Lee Dixon: Ferguson knows you must mix innocence and arrogance – why doesn't Wenger?

The Weekend Dossier
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The Independent Football

It is nothing new, but somehow the ability of Sir Alex Ferguson to redesign his team still comes as a surprise.

You look at the Manchester United side that brushed aside Tottenham on Monday and it's as if it had evolved overnight.

That's how it seems from the outside. First came the Da Silva twins, then he signed Chris Smalling, then Phil Jones arrived. In the meantime back come Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley from loan spells – both having picked up a season's worth of experience in the Premier League – they go too and suddenly there's an exciting new team. Of course there is nothing sudden about it and for the coaching set-up at Old Trafford it's the result of careful, long-term planning.

It is what Ferguson has always done so well, the manner in which he integrates young players seamlessly. Every couple of years or so United seem to blossom into a new team. Paul Scholes and Gary Neville have gone, and Ryan Giggs looks like he will be sitting on the bench for much of this campaign, but United already look like the team to beat.

There are similarities between Ferguson and Arsène Wenger in how both like to refresh their sides with young players, and are happy to give those youngsters a go. The difference, and it is a big one, is that Ferguson always keeps that core of experience and that provides the youngsters with a constant reference point. Arsenal have tried to be too youth orientated so the transition is not as smooth – as results have shown.

There is an expectation when you play for Arsenal – as there is at United, Chelsea and other clubs of that status – and the fact that there hasn't been a trophy for six years shows that perhaps the players have not been able to handle it, to knuckle down and get that result when under real pressure. You need to have a certain character of player in the team to do that and Arsenal have lacked that sort of mental strength.

The win in midweek against Udinese was encouraging, but the pressure is still there. In the past you would have been confident – and I say this as a former Arsenal man rather than a detached pundit – that they would play "for the Cannon". We always used to say that we were The Arsenal – that capital T meant something. It looks like it did in Italy and they will need more of the same at Old Trafford tomorrow afternoon. But, and there always seems to be a but with Arsenal at the moment, I am not convinced they have enough of that spirit. Is there enough character in the team? That is an area where somebody like Gary Cahill may have a role to play.

You can't overestimate the power of the dressing room, before, during and after the game. Look around the Manchester United dressing room and there are people like Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand. There are dressing rooms you come out of half a goal up already. Is that bordering on arrogance? No, it is an arrogance. I have been there and know how it feels – I'm not in the Arsenal dressing room now but I don't see it clearly on the pitch with this side. You sit in the dressing room, look round and think I can count on him, him, him and on the list goes. It is what Ferguson has got so right over the years – having that as a constant while also managing to filter in ready-made replacements. He can freshen up his sides without losing any of that arrogance and authority that belongs to United teams whenever they run out on to the pitch.

There is something else that Ferguson, and United, are good at; keeping a link with the club's past, a sense of continuity. Bobby Charlton is there, Bryan Robson is there as an ambassador, while Paul Scholes is also still around. There is less of that at Arsenal – and this is certainly not me pitching for a job! – with only Steve Bould looking after the reserve team. That continuity within a club matters – it applies to any business really, you don't want to see all that talent and experience walk out the door. Manchester City didn't hesitate to give Patrick Vieira a role off the field when he retired.

You look at United's squad now – and David Gill has said there will be no more additions in this transfer window – and over the period of the season they definitely still appear the team the others will have to catch. There you are admiring Welbeck against Spurs and on comes Javier Hernandez, fresh and flying after a nice long rest, as Dimitar Berbatov sits and watches from the sidelines without having to take his tracksuit off.

Arsenal's bench couldn't compete with Liverpool's last weekend let alone United. I am one of Wenger's biggest fans and the Champions League win does give him a bit of leeway that he deserves, but Arsène must strengthen the squad. His side showed their spirit on Wednesday and he has some extraordinarily talented players, but this is a massive few days for him and his club.

Five Asides

1. No disrespect to Bolton, but it is time for Cahill to move to a bigger club

It is time for Gary Cahill to move on to one of the top-level clubs, whether it's with Arsenal or whoever, if he really is to prove himself. With absolutely no disrespect to Bolton – and I know their fans will moan when I say this – it is so different dealing with the expectation that comes from playing for a club like Arsenal week after week than turning out for his current side. The list of players who have arrived at Old Trafford or the Emirates (and Highbury before that) and failed runs into the hundreds. Judging on what I've seen with Bolton and England, Cahill clearly has the ability – and he would be a good recruit for Arsenal as they desperately need another centre-half – but a move to the Emirates would test him mentally on a more regular basis.

2. Tough task? Only for City's opponents

There are two ways of looking at Manchester City's debut in the Champions League draw. You could say that in drawing Bayern Munich, Villarreal and Napoli they have been given a tough task. But on the other hand what do you think Bayern, Villarreal and Napoli will be thinking about being drawn with City? They are the ones who have got it tough.

3. My holiday turned into a TV break

I've spent the last few days on holiday down in Cornwall. The house's Sky dish had gone on holiday, too, and the internet connection wasn't working either, so it was back to papers and the radio to get any news. There was actually something refreshing about doing it the old-fashioned way.

4. I'm looking forward to hearing from Sir Alex

It's a big night for Match of the Day 2 tomorrow. Alan Hansen will be gracing us with his presence on the sofa for Manchester United v Arsenal. And Sir Alex Ferguson will be talking to the BBC after the game. I wonder if he would see the funny side if we asked to speak to Mike Phelan instead...

5. Wolves winning is good news for the old school

I can't help feeling it's great to see Mick McCarthy and Wolves having such a good start to the season – two wins out of two and setting the pace with the Manchester giants. I find it refreshing to hear a manager talk in black and white as Mick always has and no doubt always will. I'm sure behind the scenes at Molineux he has his sports scientists, nutritionists and the like, but as an old pro it's still good to see one of the outwardly old-school managers doing well. I reckon that plenty of people younger than me will also enjoy hearing his straightforward views on being a Premier League manager today.

Dixon's verdict on all the weekend action

Aston Villa v Wolverhampton Wanderers

Odds: Home 11-10 Draw 9-4 Away 11-4

Kick-off: Today, 12.05pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news: Alex McLeish will make changes from the Villa team that beat Hereford, with Eric Lichaj coming in at left-back for Luke Young. Wolves are without Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (medial ligament).

Wigan Athletic vs Queen's Park Rangers

Odds: Home 7-5 Draw 11-5 Away 2-1

Kick-off: Today, 12.30pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news: Steve Gohouri (calf) and Antolin Alcaraz (leg) are missing for Wigan; Hugo Rodallega may start but Victor Moses is a doubt. QPR have Clint Hill suspended and Kieron Dyer and Joey Barton unavailable.

Blackburn Rovers vs Everton

Odds: Home 7-5 Draw 9-4 Away 15-8

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news: Blackburn welcome back Chris Samba (groin) for a first appearance of the season while Ryan Nelsen faces a test on a knee complaint. Tim Cahill and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov could return for Everton.

Chelsea vs Norwich City

Odds: Home 1-5 Draw 5-1 Away 12-1

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news: Dean Sturridge remains suspended for Chelsea and Juan Mata starts on the bench. Leon Barnett returns from suspension for Norwich City, but Daniel Ayala (knee) is out for two months.

Swansea City vs Sunderland

Odds: Home 11-8 Draw 23-10 Away 2-1

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (HighlightsBBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news: Swansea miss Garry Monk and Ferrie Bodde. Phil Bardsley returns from suspension for the visitors, while John O'Shea makes his debut and Keiren Westwood could challenge for a start in goal.

Liverpool vs Bolton Wanderers

Odds: Home 2-5 Draw 7-2 Away 15-2

Kick-off: Today, 5.30pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news: Luis Suarez starts up front with Andy Carroll for Liverpool, but Raul Meireles misses out with a collarbone injury. Bolton are without Mikel Alonso (metatarsal), although Tuncay is in contention to start.

Newcastle United vs Fulham

Odds: Home 11-10 Draw 9-4 Away 11-4

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news Gabriel Obertan may come in following the sale of Joey Barton, while Mike Williamson (ankle) is out for six weeks. Fulham are without Simon Davies (knee), with Bobby Zamora and John Arne Riise doubts

Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City

Odds: Home 9-5 Draw 23-10 Away 7-5

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news Brad Friedel keeps his place in goal, while Luka Modric could start but Emmanuel Adebayor is ineligible against his parent club. Samir Nasri may make a debut for City, for whom Sergio Aguero starts.

West Bromwich Albion vs Stoke City

Odds: Home 11-10 Draw 9-4 Away 11-4

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news: Peter Odemwingie is pushing for a starting place with Shane Long for the hosts. Stoke welcome back Robert Huth and Matt Etherington from suspension, while Jermaine Pennant is doubtful.

Manchester United vs Arsenal

Odds: Home 1-2 Draw 10-3 Away 11-2

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news: Arsenal have Alexandre Song, Gervinho and Emmanuel Frimpong suspended, with Jack Wilshere (ankle) injured. Rio Ferdinand may return for United but Nemanja Vidic (calf) is out.

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