They’ve both axed unruly stars, got their recruitment right and have their teams thriving again… here’s how Mikel Arteta and Erik ten Hag have ruthlessly transformed Arsenal and Manchester United
- Arsenal and Manchester United meet on Sunday in crucial Premier League clash
- Mikel Arteta’s Gunners will be hoping to preserve their advantage at the top
- Erik ten Hag’s United need to win at the Emirates to stay on Arsenal’s tail
Both faced the daunting task of restoring prestigious clubs back to former glories in their first managerial position in English football.
Both have been forced to deal with influential but troublesome stars and emerged stronger.
Both are succeeding where others before them failed – and both are doing it their way.
Mikel Arteta (left) and Erik ten Hag will go head-to-head when Arsenal host Manchester United in a top of the table Premier League clash on Sunday afternoon
Arsenal have re-emerged as a force under Arteta and are leading the Premier League table
Manchester United’s strength is growing again since Ten Hag took over in the summer
Mikel Arteta and Erik ten Hag are breathing fresh life into Arsenal and Manchester United respectively. These two giants of the Premier League scene, with multiple titles between them, are recovering their old strength.
As they go head-to-head once again this Sunday, with Arsenal aiming to strengthen their grip on first place and United eager to keep pace with them, parallels can be drawn between the pair.
Given that Ten Hag has only been in the Old Trafford dug-out six months, it is far easier to take the long view with Arteta, in charge at the Emirates Stadium since December 2019.
But there is definitely a lesson for United – and other clubs – in the patience and backing that Arteta has been afforded to properly rebuild Arsenal into a title-winning force.
In the post-Alex Ferguson era, United have been as guilty as anyone of being trigger happy when it comes to managers. David Moyes got a mere 10 months, Louis van Gaal two years, Jose Mourinho two-and-a-half.
Ten Hag was less than impressed after United conceded a late equaliser at Crystal Palace
United had led through a goal by Bruno Fernandes but they ended up dropping two points
As Arteta has shown, the rewards may not be reaped until three years and multiple transfer windows in but it’s spectacularly good when it happens.
Both endured difficult starts. Ten Hag’s first two games as United boss were a 2-1 home defeat to Brighton and a 4-0 humbling at Brentford so bad he hauled the players in for a 13km punishment run the following day.
Since then, however, United have largely been winning, with just two subsequent league losses and statement wins over Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City.
Arteta inherited an Arsenal team in a mess from Unai Emery. Mid-table and seemingly unable to win, they were in a directionless muddle.
The Spaniard improved things but only gradually. They finished only eighth in that first campaign and it was only really the FA Cup final victory over Chelsea that shored up Arteta’s position.
In mitigation, this was a campaign wrecked by the Covid pandemic, a situation nobody had faced before, let alone a rookie manager.
Arsenal claimed a statement victory by winning 2-0 at Tottenham in the north London derby
A delighted Arteta celebrates with Bukayo Saka after the Gunners beat their rivals on Sunday
Indeed, it was evident Arteta had quickly gained the trust of his squad when he persuaded them to take a 12.5 per cent pay cut to aid the club’s finances – the first Premier League club to do so.
But it isn’t as though Arteta’s magic had an immediate effect. They finished eighth again in 2020-21 without solace in the cups, although they did reach the semi-finals of the Europa League.
And, in all honesty, when Arsenal blew the Champions League position they’d held for much of the 2021-22 campaign – to Tottenham of all teams – many owners would have shown Arteta the door.
You cannot imagine Ten Hag lasting very long at United if they were to finish eighth, eighth and fifth.
Fortunately for Arteta, there were enough positive signs in the manner of Arsenal’s play last season, along with the core of homegrown talent such as Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, to earn him a stay of execution.
Marcus Rashford was among the scorers as United beat Arsenal 3-1 back in September
It remains the only league defeat Mikel Arteta’s side have suffered so far this season
How Arsenal’s fans, revelling in their team sitting five points clear at the top of the table, are grateful he stayed. Good things come to those who wait and Arteta has got the blend of his team just right.
Yes, it has required three summers of substantial investment but the sums lavished on Arteta’s squad are no higher than under Arsene Wenger or Emery.
Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhaes arrived in 2020-21, Ben White, Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale were hefty additions in 2021-22, while the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Fabio Vieira and Oleksandr Zinchenko didn’t come cheap last summer.
Yet they were necessary for Arteta to re-make Arsenal in his own image and Ten Hag, despite being the beneficiary of over £200m in spending in his first summer, could easily point to that example to make the case for continued squad investment.
Gabriel Jesus had proved to be an inspired summer signing for Arsenal before his injury
Casemiro has proved to be an inspired buy for Manchester United, vastly improving their side
Everyone has seen the effectiveness of Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, Lisandro Martinez and Tyrell Malacia for United this season and it shows Ten Hag must be trusted with recruitment.
Just as importantly, both managers have shown the ruthless streak essential to get to the top.
Arteta’s authority was tested when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – the captain and a prolific goalscorer – broke team rules by returning late from an overseas trip.
The manager could have let it slide but it wasn’t the striker’s first offence and Arteta had spoken of certain ‘non-negotiables’ as he tried to restore lost standards at the club.
He took a hard line, stripping Aubameyang of the armband and dropping him from the team. All the while, Arteta was diplomatic about the situation in public, admitting it was a ‘really tough’ decision.
Aubameyang was soon on his way to Barcelona and Arsenal have hardly suffered in his absence. It was a key test passed for the manager, sending a clear message to the rest of the players.
Arteta won his battle of wills with striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang last season
Ten Hag faced arguably an even greater test of his authority just a few months into his reign.
Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the biggest players and personalities in world football, had reacted badly to being dropped from the United team because he didn’t fit in with Ten Hag’s style.
The Portuguese refused to come on and then stormed down the tunnel during United’s win over Tottenham and though Ten Hag attempted reconciliation, Ronaldo made his position untenable when he gave that bombshell interview to Piers Morgan.
He was ushered out the door with the manager’s blessing soon afterwards and United have emerged the stronger without him.
Ten Hag and United emerged stronger for Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure under a cloud
It was a huge first test of Ten Hag’s authority and he passed it with flying colours. United haven’t looked back since and a win on Sunday could make them title challengers.
Both Arteta and Ten Hag have succeeded where others have failed in the unenviable task of restoring old standards to two clubs that had fallen into decline.
You can’t imagine anybody else in charge of Arsenal and Manchester United as the Premier League’s greatest club rivalry flickers back into life.
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