In his latest column, Paul Merson reflects on why Arsenal could still pip Tottenham to fourth spot, the problems at Manchester United and gives his verdict on the Premier League title race…
I haven’t bought into Spurs being nailed on for fourth
I still feel Arsenal have got a chance. Arsenal have got to go to Chelsea and Tottenham have still got to face Liverpool, which will be a different game. With Chelsea beating Southampton last weekend, that’s sort of cemented their top-four place.
What I would say is that the Arsenal players are at their ceiling. They’re playing as well as they can and there isn’t too much more in the locker. They had a day against Brighton where they dropped off that level and they got beaten.
If you take a couple of players out who are very influential in that team and things aren’t great. The squad’s not big and Mikel Arteta virtually picks the same players all the time and against Brighton, they bumped into a team who had nothing to play for and who had a free swing.
I felt it would be a dodgy game. Brighton hadn’t been playing well but you sensed it would be a nice football match. Arsenal couldn’t get their full team out and it became a bit of a struggle. Kieran Tierney is a massive player and Thomas Partey has become increasingly influential.
I still feel Arsenal are in it because Tottenham have still got a Tottenham in them. I don’t mean that in a horrible way, but they still have got a Tottenham in them. Everyone was going mad about them but they could’ve been blown away in the first half against Aston Villa.
Villa should’ve been out of sight and they only have to have one of those days in the next seven weeks. The 4-0 win over Villa covered over the cracks. They did some great stuff, 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 much on for Arsenal.
Should Arsenal have kept Aubameyang?
We’re all clever after the event so there’s absolutely no point looking back. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored 10 goals in 14 appearances for Barcelona but La Liga isn’t a great league. Football is open and it’s free-flowing in Spain and he was a bad influence at the time at Arsenal.
What Piers Morgan said is typical from someone who’s not been involved in a football club.
Arteta had to make a call whereby if he kept him there and he was having a negative impact on the other players, no one mentioned whether Aubameyang should still be there three or four weeks ago. All of a sudden, we’re hearing that Aubameyang shouldn’t have been sold.
You’ve got to look at the future of the club and towards the younger players. They all respected Aubameyang and he was a bad influence at the time. The manager made the right call.
Arsenal would not be able to bring another player into that club while Aubameyang was there on £350,000 a week. Everyone would’ve wanted those wages. I didn’t hear from Piers Morgan three weeks ago when they were playing like the Harlem Globetrotters.
The reason Arsenal have lost their way recently is because they’ve had a couple of players out and have had bad days. They lost at Crystal Palace but I saw Chelsea and Man City recently go there and struggle. Chelsea were very fortunate to win there.
It’s easy to say things in hindsight but you’ve got to think about the future of the club. There’s a lot of young kids there and you’d be surprised how much they follow the example of an older player.
Ten Hag has been working in a two-team league
I called the result on Saturday against Everton. I told everybody that Manchester United would lose that game. There was no way that Everton were losing. There’s talk of a new manager coming in but those United players aren’t running around for a new manager.
It’s been a shambles from the day Ralf Rangnick walked into the club. I’m not saying it’s his fault, but United needed to get their permanent manager in immediately after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked. This is Manchester United. It’s stop-start.
If it is Erik ten Hag who gets the job, he’s someone who has managed in a two-team league for however many years. He’s never worked in this league before and he’s never really worked with massive football players. He’s been at places where he’s motivating players towards getting big moves.
He’s worked with hungry footballers whereas the United players are already at the top. When you look at the Eredivisie, Dusan Tadic is the best player over there. I’m not saying he’s not a good player, but where would he be in the top 50 in the Premier League?
I didn’t see anyone else falling over to get hold of him when he was at Southampton, just to put into perspective the two leagues. Ten Hag might be a good coach, but he’s worked with players who have been told if they work hard they will get their big move to the Premier League.
These Manchester United players are at the biggest club in the world but judging by how they’ve performed, you’d think they were pulling teeth. You’ve got fans who go to every away game, and you’ve got the players who just shrug and want to get the season out of the way.
They’re still in with a shout of finishing in the top four but they’ve been absolutely atrocious. For me, this is what United deserve after bringing in an interim manager. Rangnick came in with a reputation but he’s worked with players lower down.
He’s worked in the Bundesliga where the mentality was also about challenging players to get a bigger move. It’s the same with Ten Hag. He’s going to come in and work with players who are already there, players who at 22 will be on £150,000 a week. How do you get them going?
They know they’re already a million miles away from Liverpool and Man City. I wouldn’t take that job in a million years. Why would you? What for? Not one of the United players would get into the City team and most would struggle to even make the bench.
United need Rashford more than Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo is now 37. What’s happening at United will be driving him up the wall. He’s been one of the greatest players of all time but he can’t now do what he used to. This league is relentless, it’s too hard. I’m not going to say, ‘I told you so’, but I could see this happening.
He got Solskjaer the sack, simple as that. They beat the record for the longest run of away games without a defeat and they played a certain way. Rangnick brought off Marcus Rashford at Everton when he was United’s best player because he didn’t want a repeat of what happened earlier in the season at Brentford.
I was at that game and it was embarrassing. He shouldn’t have to justify his decision as he’s the manager. At Ronaldo’s age, you can’t play every game. United need Rashford more than they need Ronaldo going forward.
The other week, they had Edinson Cavani alongside Ronaldo up front. It needs to stop sooner rather than later, otherwise this club is just going to fizzle out from being the biggest in the world. They won’t be for much longer at this rate.
I’d be shocked if Man City don’t win title
It’s not over as you just never know but I’d be shocked if Man City didn’t win the Premier League from this position. It would be a major shock as I think they’re too good. Both they and Liverpool are amazing teams and I don’t see anything other than City reeling off the wins they need. I don’t see them dropping a point.
There’s no doubt that Liverpool have still got harder fixtures. 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’re going to turn up for that?
They’ve still got to play Tottenham at home, who are fighting for the Champions League whereas you look at Manchester City and their next two games are gimmes – Brighton and Watford at home. I don’t see anything other than City winning the league.
It was in Liverpool’s hands on Sunday but it’s out of their hands now. As soon as it’s out of their hands, it’s a different game. Jurgen Klopp hasn’t won the FA Cup which is strange so that’s on the line this weekend and to be honest they’ve done very little wrong.
They’ve been outstanding but they’ve just bumped into an unbelievable team at the same time. If this City team weren’t around, Liverpool would win everything in sight. Sport is about timing.
There’s been talk about whether this is a great rivalry or not, but you don’t have to beat people up in order to be a great rival. We saw that in the way Kevin De Bruyne reacted to being hacked down by Virgil van Dijk.
Sometimes in the past when you’ve seen players staring each other out, what are they doing? It’s just a front up. You don’t have to stand there and stare people out in order to have a rivalry.