Be careful what you wish for. That was the message going out to Arsenal fans as they voiced their displeasure towards Arsene Wenger during the legendary manager’s final years at the club.
The reason for that message was the decline of Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. David Moyes, then Louis van Gaal, failed to live up to the United icon’s level of success, and now Jose Mourinho is struggling to do so, too.
Be careful what you wish for, Arsenal. This could happen to you, too.
The two sides meet on Wednesday, the first time in the Premier League era that this storied rivalry will feature neither Ferguson nor Wenger on the touchline.
Arsenal are in the first of their post-Wenger seasons and United now in the sixth of the post-Ferguson era, and though Arsenal fans were the ones told to be careful what they wished for, at the moment, there must be plenty of United fans wishing their team were more like the Gunners.
Unai Emery’s side are fourth, unbeaten in 19, having just won a pulsating north London derby. They play thrilling, attacking football, and that has translated into results.
United are seventh, closer to the relegation zone than to the Premier League leaders in terms of points, and have a negative goal difference. That comes after five years which have seen them finish seventh, fifth, sixth and a distant second – 19 points behind winners Man City – their best finish since Ferguson left. And they do more attacking in their comments to the press than on the pitch.
Two weeks ago Jose Mourinho was talking about the top four.— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) December 4, 2018
Now it's the top six 👀 pic.twitter.com/K6NVC6bwdL
There’s no doubt which club is in better shape right now. And it’s all the more obvious given the two teams are realistically competing for the same prize, a top-four finish. United are eight points behind Arsenal at the moment, and the gap looks bigger than that.
Be careful what you wish for? On the contrary, Arsenal fans are loving it at the moment.
There are caveats. When Ferguson left, United were champions, and some sort of drop-off from there in the wake of his departure was inevitable. Arsenal, on the other hand, had their drop-off happen while Wenger remained manager, as he first presided over ten straight trophyless and then the first two finishes outside the top four in his 22-year reign.
When the team finished fifth and sixth in consecutive seasons, the entire point of making a change was to ensure the only way was up. In effect, the downturn that United are experiencing now, Arsenal experienced without changing their manager.
And though both Wenger and Ferguson left it pretty late in their last seasons to announce their decisions to leave – Wenger in April last season, Ferguson even later, in May 2013 – there was a sense that Arsenal were far more prepared for the eventuality.
They didn’t have a situation where the outgoing manager was hand-picking his successor, as Ferguson did with Moyes – a state of affairs that looks just as poor as the Scot’s choice itself. Imagine any top club now letting one man choose the manager, especially a man on his way out of the club.
Instead, Arsenal looked at multiple available candidates, then settled on Emery as their preferred choice. So far, that decision’s looking good.
Both clubs have made their mistakes – Arsenal in letting Wenger choose how long he could carry on, United in letting Ferguson choose his replacement – but as things stand, the north London club has rebounded better.
Be careful what you wish for? Right now, United are wishing they were like Arsenal.
Pep Guardiola hopes Manchester City’s nerve-jangling victory against Watford will serve as a wake-up call to his players.
City extended their lead at the summit of the Premier League with a 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road on Tuesday night, but they were made to fight for the three points after Abdoulaye Doucoure pulled one back for Watford in the closing stages.
The champions had been in complete control of the fixture, but spurned a number of chances to put the victory beyond doubt after Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez scored either side of half-time.
“We spoke in the locker room and we have to learn from what happened in the last 20 to 25 minutes,” said Guardiola.
“That is the lesson. You can never forget to play, until the last second when the referee decides to go home.
“It is a normal process to win something and then to improve, and to improve, you have to live this kind of situation.
“Today we suffered, but we will talk, we will train and we will visualise that if we let the opponents play for five, 10, 15 minutes, everybody can cause us problems and beat us.”
Guardiola made six changes to the City side that beat Bournemouth on Saturday, with Raheem Sterling dropping to the bench.
But even without their top scorer, the table-toppers created a host of chances in the opening period, only to find Ben Foster in inspired fine form.
Sane finally broke the deadlock five minutes before half-time with Mahrez side-footing home shortly after the interval.
Captain Vincent Kompany was withdrawn with cramp in the final minutes before Doucoure bundled the ball over the line to ensure a nervy end for Guardiola’s team.
City however, hung on to move five points clear of Liverpool, who face Burnley on Wednesday.
Their victory was played out against the backdrop of off-the-pitch allegations that they have flouted Financial Fair Play rules, but Guardiola insisted on Tuesday night he will welcome any investigation.
“I trust in my club and my organisation and if something is wrong, they will tell us,” he added.
Watford meanwhile, have now lost four of their last five matches, but boss Javi Gracia was proud of his side’s performance.
“City dominated the game and created a lot of chances, but in the last minutes we had some chances and I am very proud of the effort of my players,” he said.
“I know it is very difficult to compete against this team. They find the space, they are really dangerous and if you lose one second of concentration, you know what will happen.
“We didn’t do enough to get a good result, but it is good for us because we showed the spirit until the end and the supporters will be proud of our players.”
Unai Emery has challenged Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to maintain the hot streak which has turned him into the Premier League’s hottest property.
Aubameyang scored a brace in Arsenal’s 4-2 victory against Tottenham to become the first player to reach double figures in the league this season.
The Gabon international has an impressive hit rate, netting with 10 of his 13 shots on target, and averaging one goal every 104 minutes.
He is set to spearhead Arsenal’s attack when they head to Manchester United on Wednesday, bidding to extend their unbeaten streak to 20 matches, as well as claiming the club’s first Premier League victory at Old Trafford in a dozen years.
“To me, his challenge is that he has the possibility to be the best scorer in the Premier League,” said Emery of the former Borussia Dortmund player. “We want to help him achieve this, because if he is scoring he is helping us.
“It is also important for him that he takes confidence from matches like Tottenham, not only from scoring, but helping with the pressing against them, too.
“It is also the moment to say to him ‘don’t stop’. I want him to continue to improve, and his challenge is collective as well as individual.”
Emmanuel Adebayor scored the winner in Arsenal’s last win at United in September, 2006.
Although the fixture will mark the first time Emery has taken an Arsenal team to Old Trafford, it will be his second as a manager, following Valencia’s 1-1 draw against Sir Alex Ferguson’s United in the group stages of the Champions League eight years ago.
Spaniard Emery has enjoyed a promising start to his Arsenal tenure, and was praised for his half-time double substitution against Tottenham, changing his side’s shape with the introductions of Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey at the interval. Lacazette put Arsenal back ahead, while Ramsey laid on Aubameyang’s second.
Indeed, Emery’s substitutes have been involved in 15 goals this season, four more strikes than any other team.
“It is lucky,” added a jovial Emery. “At Real Sociedad, my coach Javier Irureta said to us ‘when I make a change, it is because I want some change. Maybe it is positive, and maybe it is negative.’
“In other teams I have coached, I have been criticised for making changes very late. So, it depends on the moment, and how the match is going.”