guns blazing | 

Paul McGrath: Arsenal’s loyalty to Mikel Arteta is now reaping the rewards

Spaniard’s young guns are playing without fear

Arsenal's Bukayo Saka (left) celebrates with manager Mikel Arteta following victory over Tottenham. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire.© PA

Gabriel Magalhaes of Arsenal challenges Marcus Rashford of Manchester United at Old Trafford. Photo: by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images© Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Manchester United's Casemiro is shown a yellow card by referee John Brooks against Palace, resulting in a suspension which will rules him out of today's game. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.© PA

Paul McGrathSunday World

If Arsenal can can beat Manchester United today, they will be hard to stop in the Premier League title race.

That is not a sentence I expected to be writing when this season started, as I was not alone in believing Manchester City would win the league with plenty to spare.

That theory has already been banished – and even though Arsenal are only playing their 19th game out of 38 today, this feels like it could be a pivotal afternoon.

Everyone has been expecting Mikel Arteta’s Gunners to stumble over the last few months, but they keep coming up with the right answers – and this is why I’m starting to believe they can finish this season as champions.

Pressure will be ramped up as the season develops, and Arsenal’s young players still have plenty of questions to answer before they get their hands on the prize.

Yet their performances this season have been a joy to behold – and when I look at them winning matches like the North London derby at Spurs last weekend, it’s clear that they are playing without fear.

When talented young players grasp an opportunity and don’t think about the possibility of failure, anything is possible.

Well, that’s what we are seeing from Arsenal this season, with Arteta doing a great job of pulling it all together.

Plenty of experts doubted Arteta when Arsenal blew their chance of a top-four finish in the final few games of last season.

Yet the people who matter at his club had faith in the work he was doing – and the rewards coming their way for that loyalty are there for all to see now.

Gabriel Magalhaes of Arsenal challenges Marcus Rashford of Manchester United at Old Trafford. Photo: by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images© Arsenal FC via Getty Images

It’s evident that Arteta has based his coaching philosophy around his former boss Pep Guardiola’s methods – and, at the moment, he is getting everything right.

Sometimes, it can be risky for a manager to put his faith in young players, as two or three defeats in the modern game can be the end if you are at one of the top clubs. We are seeing the pressure Graham Potter is under at Chelsea, and he has only been in the job a few weeks.

That was the position Arteta has found himself in on a few occasions since he took over as Arsenal manager, but he has ridden out a few storms, and now appears to be heading towards success.

Credit should also go to the Arsenal board, as they stuck with Arteta when he needed their backing – and the buzz around Arsenal now confirms they made the right choice to stick with the Spaniard.

Erik ten Hag needed that kind of support after a horrible start to his time as the Manchester United manager – and, like Arteta, he has got rid of players he didn’t want and is now thriving.

Changing manager on a regular basis is rarely the solution to a problem – and the two teams we will see doing battle today are evidence of that.

United are the only side to beat Arsenal in the Premier League this season, and that may be in the minds of both sets of player ahead of today’s rematch.

What we can say is that Arsenal and Manchester United are in a very different place compared to where they were when they met at Old Trafford in early September.

Back then, United were trying to recover from a terrible start to the season and Arsenal were surprise Premier League pacesetters.

Manchester United's Casemiro is shown a yellow card by referee John Brooks against Palace, resulting in a suspension which will rules him out of today's game. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.© PA

Now both sides have confirmed they deserve to be part of the story at the top of the table – and I can’t wait to see how this game unfolds.

Arsenal are a young and vibrant team who are playing with a drive that appears to be unstoppable, with Bukayo Saka catching the eye, time and again, this season.

Then you look at United and I’ve been thrilled to see Marcus Rashford returning to form.

He is a player I would have hated to faced as he can leave you for dead in a few strides, and now his confidence is back in abundance.

Arteta and Ten Hag deserve so much credit for getting the best out of the players at their disposal, and that’s why this game should be a cracker. We may also get an answer to one of the big questions in my mind over Arsenal’s title credentials.

The Gunners have not had too many setbacks so far this season, so it will be interesting to see how they react if they fall behind against United.

Staying positive when things are going your way is a lot easier than trying to bounce back from adversity and they may face that today.

The suspension of Casemiro is a big blow for United as he has had a positive impact on their midfield, but this is a team playing with confidence now.

Ten Hag has them moving in the right direction and they may be one of the few teams that can ruffle Arsenal’s feathers right now.

Young players can buckle when you least expect it at times and United will give Arsenal a severe test this afternoon.

PEP CALL ON EGOS CAN PUSH CITY BACK ON TRACK

Manchester City are back in action this afternoon and the comments from manager Pep Guardiola will be ringing the ears of his players when they take on Wolves.

Pep didn’t hold back when he said his players “lacked the stomach to fight” after they came from behind to beat Tottenham on Thursday night. Now he will be expecting a response – and I’m sure that’s why he went public with those comments.

Guardiola knows City are still a great side and when he said they won’t win anything this season, unless his players display more fight, this was an attempt to rattle some egos in his dressing room.

I’d expect City to go out and give Wolves a beating today, and their two matches against Arsenal could decide the Premier League title.

As City showed in their demolition of Chelsea in the FA Cup earlier this month, they are more than capable of tearing teams apart when they are at their best.

Maintaining those incredibly high standards is tough and maybe Pep can see a slight dip in his team that he is keen to erase quickly.

Writing off this great manager and his brilliant team is a fools game and I won’t be doing that with Manchester City.


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