Home » Manchester United can’t ask Erik ten Hag for too many more miracles

Manchester United can’t ask Erik ten Hag for too many more miracles

by David O'Neill

The Athletic’s Laurie Whitwell has suggested that Manchester United can learn from Arsenal after their 3-2 loss at the Emirates Stadium yesterday.

In his article, he posits that Mikel Arteta is a role model for his transformation of players that had previously been written off, citing Eddie Nketiah as one such player following his brace against the Red Devils.

Whitwell believes that “there is scope for growth in the players to reach the output Arsenal are producing,” and while he does point to Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford as players Erik ten Hag has improved, he curiously stops short before recognising the magnitude of the Dutchman’s impact on players that had been completely written off under previous regimes.

Diogo Dalot has gone from near the top of every United fans ‘must sell’ list to a player who kept Joao Cancelo out of Portugal’s starting line-up at the World Cup.

Fred has gone from an erratic good-one-week-shambolic-the-next starter to a cleverly utilised effective squad member.

Anthony Martial – when fit, however rare an occasion that may be – returned from a terrible loan spell to become a player full of confidence.

Even David de Gea has occasionally looked okay in possession while recapturing some of his excellent shot stopping capabilities.

Moreover, the improvement of Rashford seems somewhat undersold by Whitwell. The England international looked finished last season and is now playing the best football of his career.

Ten Hag even managed to get a good run of games out of Aaron Wan-Bissaka before his old habits reared their ugly heads at the Emirates yesterday.

And that is a large part of the problem with expecting Ten Hag to find internal solutions to problems in the current United squad. While there have been many players with which he has managed to work wonders, some players seem like they simply will never learn.

Wan-Bissaka has been a senior professional fullback for seven years now and still does not know how to defend the back post. There is simply no way that a string of coaches have not picked up on this failing and yet here he is, a 25-year-old Premier League right back who cannot be trusted to guard a post – ever.

Scott McTominay is another player who has shown signs of improvement under Ten Hag, but he too still often fails to make himself available for a pass in possession or track runners out of it. His failure to notice the pressure Luke Shaw was under when Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, and Ben White were overloading United’s left flank helped give Arsenal’s bright young winger the freedom of the pitch.

Certain players can certainly be improved with coaching and certain solutions can be found internally, but at a certain point you have to ask of a number of players: will they ever learn?

Whitwell does cite possible pressure from UEFA’s financial fair play regulations as a factor that may force Ten Hag to look within to solve problems on the pitch, and while that may be a factor, one would hope that the club’s financial situation would be somewhat improved should new investment – or, God willing, new owners – be found.

The speed at which the former Ajax boss has raised the levels at Manchester United cannot be underestimated. Arteta is enjoying plenty of plaudits for his team’s performance this season and rightly so, but Arsenal had to suffer back-to-back 8th place finishes before finishing 5th last season to get to this stage.

United do not look like they will need to spend that amount of time in the wilderness under Erik ten Hag, although there is a limit to the number of miracles one man can be asked to perform.

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