have significant changes in fortunes soon on the pitch, it looks as though it won’t be anytime soon.