How Erik ten Hag can learn from Mikel Arteta and Arsenal's comeback to title contention, as Man United sees possibility of missing European football for the first time in a decade


Still facing the possibility of their worst ever Premier League campaign, there are problems aplenty at Manchester United ahead of today’s visit from Arsenal. 

Having kept the faith in Mikel Arteta following back-to-back eighth-placed finishes in the league, the Gunners arrive at Old Trafford today still in the title race with just a few games left in the season. 

Arsenal dropped out of Europe a few years back and used it as a point of reference to reset and bounceback stronger with a side fully built out in Arteta’s image.

Mail Sport looks at what United can learn from Arsenal after they fell outside of the European elite… 

Ten Hag is still unsure what the future holds as pressure continues to mount on the United boss

Arteta has had the backing of the board - even when things got tough

Erik ten Hag (left) has watched Mikel Arteta (right) transform Arsenal in the last few seasons

Arsenal arrive at Old Trafford today and are still in the title race with two games left to play

Arsenal arrive at Old Trafford today and are still in the title race with two games left to play

GET A PLAN AND STICK TO IT

If Ratcliffe and Ineos do end up deciding the grass doesn’t look greener in the managerial market and put their faith in Ten Hag, they really must consider sticking to their guns.

Ultimately Ten Hag isn’t their hire, their man, like Arteta was with the Arsenal board.

But sticking to their beliefs with the manager is fundamental to turning things around at a club as big as Manchester United.

Arteta finished eighth in his first two seasons and while Ten Hag finished third and won a trophy in his inaugural campaign at United, this one has proven to be much trickier and full of insipid performances.

Ten Hag has been blighted by injuries – 64 separate cases of injury or illness have kept a first team player out of a game this season – and he will make the case that United are a totally different entity that are capable of playing in his style when they are fit.

If the new leadership at Old Trafford, including incoming CEO Omar Berrada, really believe that, keeping the faith and trusting the process is of paramount importance.

Ten Hag must be afforded the opportunity to implement his style if the new board back him

Ten Hag must be afforded the opportunity to implement his style if the new board back him

If they go for a candidate like Thomas Tuchel, it is vital that the hierarchy buy into his principles

If they go for a candidate like Thomas Tuchel, it is vital that the hierarchy buy into his principles

DON’T BE SCARED OF BIG NAME DEPARTURES

This is vital – and something Arsenal were not afraid of under Arteta.

The Spaniard wanted to create a youthful, exciting side that was not hamstrung by ego or players not working for the greater good.

Despite being on £350,000-a-week at the Emirates Stadium, Mesut Ozil was quickly ostracised by Arteta and soon discovered he would not be in his plans moving forward.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was stripped of the captaincy before he was run out of town, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexandre Lacazette and David Luiz were other casualties of the Arteta reign.

Even £72million club record signing Nicolas Pepe was deemed surplus to requirements.

Ten Hag has already made some ruthless calls in terms of moving on from United legend Cristiano Ronaldo and standing his ground and running Jadon Sancho out of town after a falling out.

Arteta has made big calls, namely stripping the captaincy from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Arteta has made big calls, namely stripping the captaincy from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Moving on from Casemiro and making the midfield a fitter and younger operation is essential

Moving on from Casemiro and making the midfield a fitter and younger operation is essential

But if United are to keep backing Ten Hag he will need to continue to get ruthless this summer when it comes to trimming the fat off a expensively-assembled squad.

They need to find a new home for Casemiro, while Raphael Varane is set to walk out of the door on a free transfer.

Antony was signed for £86m by Ten Hag but he must have the conviction to cut his losses if the Brazilian’s form does not improve.

It speaks volumes that the three players insiders at United say are ‘off limits’ this summer are all under 22 – Rasmus Hojlund (21), Alejandro Garnacho (19) and Kobbie Mainoo (19).

MAKE REST ADVANTAGE COUNT

This is important if the worst happens and United miss out on European football entirely – which is a distinct possibility now that Chelsea are finishing the season with a flourish.

Once the initial disappointment subsides, United should see it as a real opportunity to take advantage of extra rest and respond in turn with a much-improved league campaign in 2024-25.

Injuries have been one of the biggest flaws with United’s season – take £60m summer recruit Mason Mount as a case-in-point.

Mount’s stop-start season has been beset by injury having arrived as Ten Hag’s No 1 midfield recruit.

Lisandro Martinez, arguably United’s best centre back, has had to watch on from the sidelines for months. Same goes for Luke Shaw, United’s best left back.

When Arsenal missed out on Europe entirely in 2021, former Gunners and Man United striker Robin van Persie made the case for its benefit.

Ten Hag (left) has been hampered by injury, with Lisandro Martinez (right) out for months

Ten Hag (left) has been hampered by injury, with Lisandro Martinez (right) out for months

Sir Jim Ratcliffe (right) and Avram Glazer (left) may see a benefit in continuity with Ten Hag

Sir Jim Ratcliffe (right) and Avram Glazer (left) may see a benefit in continuity with Ten Hag

Speaking on BT Sport, Van Persie said: ‘From one point of view you can say that it’s maybe better to have extra training sessions to work on the tactics, to work on the fitness, to go another level up which is needed to actually compete at the highest level against the bigger teams.

‘So if you ask me, I would say that it’s better not to qualify for the Europa League and get those extra sessions in.’

Ten Hag hasn’t been able to establish a clear playing identity this season and extra time on the training pitch, coupled with a lesser workload of games, could reap rewards.

BUY FOR FIT, NOT FOR NAME

When Arsenal cleared out the big names and went full steam ahead on a rebuild, Arteta did a very good job of buying players to fit his system.

Declan Rice has transformed the team in the No 6 position, while Arteta hasn’t been shy in continually recruiting goalkeepers, settling on David Raya.

Glamour signings at United like Casemiro and Antony may have looked good from a marketing perspective but both are producing net-negative results on the pitch.

With Ineos’ ‘marginal gains’ approach, and more figures in the building now to assist with recruitment, it is paramount that United draft in players for fit rather than for how many social media impressions their signing will get.

United bought young in Rasmus Hojlund (right) and need to continue to buy the right pieces

United bought young in Rasmus Hojlund (right) and need to continue to buy the right pieces

Mainoo, Garnacho and Hojlund are three pieces of the starting XI puzzle to build around, while Andre Onana will continue as the club’s No 1.

Shaw and Martinez have the left side of the defence locked down, while Bruno Fernandes will continue as captain in the No 10 role of a 4-2-3-1.

But there remains plenty of question marks at the base of midfield, and at centre back and right back.

If United can rid themselves of some of the high earners in the dressing room, recruit cleverly and a touch off the beaten track, the benefit to the greater good could be tenfold.



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