Need to rebuild Arsenal? Look no further than Manchester United
Manchester United v Arsenal, Premier League, Old Trafford, Sunday August 28, 4pm
Given their long and illustrious careers it stands to reason that Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger would sometimes find their fortunes to be greatly contrasting.
But in nearly 15 years of intense and often hostile rivalry, rarely can the balance have been so heavily tipped towards Old Trafford’s knighted Scotsman.
Not even in 1999, when Ferguson’s side landed their historic treble and Arsenal were left empty-handed, were the two clubs’ fortunes so opposite. Arsenal had at least come second in the Premier League, and pushed United all the way in that epic FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park.
Even in 2001, when United completed a hat-trick of league titles, Arsenal were still a side on the up, and one that would go on to reclaim the title, and the Double, the following season.
A decade on, however, and Arsenal head to Old Trafford on Sunday knowing they are entering the back yard of England’s indisputably dominant force.
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With a record 19th title sewn up back in May, there were a few murmurings that Ferguson may decide to call it a day if his side added a third Champions League win in his 25-year stewardship.
Their Wembley dismantling by Barcelona put paid to that notion, not that it was ever that realistic anyway. Ferguson has no thoughts of retirement and is now doing what he does best; building a new United side to dominate another era of English football.
The change is gradual but noticeable. Last season’s retirements included Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar. How would he replace an old guard as garlanded as that trio?
On Monday night, it appeared to be a task already done, although the jury is still very much out on David De Gea, the 20-year-old goalkeeper signed from Atletico Madrid this summer.
But the other summer additions, Phil Jones and Ashley Young, already look like United and England regulars for years to come, while those such as Chris Smalling, Nani and Anderson look ready to blossom.
Ferguson, like Wenger, is not just a buyer of players. He has always nurtured his own young talents at Old Trafford and the golden generation of Scholes, the Nevilles, David Beckham and Nicky Butt that was the cornerstone of their treble-winning side is not a one-off. On Monday night Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck were arguably the two most impressive performers, while Jonny Evans is another who has gradually risen through the ranks.
Many put the current malaise at the Emirates down to a lack of experience and this is undoubtedly where the two clubs differ at the moment. For every young player at Old Trafford there is a veteran campaigner. Smalling and Jones must look up to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, Welbeck to Wayne Rooney, Cleverley to the seemingly ageless constant throughout United’s glory years, Ryan Giggs. It is the perfect blend.
Arsenal will be depleted on Sunday, but against Spurs Ferguson was without Ferdinand and Vidic, and left Javier Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick and Park Ji-Sung on the bench.
Having won 18 and drawn one of their home league games last season, Old Trafford is as fearful a place as ever. Arsenal, in their current state, look highly unlikely to dent that invincible aura.