Arsenal – Manchester United Looks like giants meeting again | football

theOften carefully and you may hear the sound of stirring up the old rivalry. On Sunday, it is unlikely that there will be pizza in the Emirates Stadium tunnel, and even if you miss a penalty, the chances of a rambunctious match between taker and foul seem remote. But Arsenal and Manchester United meet amid a distinct feeling that things are changing: In recent years, any excitement around this match has relied squarely on its lore, but it is, at long last, taking on a life of its own again.

This isn’t a title showdown: any suggestion that the race for pole position might develop into a shootout between these two rivals has been vigorously refuted by the midweek comeback at Selhurst Park and Etihad. Even if United win, they will be within five points of Arsenal having played a game more. However, the bigger picture is that they finally pose a threat to each other in the business end again, and not just for fifth or sixth place.

Anticipation can maintain itself. Arsenal are the best team in the Premier League this season and they will win it unless they drop in form and Manchester City rediscover the flames Pep Guardiola believes they have lost. They meet a United side who have won nine of their past 10 games and feel ahead of schedule under Erik ten Hag. A return to the Champions League would be enough for most players at Old Trafford but United are third, almost stalking their domestic rivals and anyone knows momentum is an intoxicating drug.

Mikel Arteta will be able to appreciate the difference. His first win as Arsenal manager came in this game, on New Year’s Day 2020: Nicolas Pepe and Sokratis Papastathopoulos scored the goals against United’s poor goal, and while Arsenal played well, that fact alone is enough to highlight what has changed. It was an arduous process but Arteta, with the support of a patient council who knew he had to make a change in culture and quality, seemed well prepared to complete the task.

Arsenal finished the season eighth. United came in third place, but lost by 15 points from second place and 33 from Liverpool, the defending champions. Whoever won their competition, it was nothing like the weightlifting that routinely sent ripples through the sport two decades ago. Celebrating short-term superiority over a fading fellow power leads to only limited fulfillment.

Manchester United coach Erik ten Hag.
Mikel Arteta has described the rapid turnaround in Manchester United’s fortunes under Erik ten Hag as “really impressive”. Photo: Oli Scarfe/AFP/Getty Images

It has taken Arteta three years to effect what appears close to a complete transformation. His feat will surely fit that definition once Arsenal start winning major trophies again. Tin Hag deserves credit too, for catapulting United into a competitive level so soon after joining a club that has lost direction and spirit.

“Really impressive,” Arteta said of his teammate’s performance. “He turned things around very quickly. He implemented very clear gameplay. The players seem to have bought into it, there is a good energy around the place and a lot has changed in a short period of time.”

Clarity and consistency is what Arteta has paid off with the right staff. The most difficult moment for many coaches is when their players cross the white line: despite all their warnings, and Arteta isn’t slow with those, the controls quickly disappear. These days, however, Arteta can trust his team will perform to a certain standard regardless of the outcome; He knows what he’s getting into and that reliability, more than anything else, sets the stage for a successful title tilt.

Arsenal's Martin Keown attacks Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy for missing a penalty during a match in September 2003.
Arsenal’s Martin Keown attacks Manchester United’s Ruud van Nistelrooy over a missed penalty during the 2003 match, the golden age of the two teams’ matches. Photo: Sean Bottrell/Getty Images

The feeling is United don’t quite have it yet, although Ten Hag has made a crucial transition into a side that can win through graft as well as individual moments. A costly late concession against Palace was the kind of meltdown Arsenal feigned last season. They didn’t show much sign of anything similar this time around and still showed two paces ahead of the weekend opposition.

Of the Arsenal side that won in 2020, only Granit Xhaka will remain on Sunday; Five of the players who fell flat for United in that time will start for Ten Hag, assuming Fred replaces the suspended Casemiro, in a statistic that at once pays homage to his form from a previously mixed group and suggests the rebuilding is just beginning.

Arsenal’s transformation continued on Friday with the arrival of Leandro Trossard from Brighton. Center back Jakub Kuyor, who plays for Spezia in Serie A, should follow shortly. Trossard knows how to deliver a killing blow to United: he scored the latest goal in a 4-0 win over The Seagulls in May, four weeks after he burrowed through Arsenal’s defense in north London. Arsenal were hoping that Mykhailo Modric would switch for them but perhaps, in sifting through the substitutes, they have come across a new hero in this match.

The joy for both sides at the moment is that there are so many candidates for the role, whether it’s Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, Martin Odegaard or Christian Eriksen standing tall. “I have to lift my players up, make sure they can and still have something in their belly to try and beat Manchester United,” Arteta said. It’s been a long time coming, but this clash of giants is looking delicious again.

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