In his latest column, Paul Merson reflects on why Arsenal were still able to bring Tottenham to fourth place, the troubles at Manchester United and gives his verdict on the Premier League title race…
I didn’t believe Spurs would be nailed for fourth place
I still feel that Arsenal have a chance. Arsenal have yet to go to Chelsea and Tottenham have yet to meet Liverpool, which will be a different game. With Chelsea beating Southampton last weekend, it kind of confirms their place in the top four.
What I would say is that Arsenal’s players are at their peak. They play as best they can and there isn’t much left in the locker. They had a day against Brighton where they dropped from that level and they were beaten.
If you take out some players who are very influential on that team and things aren’t great. The squad isn’t big and Mikel Arteta pretty much always picks the same players and against Brighton they came across a team that had nothing to play for and had a freestyle.
I had a feeling it was going to be a dodgy game. Brighton didn’t play well, but you felt it was going to be a great football game. Arsenal couldn’t get their full squad out and it became a bit of a struggle. Kieran Tierney is a huge player and Thomas Partey has become more and more influential.
I still feel like Arsenal are in it because Tottenham still has a Tottenham in them. I don’t mean that in a terrible way, but they still have a Tottenham in them. They drove everyone crazy, but they could have blown away against Aston Villa in the first half.
Villa should have been out of sight and they only need to have one of those days in the next seven weeks. The 4-0 victory over Villa covered the cracks. They did great things, don’t get me wrong, but in the first half Hugo Lloris had to make save after save. So I’m still not convinced by Tottenham.
The top four is still very important for Arsenal.
Should Arsenal have kept Aubameyang?
We’re all smart after the event, so there’s no point looking back. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored 10 goals in 14 appearances for Barcelona, but La Liga is not a great competition. Football is open and it is free flowing in Spain and he was a bad influence at Arsenal at the time.
What Piers Morgan said is typical of someone not involved in a football club.
Arteta had to make a phone call where if he kept him there and he was negatively impacting the other players, nobody said if Aubameyang should be there three or four weeks ago. Suddenly we hear that Aubameyang should not have been sold.
You have to look at the future of the club and the younger players. They all respected Aubameyang and he was a bad influence at the time. The manager made the right decision.
Arsenal couldn’t bring another player to that club while Aubameyang was there with £350,000 a week. Anyone would have wanted that wage. I didn’t hear from Piers Morgan three weeks ago when they played as the Harlem Globetrotters.
The reason Arsenal have lost their way lately is because they’ve knocked out a few players and had bad days. They lost at Crystal Palace, but I saw Chelsea and Man City go there recently and struggle. Chelsea were lucky to win there.
In retrospect it’s easy to say things, but you have to think about the future of the club. There are a lot of young children there and you would be surprised how much they follow the example of an older player.
Ten Hag works in a competition with two teams
I mentioned Saturday’s result against Everton. I told everyone that Manchester United would lose that game. There was no question of Everton losing. There is talk of a new manager, but those United players are not running around for a new manager.
It’s been a mess from the day Ralf Rangnick entered the club. I’m not saying it’s his fault, but United had to bring in their permanent manager immediately after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking. This is Manchester United. It’s stop-start.
If it is Erik ten Hag who gets the job, he is someone who has worked in a two-team competition for many years. He has never worked in this league before and he has never really worked with great footballers. He has been to places where he motivates players to take big steps.
He’s worked with hungry footballers, while United’s players are already at the top. If you look at the Eredivisie, Dusan Tadic is the best player there. I’m not saying he’s not a good player, but where would he be in the top 50 of the Premier League?
I haven’t seen anyone else fall to get a hold of him when he was at Southampton just to put the two leagues in perspective. Ten Hag may be a good coach, but he has worked with players who have been told that if they work hard they will make their big step into the Premier League.
These Manchester United players are at the biggest club in the world, but judging by how they performed, you’d think they were teething. You have fans who go to every away game, and you have players who just shrug and want to get the season out of the way.
They are still in with a shout out to finish in the top four, but they were absolutely atrocious. For me, this is what United deserve after hiring an interim manager. Rangnick came in with a reputation, but he has worked with lower players.
He has worked in the Bundesliga where the mentality was to challenge players to make a bigger move. It is the same with Ten Hag. He comes in and works with players who are already there, players who are making £150,000 a week by the age of 22. How do you get them going?
They know they are already a million miles away from Liverpool and Man City. I wouldn’t take that job in a million years. Why would you? for what? None of the United players would make it onto the City team and most would struggle to even make the bench.
United need Rashford more than Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo is now 37. What happens at United will drive him against the wall. He’s been one of the best players of all time, but he can’t do what he used to do now. This competition is brutal, it’s too hard. I’m not going to say, “I told you so,” but I saw this happen.
He fired Solskjaer, it’s that simple. They broke the record for the longest series of away games without defeat and played a certain way. Rangnick lashed out at Marcus Rashford at Everton when he was United’s best player because he didn’t want a repeat of what had happened at Brentford earlier in the season.
I was at that game and it was embarrassing. He shouldn’t have to justify his decision as he is the manager. At Ronaldo’s age you can’t play every game. United need Rashford more than Ronaldo in the future.
Last week they had Edinson Cavani next to Ronaldo up front. It has to stop sooner rather than later or this club will spiral out of control as the biggest in the world. At this rate, they won’t be around for much longer.
I would be shocked if Man City don’t win the title
It’s not over yet, because you never know, but I would be shocked if Man City didn’t win the Premier League from this position. It would be a big shock because I think they are too good. Both they and Liverpool are great teams and I can’t see anything but City getting the wins they need. I don’t see them losing a point.
There is no doubt that Liverpool have even tougher games. It would be a different game if City had Liverpool’s games. Manchester United at Anfield isn’t the hardest game in the world, but surely they show up for that?
They still have to play Tottenham at home, who are fighting for the Champions League, while you watch Manchester City and their next two games are just an advantage – Brighton and Watford at home. I see nothing but City winning the league.
It was in the hands of Liverpool on Sunday, but it is now out of their hands. Once it’s out of their hands, it’s a different game. Jurgen Klopp didn’t win the FA Cup, which is odd, so that’s at stake this weekend and to be fair they’ve done very little wrong.
They were excellent, but they ran into an incredible team at the same time. If it weren’t for this City team, Liverpool would win everything. Sports is about timing.
It’s been talked about whether this is a big rivalry or not, but you don’t have to beat people up to be a big rival. We saw that in the way Kevin De Bruyne reacted to Virgil van Dijk’s downing.
Sometimes when you’ve seen players staring at each other in the past, what do they do? It’s just a front up. You don’t have to stand there and stare at people to have rivalry.