Manchester United are beyond shame, but they are still a danger to Arsenal

It has reached the point where Erik ten Hag no longer knows what to say after evenings like Monday. That’s part of the problem at Manchester United right now. The manager’s approach produces no response and many players no longer listen. That makes a defeat like that 4-0 against Crystal Palace inevitable, while the team is also exposed to the consequences of such humiliations.

It’s even worse because there have been so many now. This was no longer abnormal, even for a club like United. In Ten Hag’s two seasons alone, there have been at least nine matches that have turned into a farce. That’s just a conservative count, too, and it says a lot that one of them wasn’t even a defeat. It’s impossible not to include the recent penalty shootout win over Coventry City in the FA Cup semi-final. That included a three-goal collapse that foreshadowed so much that happened against Palace. Ten Hag’s United are so easy to play through, meaning the Coventry match is clearly on this list.

The humiliations of Ten Hag

  • Brentford 4-0 Manchester United, August 2022

  • Manchester City 6-3 Manchester United, October 2022

  • Liverpool 7-0 Manchester United, March 2023

  • Sevilla 3-0 Manchester United, April 2023

  • Copenhagen 4-3 Manchester United, November 2023

  • Manchester United 0-3 Bournemouth, December 2023

  • Chelsea 4-3 Manchester United, April 2024

  • Manchester United 3-3 Coventry City, April 2024

  • Crystal Palace 4-0 Manchester United, May 2024

Of course, it’s not just about the score, but also about the nature of these games. Therefore, there is even a case to be made for some wins, let alone draws. As for Ten Hag, United played many similar games before his appointment, which highlights the huge structural problems he has faced. This is not just about the Dutch coach. A clearing of the team is of course necessary. Ineos is well aware of this and mainly criticized recruitment in their audit of the club.

It’s just that Ten Hag has visibly made this worse. It is a mess. Even taking into account the many personnel issues faced by Ten Hag, these are exacerbated by the inability to impose a proper tactical system. There is something bigger here than the shame of one bad loss. These are not sudden football implosions. That’s because the team isn’t working well. They are undoubtedly the easiest team in the Premier League, relative to resources, if not outright. So many goals against Coventry and Palace is a direct result of allowing so many shots on target all the time.

Ten Hag's team suffered their heaviest defeat of the season at Selhurst Park, adding to a long list of feelings of shame (Getty Images)

Ten Hag’s team suffered their heaviest defeat of the season at Selhurst Park, adding to a long list of feelings of shame (Getty Images)

Given all this and the way Ineos rates the club, it is difficult to think they will continue with Ten Hag. The ongoing speculation about Gareth Southgate will not go away. Ineos sees him as a top candidate. He has a strong relationship with many of the club’s key figures. However, there are several complications associated with potentially getting Southgate this summer, as he would not be free until England’s Euro 2024 campaign ends. That could be the end of July. But as with Dan Ashworth, Ineos have shown they are willing to wait if it is the right man. They believe that the inconvenience of time should not completely determine such decisions, otherwise it will only postpone the future.

They must be aware of the profit and sustainability rules. That will weigh on virtually all Premier League clubs throughout the summer. It will influence at least some decisions, as it has so far determined why Newcastle United are so adamant about letting Ashworth go. Many in football would chuckle if such concerns did indeed lead to United making the changes they want and need.

It would only add to the chaos surrounding the club at the moment. That’s the broader feeling that comes with such humiliations, and why it feels like a threshold has been crossed. We’ve gone way beyond shame and into comedy.

Unfortunately, there is a more infantile term for that, which Arsenal will be all too familiar with. The scale of the humiliation for United makes it inevitable. It’s the club’s “banter era.” Every time you think it can’t get any worse, it does. So much for the Ralf Rangnick season, which turned out to be a low point. This is that again, but more extreme, as Ten would be the first modern coaching appointment of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe will assess the final weeks of the season for United (PA Wire)Sir Jim Ratcliffe will assess the final weeks of the season for United (PA Wire)

Sir Jim Ratcliffe will assess the final weeks of the season for United (PA Wire)

It is for all these reasons that it is arguably worse than the Arsenal era. Firstly, United are a bigger and richer club with a more distinguished history of success. There was also the fact that Arsenal knew what the problem was. Arsène Wenger stayed too long and several institutional problems had to be solved. Once they figured it out, they fixed everything pretty quickly. Just two and a half years after Mikel Arteta came in, they were ready to challenge for a title. That should offer some hope for Ineos. It can be resolved quite quickly. There’s just so much to fix.

All this brings us to this Sunday, which has huge potential to offer another match on the humiliation list. United are making so many mistakes now that Arsenal should be able to win comfortably if they perform with a degree of competence. Arteta’s team has the ability to destroy United.

However, there is a notable absence from that list, which also goes back much further. After all, extending Ten Hag’s time would see Tottenham Hotspur heading out for the 6-1 win at Old Trafford in 2020. However, Arsenal would not appear. Their record at Old Trafford is so poor because they have won just once in their last 16 league visits there. That also included just five draws. There is clearly an emotional history to this match for Arsenal, and that is the only twist on recent form. The same was true of United’s recent games against Liverpool.

Arsenal must win at Old Trafford to keep pressure on Man City in title race (Getty Images)Arsenal must win at Old Trafford to keep pressure on Man City in title race (Getty Images)

Arsenal must win at Old Trafford to keep pressure on Man City in title race (Getty Images)

Logic suggested that they should be destroyed. Instead, football showed its ability to surprise. Something else happened, even though it’s hard to pinpoint what that something was. This Arsenal now has its own form of being emotionally affected by such encounters. A clear example was the 2-2 draw at Liverpool last season. That was in the heat of the title race and this is even more of an oven. These could well be the five days that determine the title anyway. If Manchester City loses to Fulham on Saturday, Arsenal will have a huge chance. If City win, Arsenal must absolutely do so against United to put maximum pressure on the champions ahead of a Tuesday trip to Tottenham.

There’s so much swirling around. It just says a lot that there has to be a call for some kind of chaos if United are to have any chance. That’s almost the most embarrassing thing of all, but not quite.

As for Arsenal, their own propensity for outbursts appears to have calmed down of late. You only have to look at the reaction to the defeats to Bayern Munich and Aston Villa that were expected to cause last season’s implosion. Instead, they have been the epitome of calm. It was perhaps even their best period of the season, when the Gunners were at their most convincing. Arteta is also responsible for Arsenal’s only league win at Old Trafford since 2006, on his first-ever trip there in 2020.

Arsenal don’t care about that. They just need to focus on the basics here, to perform at a competent level. Manchester United must do the same, but in a very different way, for very different reasons.

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