Arsenal are capable of mounting a challenge for the Premier League top four this season after their 3-1 win over Tottenham in Sunday’s north London derby, according to Paul Merson.
However, Mikel Arteta must keep the XI who started at the Emirates fit for the entire campaign if the Gunners are to stand any chance of making a surprise bid for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Meanwhile, Merson also dissects Harry Kane’s recent struggles in attack for Spurs, before telling us why he is so concerned for the club’s new manager Nuno Espirito Santo.
The former Arsenal and England forward then turns his attentions to Man City’s 1-0 win at Chelsea on Saturday, a display that has brought high praise from the Sky Sports pundit, before he gets stuck into what is going wrong at Old Trafford.
‘If that Arsenal XI stays fit, they can challenge for the top four’
“If Arsenal keep those players fit and they play every week, they would have a chance of getting in the top four and cause problems. They have no Europe this season, so will have time to recover and work on the team.
“But this is Arsenal though and has been since they last won the league in 2004, since when they have never really looked like winning the league.
“The game on Sunday was their bread and butter, but if they win away at Brighton on Saturday, then I will sit up. But if we talk next week and they have lost at the Amex, I would not be shocked. And that is the problem, they need to get a run of games together.
“This is a good XI, but if they get injuries, they are going to struggle as there is not much after that. But from what I’ve seen the last few weeks, fair play to them.
“But how long with Thomas Partey be fit for? How long before Granit Xhaka gets five bookings and misses a game? And then an injury at centre back. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was closing down from the front and setting an example, but where has that been?
“They have set themselves a yardstick now, they’ve put the bar there, now good teams stay at that level. I did not expect them to lose to Tottenham at all, as they have been very fortunate in their results so far.
“Mikel Arteta had a lot of injuries at the start of the season and what I liked about him was he went to Burnley with a very attacking team, under pressure, and he took a chance, got the ball down when they had it and played. And he absolutely produced in that game and they were brilliant when everyone thought they would be bullied.”
‘Kane cannot do it on his own, he’s not a school captain’
“Any forward in the world will tell you he is only as good as the service he gets and he is not getting any service at the moment and who do people look at first when it is not going well? Harry Kane.
“It is a hard one – I feel for him in a way because as a centre forward, you have to get the service, and if not, you are not scoring goals.
“Crystal Palace, no shots and no touches in the opposition box and then on Sunday, he tries hard, runs back and via his enthusiasm, he ends up giving a goal away. But he cannot do it on his own, he is not a school captain.
“It was a London derby, though, you have to turn up for this game, the fans have had enough disappointment over the last few years, so make sure you turn up. But that was the worst I’ve ever seen, it was mind blowing.
“People lose form too and it is hard to keep on producing what he has been on a consistent basis, he has been doing this for five years. There is going to be a dip on the way and he has ended up in a dip at the time he least wanted it.
“But I would be more worried if I was the manager than Kane and I would say he has just lost a bit of form. Kane is the only player I know and have seen for a long time who can be a 4/5 out of 10 one week and the following week get a hat-trick. I’ve never seen anybody as strong-minded as him.
“Who is giving him the ball? Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is sitting in front of the defence, Dele Alli looks a shadow of his former self, Tanguy Ndombele is a runner, he will beat players, but he will not put the ball through the eye of a needle.
“And that is your midfield three, so who is giving him the ball? Heung-min Son is a runner without the ball and then that means Kane has to come short, so who is the provider? No one is putting the ball down the side of the box for him and he is having a shot from 12 yards.
“Last season he was dropping short into midfield and everyone was saying, ‘oh what a player, he can do everything.’ Now they are, ‘what are you doing coming back into midfield, stay up front?’
“Kane would not be coming back if he was playing at Man City, he has no one to give him the ball. So he gets frustrated, he wants to play football, get on the ball and make things happen and if he stays up front, he is not touching the ball.
“And in this day and age where stats dominate everything, he has to come and get involved otherwise people will end up saying, ‘Kane has only touched the ball four times in the game.’
‘One more game like that and Nuno is gone’
“Spurs were playing like that (counterattacking) last season, but no one was in the crowd, so they could get away with it.
“I’ve always liked Nuno and thought he would get a top job, but there are ways of getting beat at football and those players were not running through a brick wall for him on Sunday. And that is where the worry starts…
If the players want someone out, they are out – one more game like that and Nuno is gone, Spurs will not mess about, they can’t have that
“This (the north London derby) is the fans’ game, the be all and end all and it does not matter how good a manager you are, you can be the best manager in the world, but it is all about the players – do not let anyone tell you it is all about the manager.
“If the players want someone out, they are out – one more game like that and Nuno is gone, Spurs will not mess about, they can’t have that.”
‘That’s the best performance I’ve seen in the Premier League for a long time’
“You can be the crème de la crème at football, but if you get people’s heads down and make them play under pressure, it is a different football match. And all it is is great players working hard and they absolutely blitzed Chelsea.
“They closed down, got in their faces, everybody pressed at the right time, no one let each other down and that is probably the best performance I’ve seen in the Premier League for a long, long time as you are talking about a top-drawer team who have been ripping everyone to shreds.
“And City made them look very, very ordinary. But this has to be every week from City, as the week before they never looked like scoring against Southampton and that is why this is the best league in the world.
“So this is a major result for City as if they had lost to Chelsea and then at Liverpool, I thought the league was over for them as I do not see Chelsea and Liverpool losing bundles and bundles of football matches and they would then be under pressure, six or seven points behind Chelsea and Liverpool.”
‘If Tuchel, Klopp or Guardiola were at United, they’d have every chance of winning the league’
“They need to get the right team – you are playing Aston Villa at home, who have not really got going this season, although if you beat them, it is still a good three points.
“But there is no need at Old Trafford to be playing two holding midfielders against Villa. Take the game to Villa straight away, if I’m them, that is telling me they are worried about us.
“I can understand if they were playing City, or Chelsea, but Villa are a midtable team and you are playing two holding midfield players.
“Now Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a very good defender, but he will not get you seven or eight assists a season, so it is not like you are playing two holding midfield players as Liverpool do because you have the two best attacking full backs in the business in Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, with Fabinho as a defensive midfielder.
“The balance is all wrong and I said when Cristiano Ronaldo came he would not be the same player, and did Ole Gunnar Solskjaer really need him? They did everything to sign Jadon Sancho and three games in, he is not playing – would he have played if Ronaldo was not there? So this is the problem and Marcus Rashford is still to come back from injury…
“This is the way I look at it – if Thomas Tuchel, Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola were at Man Utd, they would have every single chance of winning the Premier League, it is as simple as that. But I’ve said from day one they have no chance of winning the Premier League.”