While Arsenal are in scintillating form, the same cannot be said of Manchester United as they face off on Saturday in what looms as a mouth-watering Premier League encounter. The match at Old Trafford pits great rivals Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger against each other once more. The focus as usual will be heavily on both managers, but for once Wenger must surely believe he has the upper hand going into a clash with his old adversary. And Mourinho must alter his approach for United to be any chance.
It is common knowledge that, bar a victory in the community shield in August 2015, Wenger has never beaten Mourinho in a competitive match. And even that was technically a friendly. Yet things are now very different for both managers. With Mourinho at a new club and struggling to come to terms with life in Manchester. And Wenger aiming to win himself a new contract, thus prolonging a seemingly endless reign at Arsenal. Though each have the ultimate goal of winning the Premier League, only one of the two seems to have a realistic opportunity this season at least.
Perhaps the key to the future success or otherwise for both men lies in their approach to managing individual players. And in that sense they could not be more different. It may also explain in part why they clash so heavily from a personality perspective. Though both have achieved incredibly during their decorated managerial careers, their philosophies could not be further misaligned.
Wenger simply refuses to go down, he has proven adaptable and shown a willingness at least in recent times to reinvent, continue to progress and do just enough to hold on to his job. In fact, it appears he has done this more effectively in the last few months. Though it is still relatively early days, calls from fans for his head seem to finally be lessening. Whilst it may yet only be to the point of quiet resignation that Wenger will indeed go on, this will change if he wins the Premier League. Then surely most supporters will be satiated for another season or two at least. From afar it looks as though Wenger has restored the faith of a squad that has bonded both amongst themselves and with their manager. They are a settled unit, and Wenger has managed to engage his players in a way that is in sync with modern mentalities.
Mourinho meanwhile appears to be at the crossroads in his managerial career. So much so that he could do worse than take a leaf out of Wenger’s book. His ostracising of players and apparent aloofness to some and closeness to others must be harming team morale, at least to some extent. It cannot help to foster a working environment that is beneficial to the squad as a whole. There is a time and a place for singling out individuals, and doing so in front of a media throng when you are not across all of the facts is dangerous territory to head into. His public treatment of the likes of Schweinsteiger and Mkhitaryan, and latterly Smalling and Shaw, perhaps says more about his own mindset than it does those individual players. It is not uncommon for a manager to distance himself from players that are not in their future plans. But there appears limited method or reasoning to how Mourinho has done so. And by also singling out those he still very much needs, it relays a confusing message throughout the squad. To behave in such a way during the early tenure of the highest profile job one could aspire for simply begs the question as to whether the formerly special one really has the desire to continue in management.
Whilst only 6 points separate Arsenal in 4th from United in 6th, form on the pitch suggests that gap could soon be greater. Arsenal look as though they are going to threaten, as they often do, but there may well be more to their title push this season than previously. Their main threat is greater competition from the likes of City, Liverpool and Chelsea. United though are still suffering from the problems of the Van Gaal era, and even the top 4 looks a challenge at this point. As we’ve seen with Chelsea, it can all turn around in either direction very quickly. But Mourinho in his current state does not seem capable of turning this squad, filled with holes as it is, into title contenders.
To get the three points on Saturday, Mourinho needs to adjust his own attitude. He also needs more consistency from his team; to be gone with the highs and lows in performance that are reflective of the manager’s brooding attitude. We’ve seen a huge variance in performances from United this season, and even at Old Trafford it will take their very best to overcome an excellent, in-form Arsenal. A return to the way his side played against Leicester City will give United some hope. And if Mourinho can take a leaf out of his enemy Wenger’s playbook, that hope may just gradually increase both on Saturday and through the course the season.