PAUL MERSON knows a ruthless winner when he sees one — and he likes what Mikel Arteta is doing at Arsenal.
It was 36 years ago when Merson became the beneficiary of George Graham’s Highbury clear-out of an underachieving dressing room.
And now the ex-forward can see history repeating itself at the club he helped to five major trophies in a 12-year Gunners career.
With Arsenal now back on top of the Prem after a perfect start to the season, Merson said: “I was very impressed with the way Arteta handled Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
“He took a massive chance with a player who was a huge influence in the dressing room and it’s worked. You have to make a statement when you’re a new manager.
“George Graham did it many years ago when he came to Arsenal and got rid of Charlie Nicholas, Tony Woodcock, Graham Rix, Viv Anderson and Steve Williams.
“Top internationals, the lot of them, but they weren’t going to listen to some bloke who’d just arrived from Millwall and wanted to rule with a rod of iron.
“So George went ‘out you all go and I’ll build my team around hungry young kids who will run around and listen to what I have to say’.
“We wouldn’t have won the league without George, but he wouldn’t have won it without guys like myself, Michael Thomas, David Rocastle, Tony Adams and Paul Davis.
“And fair play to Arteta, that’s exactly what he’s doing now.
“For as good as Aubameyang was, the young players were going to start listening to him and Arteta didn’t want that.
“Because as soon as you have one player who doubts you, your job becomes so much harder.”
Yet Sky Sports pundit Merson is refusing to get carried away with Arsenal’s flying start and said: “Tomorrow’s game at Manchester United will be the acid test.
“The fixtures so far have been kind and they’ve only beaten teams they should have done.
“But by winning five in a row they can go to Old Trafford and a draw would be a decent result.
“Because if you keep beating the lesser teams and not losing to the big boys, which is what Liverpool did last season, then you’re going to be in with a shout.
“But Arsenal are still a million miles behind Manchester City, so it’s important that people don’t get ahead of themselves and talk about being title contenders.
“They have to stay realistic and finishing in the top four this season would be a major feat.
“Arteta isn’t yet an elite manager like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte but he’s only been in the job for three years.
“I’ve been impressed with the way Arteta and Edu have gone about their transfer business.
“They identified the areas that needed improving and signed the players they needed.
“To bring players of the calibre of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko to a club that isn’t in the Champions League speaks volumes for the manager.
“They haven’t just bought players for the sake of it, which has probably been the case at Manchester United.
“It’s all been a bit gung-ho at United. But if you buy players like Antony and Casemiro for big money and they don’t work, that will make or break Ten Hag.”
Merson still remembers the days when United v Arsenal was the biggest match of the season and was part of the 1990 Battle of Old Trafford, which resulted in Arsenal being docked two points by the FA and United one.
He recalled: “Everyone but David Seaman got involved but no one was punching each other. It was just a lot of pushing and shoving but it was still a massive deal at the time.
“United weren’t even our rivals for the title at that time but it was still special to beat them.
“I even played in the game when Michael Knighton was juggling the ball on the pitch and saying he will buy United.
“But it turned out even I had more money than him… and I’d blown all my cash at the bookies!
“United versus Arsenal isn’t about winning the title anymore, it’s about the top four and it’s vital that Arsenal don’t lose because we’ll all be talking about them being flat-track bullies.
“As long as Martin Odegaard is fit, I think they’ll get a result. I look at him and wonder how Real Madrid let him go.
“When you look at the money Prem teams have spent this summer, the £30million Arsenal paid for Odegaard was a cup of tea.”
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