Jamie Carragher believes Arsenal’s Premier League match against Manchester United on Sunday only has “title implications” for Mikel Arteta’s side.
The Red Devils have been spectacular in recent months. Wednesday’s draw at Crystal Palace was the first time they failed to win in nine matches.
This form has seen them fly up the table with victory against reigning champions Manchester City on Saturday bringing them within one point of their local rivals.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are top by five points and have a game in hand. Their only league defeat this season came against United at Old Trafford.
The two Premier League juggernauts go head to head at the Emirates on Sunday and Carragher believes the result will say more about the Gunners than Ten Hag’s side.
The Liverpool legend explained how Arsenal have nearly completed their project under Arteta, while United are still at the start of their transition under the ex-Ajax manager.
Carragher wrote in his Telegraph column:
“It has been a long time, but an Arsenal versus Manchester United fixture will have a major influence on the Premier League title race again. For one of the participants, that is.
“Sunday’s outcome will tell us more about Arsenal’s chance of going the distance, not United’s. United are improving, but they are not championship material yet. Erik ten Hag knows that.
“‘The fans may dream but we’re not,’ he said when the gap was recently cut to six points. Ten Hag is not playing mind games. He recognises how far United must go, and it will be more helpful to him if the understandable excitement at how far the team has developed in six months is balanced by realism that it will take longer than a season to create a side capable of lifting the title.
“Ten Hag has done exactly what you would anticipate from a good and competent coach taking over a club of United’s stature. That is not meant to sound like damning with faint praise. There is a lot more to admire about Ten Hag’s work than his immediate predecessors.
“The new manager will see his Old Trafford rebuild in phases. He is still at stage one.
“We are yet to see the Ten Hag blueprint from Ajax, which is all about domination of the ball. United’s best moments this season – the victories over Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City especially – were built on organised defence and counter-attack.
“That is the only way they can hurt Arsenal at the Emirates, too. Ten Hag deserves admiration for seeing that and structuring the side accordingly. He has compromised his footballing vision to get the most out of the squad he has inherited.
“Now Arsenal fit Arteta’s preferred vision of a fast, young, energetic side focused on ball retention, opening up teams when camped in their half as much as when moving through the gears from back to front. Ten Hag will know United are ready for the biggest honours when they have the same swagger.
“To get there. United must prepare for bumps in the road as the transition continues.
“Those predicting a United title so early in Ten Hag’s reign would be wise to remember how two years ago Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were top of the league at the halfway point.
“Ten Hag is an upgrade on Solskjaer. That is already clear. But rewind to January 2021 and it was staggering how few people at United were prepared to accept the reality that they needed a top-level coach.
“Their resources are too vast to keep them down too long and history shows that the combination of the right managerial appointment and just two or three top level players is transformative. With respect, any decent manager spending over £200 million in the transfer window – including a midfielder of Casemiro’s class – is always going to see some sort of improvement.
“At the moment they [Arsenal] are slight favourites because even with 19 games remaining, if they win their game in hand eight points is a big lead. If it extends to 10 or 11 rather than gets cut to six or five, Arsenal will enter ‘it is theirs to lose’ territory, piling the pressure on City to go on one of their long, winning runs to catch-up. Nothing I have seen so far suggests Arsenal will implode.
“It would be brilliant for the Premier League if they last the course, easing fears that Manchester City’s financial power has made the title race predictable. As United look to join the party, they should enjoy their new-found consistency under Ten Hag and allow it continue at his pace.
“Progress comes before title success and the difference between Sunday’s rivals is this: United are still at the start of Ten Hag’s journey to the promised land. Arsenal may be getting closer to the end of Arteta’s.”
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