Arsenal's long-termism an example to Manchester United as Ten Hag inherits Old Trafford mess

By Sports Desk September 02, 2022

Sunday's Premier League clash at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Arsenal is a fixture that in years gone by would have had significant ramifications in the title race.

United and Arsenal spent the best part of the noughties fighting it out for honours in the prime years of Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. It was box office stuff.

That pair of legends have since left their posts and both clubs have stuttered as a result, with title glory now beyond the realm of expectation as the sides instead focus on achieving 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 term – the fifth time in nine seasons outside of the top four.

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

In modern football, unlike in the eras of Ferguson and Wenger, it is not just the management who have a direct influence in proceedings, with executives in the club's hierarchy having a major say on transfer market activity.

Both clubs fell into disarray in the market after the departures of their long-serving managers, Arsenal making expensive mistakes in Nicolas Pepe and United spending close to a billion on an array of recruits in the post-Ferguson era.

Under the watch of Edu, Arsenal now appear to be moving forward with a clear plan alongside Arteta, demonstrating a ruthlessness in the past few years to oust numerous high-earning players from the squad – creating room for recruits like Gabriel Jesus.

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

In the wake of those bold decisions, Arsenal have not readily sought like-for-like replacements, instead freeing up room in what was viewed as a bloated wage bill. 

Alongside this, Arsenal have made a conservative effort in the transfer market to create a squad that can be a success for years to come, particularly in the last two seasons.

Since the 2021-22 campaign, Arsenal's only recruit above the age of 25 is the capture of goalkeeper Matt Turner in the current window – a player who stands as the understudy to first-choice stopper Aaron Ramsdale and a replacement for Bernd Leno, who joined Fulham.

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

At United, the overall look of the recruitment drive paints a vastly different picture. In the past two seasons, five of nine recruits fall into the 25 or over category; Raphael Varane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tom Heaton, Casemiro and Christian Eriksen. In the season prior, Alex Telles and Edinson Cavani fall into that category.

It is also worth identifying the sums paid for players of this ilk, with Arsenal's deal for Turner reportedly worth up to £7.5m if add-ons are met, a figure that is dwarfed by United's reported spending.

Since the 2021-22 transfer window, United have reportedly splashed over £100m on the deals to land Varane, Ronaldo and Casemiro – with add-ons in those deals potentially seeing a further rise in costs.

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

United's questionable approach in the market has also come under scrutiny amid deals that were reportedly eyed but not completed, including apparent intentions to sign Marko Arnautovic and Adrien Rabiot in the current window, then setting sights on Ajax's Antony and concluding a whopping £86m deal.

Time will tell whether Arsenal's approach is successful but the club appear to have all their major pieces moving in the right direction, while at United it is a difficult task to put your finger on exactly what the plan is.

Sunday's result may provide bragging rights for the winning team but in the long-term battle, there appears to only be one winner.

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