Sir Alex’ lesson for the Professor

If anyone needed proof that the current Manchester United side is superior to its north London rivals, then Sunday’s 8-2 demolition of Arsenal provided it. Even taking into account the multiple absences in the Gunners’ squad, the result offered a stark demonstration of the gulf in quality between Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad and that of Frenchman Arsène Wenger.

There have, inevitably perhaps, been calls for Wenger’s head from disappointed Arsenal fans who find themselves humiliated by an unthinkable result and disillusioned at a transfer window that has seen the sale of top-quality players with little in the way of replacements. The Gunners’ fans cannot understand how their club has fallen so far from the glory of Wenger’s ‘untouchable’ team of 2003-2004, which went an entire Premier League season undefeated.

For years in the late 1990s and early 2000s Arsenal fans enjoyed a shared dominance of the Premier League with United, which was finally ended in 2005 by the revolutionary spending of Abramovich-backed Chelsea. This event dramatically transformed the Premier League as Chelsea radically raised the bar needed for Premier League success with an end-of-season haul of 95 points.

At the time, this downturn in fortune for both United and Arsenal seemed insurmountable. But it was the managers’ reactions to the setback that has truly set them apart. While Ferguson rose to and overcame the challenge, Wenger floundered and has never recovered.

In the mid 2000s, sensing a danger to his United empire, Ferguson looked to the future, selling established players such as David Beckham, Roy Keane, Tim Howard and Ruud van Nistelrooy and replacing them with younger talent including Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Edwin Van der Sar. These players were to form the backbone of a side that would win four titles between 2006 and 2011.

Furthermore, Ferguson adapted to the European game, developing tactics including a three-man midfield that provided solidity and a fluid attacking unit that rendered Ronaldo, Rooney and Carlos Tevez almost unplayable. This was crucial in reaching three Champions League Finals during the latter part of the decade despite a move away from the rigid 4-4-2 that Ferguson employed to great effect in 1999.

Wenger, on the other hand, was far less successful in adapting to the new challenge posed by Abramovich’s Chelsea. Players such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell and Martin Keown were never satisfactorily replaced and although talented players including Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie helped mount some title challenges, there was always a negative feeling in the Arsenal camp. This led to a repeated and dramatic mid-season collapse in belief, such as that in 2008.

Today, the Premier League is faced with a new challenge – that of Manchester City and the club’s seemingly bottomless pocket. Ferguson has been charged in recent years with some hugely daunting tasks. He has replaced the magnificent Cristiano Ronaldo, along with the ever negative Tevez and has dealt with the retirement of ageing talents: Paul Scholes, Van der Sar and Gary Neville. Players such as Ryan Giggs and even Rio Ferdinand are in the twilight of their careers. At least with United.

Ferguson is, however, a master at creating new teams, keeping the best elements of an old team and merging them with new talent. Once again, he has succeeded in doing this, offering United fans a strong sense of optimism for the future and for the challenge that City will inevitably pose. He has signed young players of great quality such as Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Ashley Young; brought through home-grown talents Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, and has coupled them with the undoubted ability of existing players.

Wenger, on the other hand, has been forced into selling two of his best players – Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Talk of signing 26-year-old striker Park Chu-Young and 28-year-old full-back André Santos will do little to encourage Arsenal fans as they lick their wounds from Sunday’s 8-2 defeat. Once again, it seems, Wenger and his team are failing to adapt whilst Ferguson’s United are facing the challenge head on.

It seems ‘The Professor’ has much to learn if he is to recreate a team to challenge that of his old adversary Sir Alex.

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Comments

  1. bman says

    Can’t believe Arsenal’s transfers, I feel sorry for the club’s supporters. Imagine you’d just been stuffed 8-2 by perhaps your biggest rivals, and the club’s solution before the transfer window closes is to get:
    (a) a good German centre back in his mid-20s
    (b) the late-20s left back for a Turkish club in financial-legal trouble
    (c) a mid-20s Korean striker from a relegated French team who — apparently — has to go join the army in 2 years’ time

    Mertesacker is a solid choice for a team with shockingly bad defenders, but the other two sound like a over-exaggerated satire of Wenger’s transfer strategy.

  2. squigs says

    Foolish to write Wengers epitaph at this point, they were contenders for months last year and gave Barca a better game then anybody last season, players like Wilshire still to come back, they will be ok.

    • Joner says

      You’re right…. but the point Bman is making is true, he just refuses to spend money on proven class players despite all the evidence his team needs rebuilding. The mixture of youth and experience is the key, arsenal have no experience compares to united, players like giggs and Ferdinand will teach the young lads and provide stability in the dressing room.

  3. GFS says

    You forget one simple fact, Arsenal moved to a new stadium costing 325M GBP yet still been in top four & champions league. Pound for pound spent, I don’t think wenger is worse than Fergie. Sure, SAF has spent more on transfers & so his return in trophies should be more.

    • says

      GFS – and you’re forgetting that United has spent more on debt repayment and interest – £430m – in the six years of the Glazer family and seen nothing for it.

  4. The BearMan says

    What Arsenal is desperately in need of is a quality assistant manager who is able to think on his feet, spot dangers on the pitch during a game and feed back to the manager immediately, plus come up with solutions. Again I say, a quality defensive coach and perhaps just perhaps Arsenal can keep up and challenge the Man U’s and Man C’s.

  5. keeming says

    dont feel so sorry for us. any left back is an improvement on what we got.

    not sure about the korean though, and im asian.

  6. Sadiq Ramjee says

    “In the mid 2000s, … Ferguson looked to the future, selling established players such as David Beckham, Roy Keane, Tim Howard and Ruud van Nistelrooy and replacing them with younger talent including Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Edwin Van der Sar.”

    Aside from the obvious point that van der Sar was older and far more experienced than Howard, as well as Howard really establishing himself for only one full season at United, this summary glosses over the fact that Ferguson also made mistakes in the transfer market by trying to sign cheap unproven youngsters just like Wenger, such as Bellion, Djemba-Djemba and Liam Miller, leading to a relatively barren spell for United, culminating in the disastrous elimination from Europe at the group stage in 2005-6.

    The difference between the two managers is that Ferguson was quicker to learn from his mistakes and was willing to spend heavily when needed, whereas Wenger has refused to do so. He could have signed Cristiano Ronaldo and Chris Smalling but did not want to pay what he thought was over the odds, both turned out to be relative bargains. Even Barcelona spend huge amounts despite their uniquely successful production line of wonderkids.

  7. ltel says

    squigs said:
    Foolish to write Wengers epitaph at this point, they were contenders for months last year and gave Barca a better game then anybody last season, players like Wilshire still to come back, they will be ok.

    they have sold 2 of the best midfielders around and their best leftback this summer without replacing them. they are in trouble and wiltshire cant make up for that. liverpool city spurs chelsea are far better sides at the minute

  8. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    There’s a lot of truth in this article, but that 8-2 result is irrelevant in the overall picture, in my opinion.

    What difference would Fabregas and Nasri made?… a lot… and what would the score have been, had Arsenal had those two… playing against a United side missing Rooney and Young, and with a make shift defense…???

    Having said that, there’s no doubt that United have risen to the challenge of Chumpski and the Bitters, better than Arsenal, but I don’t understand why Wenger cops all the blame… sure, he’s the man who’s responsible for the signings and style of play… but Arsenal have a wage structure that severely restricts Wengers ability to compete for the best players…

    Before they moved into the new stadium, Arsenal used to compete for, and field a different class of player… Bergkamp, Vieira, Petit, Henry, Anelka, Overmars…

    I actually think Wenger has done a fantastic job to continually fight in the top 4, and play great football, considering the budget he’s had to work with… in fact, if he had Fergusons’ nose for a good defender, he may well have done even better.

  9. bman says

    I’m not criticising Wenger at all, I think he’s done an ace job at Arsenal. Look at their transfer spending over the past 5-6 years: it’s well in the negative. What’s happening now is just gravity finally catching up, the guy couldn’t keep it up forever.

  10. RobDiabloRobDiablo says

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    There’s a lot of truth in this article, but that 8-2 result is irrelevant in the overall picture, in my opinion.

    What difference would Fabregas and Nasri made?… a lot…

    I agree that the scoreline is irrelevant in trying to assess the current Arsenal squad’s ability to compete, but forget Fabregas and Nasri; the presence of Vermaelen and Sagna in Sunday’s starting eleven would have reduced United’s scoring by at least three goals. Put the suspended Song, Frimpong, and Gervinho on the pitch, and the contest would have been much more even. Arsenal are not as bad as their poor start would indicate, and I fear that United are not as good as their record would lead one to believe. United’s current lineup and formation looks very good against weakened sides who are still willing to attack, but they struggled to win at West Brom, and I believe they will find it difficult to come away with wins against sides like Stoke and Bolton. I’m not sure that United will do all that well against Cheatski, City, and Liverpool.

    I disagree, however, on your assessment of Wenger’s culpability in the Arsenal demise. He will not change and adapt to the new reality: he continues to do the same things and gets the same results. Insanity. Sir Alex has been more adaptable and more fortunate, but I fear that this season could end in tears because he has failed to address the problems in midfield.

    • says

      Rob – Yes. Went into the summer short of two central midfielders. Still two short. When Ando gets injured then what? When sick boy’s bad AIDS comes back? Is Carrick suddenly going to become dynamic? And what if Cleverley loses form as he will inevitably do… not forgetting Giggs might actually drop dead of old age on the pitch.

  11. bman says

    Yes Arsenal’s first 11 would have been a good bit better, but still not that all that impressive. Their first 11 is a good bet for 4th place at best in my opinion, if they had a magic season without injuries or suspensions.

  12. Sidsidney says

    Ed said:
    Rob – Yes. Went into the summer short of two central midfielders. Still two short. When Ando gets injured then what? When sick boy’s bad AIDS comes back? Is Carrick suddenly going to become dynamic? And what if Cleverley loses form as he will inevitably do… not forgetting Giggs might actually drop dead of old age on the pitch.

    That’s why we’re going to sign Sneijder FFS

  13. squigs says

    ltel said:
    they have sold 2 of the best midfielders around and their best leftback this summer without replacing them. they are in trouble and wiltshire cant make up for that. liverpool city spurs chelsea are far better sides at the minute

    They will finish ahead of Tottenham and probably ahead of Liverpool. You can hold me to that as well.

  14. ltel says

    squigs said:
    They will finish ahead of Tottenham and probably ahead of Liverpool. You can hold me to that as well.

    if they dont sign anyone tonight i doubt it.
    arteta is there only hope of a midfielder a the minute,

  15. sheesh says

    Ed said:
    Rob – Yes. Went into the summer short of two central midfielders. Still two short. When Ando gets injured then what? When sick boy’s bad AIDS comes back? Is Carrick suddenly going to become dynamic? And what if Cleverley loses form as he will inevitably do… not forgetting Giggs might actually drop dead of old age on the pitch.

    I shouldn’t laugh but you’re right
    Sick boy

  16. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    squigs said:
    They will finish ahead of Tottenham and probably ahead of Liverpool. You can hold me to that as well.

    Spurs yes, but I think the Verrmin are contenders for 3rd this year, never mind 4th.

  17. squigs says

    I said probably on the Liverpool one, but we will see with Liverpool, I think they are no where near as good as they believe themselves to be.

  18. ltel says

    squigs said:
    I said probably on the Liverpool one, but we will see with Liverpool, I think they are no where near as good as they believe themselves to be.

    liverpool will be dangerous.. made some good signings

  19. NameOnTheTrophy says

    santos mertesacker vermaelen Sagna

    Song wilshere
    arteta
    gervinho arshavin
    Van Persie

    Assuming this is the way they line up and the team gels.. Looks like they’ll be okay for the season..

  20. squigs says

    ltel said:
    liverpool will be dangerous.. made some good signings

    Suarez would be the only one I would really love to see in a United shirt.

  21. neer911 says

    Arsenal shored up half their team on deadline day. Sucks for Liverpool. I can’t for the life of me pick out which of those 2 will finish 4th.

  22. says

    Talk about a revisionist history: I just can’t get my head around your phrase `the ever negative Tevez’. I remember him putting his heart and soul into it whenever he played for us, but then his games became fewer and farther between (and I think he was given a pretty raw deal towards the end of his time with us). His negativity really came into being when he donned the light blue shirt: and now you are reading that backwards in time to cover Ferguson, who did have an outstanding result against Arsenal, but in my view will not win the championship this year, because there are other teams maybe not as good as we are at our lethal best, but who are likely to be more consistent, and less likely to be derailed due to catastrophic injury or loss of form in central midfield, whree we currently have 2 players playing really well together — but that is it! Tow players, essential to the running of the whole show and without either of them we will not be able to perform to the exceptional standard witnessed against Arsenal.

    My only quarrel with Tevez is that he should have got us a second goal that would have put Chelsea out of the contest in the 2008 CL final. But that would have deprived John Terry of his life-defining moment!

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