Louis van Gaal: ‘Arsenal are a better team than Chelsea,’ Manchester United boss has his say

Van Gaal lauds Wenger’s side but insists that Mourinho’s men are the ones United need to learn from

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The Independent Football

When at the height of their rivalry Arsenal won the Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson remarked that Manchester United had played the better football. Arsène Wenger’s response was: “Everyone believes he has the most beautiful wife at home”.

Louis van Gaal does not believe he has the most beautiful wife. The Manchester United manager believes the Premier League has a better team than Chelsea – and that team is Arsenal.

In his first season at Old Trafford, Van Gaal has tried to rekindle the will to win, the ability to drive over the line that was second nature under Ferguson. Chelsea have it, Arsenal and Manchester United do not.

Jose Mourinho's Chelsea cruised to the title this season

Facing his final match of the season at Old Trafford, Van Gaal did not think he had quite succeeded: “No, because we are not champions,” he said. “I think that (a winning mentality) is the quality of the champion.

“Of course, we have improved a lot but we still have to learn the way Chelsea can play and finish off games because that is the difference. I believe that Arsenal have a better team than Chelsea but they cannot finish like Chelsea. That comes from talent and experience from having people like John Terry and Gary Cahill.”

What Manchester United lost during David Moyes’ brief reign was a big-match mentality. They were beaten home and away in the two fixtures that matter most to the Stretford End – Manchester City and Liverpool.

This season has been different, the double over Liverpool followed by a 4-2 victory in the Manchester derby. Arsenal were beaten at the Emirates, the games against Chelsea were near-run things.

“We were equal to Chelsea at home and much better there in spite of what Jose Mourinho was saying,” said Van Gaal. “Against Tottenham we were better both times. The result against Liverpool at home (3-0) was exaggerated but at Anfield we played fantastic football.

“The difference is not the level of performance but how you finish off the game – and Chelsea have done that the best.” His first season in England has been intense. No sooner had he taken the Netherlands to third place in the World Cup than he was crossing the United States overseeing Manchester United’s pre-season preparations.

This summer’s American tour will be considerably shorter. United play their final game of the season at Hull next Sunday. The following day, Van Gaal departs on a much-anticipated holiday.

“We didn’t have as many matches as I am used to because we didn’t play in the Champions League or the Europa League,” he said. “In all my former clubs I always participated in European football.

“As a manager I had to adapt also to the Premier League, to the culture of England, the rhythm of the game and so on. You have to adapt but that is exciting and very difficult because I have to adapt my philosophy also.”

Van Gaal is not the only one at United’s training complex at Carrington who is tired. He is desperate for Luke Shaw not to go to the European Under -21 Championships. Shaw has played just four times in the last two months for United. Wayne Rooney, who is a decade older and like Shaw will miss the Arsenal match with injury, has made 44 appearances for club and country.

“Wayne Rooney is 29 and is old enough to decide if he needs a break,” said his manager. “He has also built up his strengths and that is the big difference with a player like Luke Shaw, who is 19 and who has come from a minor club to the biggest club in the world, having to take on not just a physical but a mental load.”

When Van Gaal returns from his holiday home in the Algarve, he knows that Manchester United need upgrading. Fourth in the Premier League will not be the target for 2016 and a glance at the Champions League semi-finals demonstrated what level is required to come anywhere near the European Cup.

Significantly, he does rule out an £80m bid for a Gareth Bale or a Harry Kane but adds that the most important factor is whether they would fit in. Last summer’s two galactico signings, Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao, have not.

He will have the final say as to who the club buys and who it plays. It is, he says with a sigh, the reason things did not work out with Ronald Koeman when he was managing Ajax and Van Gaal was technical director. They both wanted the last word.

“A lot of presidents or chief executives I worked for listened to me,” he said. “I was always in the lucky circumstance that I was the manager even when I did not have the title of manager. But the presidents for whom I worked, they listen.”

Manchester United v Arsenal is on Sky Sports 1, kick-off 4pm