And that’s why you don’t get carried away with league title talk when you haven’t seriously challenged for one since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. I was worried Manchester United players, fans and ex-players-turned-pundits were getting way ahead of themselves after last week’s surprising and stirring victory over Manchester City. Sure enough, after blowing a late lead against Crystal Palace in midweek and then losing to league-leading Arsenal in the 90th minute, United aren’t looking like a title threat anymore.
Still, there are plenty of silver linings to take from Arsenal 3-2 Man Utd:
- By this time last year, we were on our third manager and had more or less clinched our fifth consecutive trophyless season. We were well out of contention for the league title, had been eliminated in the 3rd round of the League Cup, and were a few weeks away from getting dumped out of the FA Cup and the Champions League. This year, we have a good chance at winning the League Cup and a Top Four spot. Most fans would have taken that in a heartbeat before the season.
- United went to Emirates Stadium and nearly took a point off the hottest team in the league. And they did it without Casemiro, arguably their most important player. If he hadn’t picked up a needless yellow card in the dying minutes of the previous match, maybe he might have made a difference.
- Marcus Rashford continued his fine form, scoring a Cristiano Ronaldo-esque goal against the run of play in the first half.
- Wout Weghorst has shown a knack for link-up play and the ability to make well-timed runs into the box. In both of his matches for the club thus far, his runs have freed up Bruno Fernandes to score against Palace and Rashford for his strike against Arsenal. He hasn’t come close to scoring, though. Hopefully, that will change once he gets up to speed.
- United got a much needed wake up call regarding Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s limitations. The right back had seemingly resurrected his United career with some excellent performances since the World Cup restart. He even helped save a point against Palace with a trademark last-ditch tackle that only he could have made on a goal-bound Wilfried Zaha in the dying moments of the match. Nevertheless, he got exposed on Sunday as his known vulnerability in the air resulted in Arsenal’s first goal, and his lack of confidence on the ball caused the Gunners to target him with their press, creating multiple turnovers. There’s a reason why Erik ten Hag rarely selected him until Diogo Dalot got injured. And there’s a reason why he’ll probably move on this summer. At least I think so.
So let’s take the good with the bad. Let’s believe in Erik ten Hag and his process and have some patience. United are probably another year or two from mounting a genuine title challenge, so as far as I’m concerned, they’re already ahead of schedule. And hey, no less of an authority as Thierry Henry said he thinks United are back and have the chance to surpass the Ferguson teams as long as they continue to back their manager.
So let’s not mess this up.