Paul Merson Says: I'd be shocked if Odion Ighalo left Manchester United

Merse empathises with 'great Arsenal servant' Cesc Fabregas - and says his former club must prioritise a holding midfielder

Odion Ighalo celebrates scoring for Manchester United against Derby in FA Cup

Paul Merson discusses why Manchester United must try to keep hold of Odion Ighalo, why Arsenal must prioritise a holding midfielder and how he sympathises with Cesc Fabregas...

I'd be shocked if Ighalo walked away from Man Utd

Odion Ighalo with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Image: Odion Ighalo has been 'outstanding' for Man Utd, admits Merse

When Odion Ighalo arrived at Manchester United in January, I didn't really want to get involved in any conversations about him because, either way, there was a danger of being made to look silly.

If you said he was going to be awful he could embarrass you badly by performing like he did during that brilliant year he had with Watford or if you said he was going to be a good signing, he could still be the player who put in some awful showings just before he left Watford.

I didn't want to get involved in that because it was a no-win situation.

However, what I can say now is that he's been absolutely outstanding since he arrived at Old Trafford.

I know he hasn't played a lot of football but when he's come off the bench and when he has got some game time, he's looked class.

It's a hard decision Manchester United have to make regarding his future because if you give him a contract, can he perform again that next season?

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Odion Ighalo celebrates with Manchester United team-mates after scoring against Derby
Image: Odion Ighalo is congratulated by his Manchester United team-mates after scoring against Derby

When you go to a club on loan you've got that hunger of wanting to secure a permanent move, prove everybody inside the club right and everybody outside the club wrong. All of a sudden, you give someone a contract and they think they've done all the hard work.

You've only got to look at his time at Watford. He looked a world-beater but then next minute he couldn't score a goal for toffee. But if you are going on the form he's showed since coming to the club in January it's going to be hard to get rid of him.

And don't worry about the new mega money offers in China.

He's said all the right things since joining Manchester United. He's turned around enough times and said he's dreamed of playing for United so if they do offer him a permanent deal, I can't see him turning it down.

Everything's gone right for him so far and if United do offer him a chance to stay, I'd be shocked if he walked away.

Arsenal need a player like Rice

Declan Rice in action for West Ham against Arsenal
Image: Declan Rice should be in Arsenal's sights, says Paul Merson in his latest Sky Sports column

The holding midfield position is a massive part of football now. I think some people look at the holding midfielders and think they could easily do it. They think they can easily sit in front of the back four and pass the ball five or 10 yards every time they get it, but it's a very hard job.

It's so hard to not get too involved in the game, to stay patient and to stay in position in front of back four.

Declan Rice in action vs Everton
Image: Declan Rice in action against Everton

Chelsea have been linked with him, but I don't know why Arsenal aren't looking at Declan Rice.

Arsenal are crying out for a holding midfield player. They don't need a midfielder who's going to be on the edge of the opposition box, they need a disciplined defensive midfielder, who is going to sit in front of the back four and organise the side; one who, when he gets the ball, gives it simple with 10-yard passes.

When you look back at the likes of Roy Keane later in his career and Claude Makelele, they were the best because they never got involved. They just did the simple things.

NOVEMBER 20: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 01/02, Muenchen; FC BAYERN MUENCHEN - MANCHESTER UNITED 1:1; Roy KEANE/MANU 4:04
Roy Keane joined the Monday Night Football team to reflect on his role at Manchester United during the 2000-2001 season

It's so hard to be playing in a football match, playing five or 10-yard passes. Before you know it your mind is telling you to get involved and play 60-yard passes. You want to be involved and start spraying the ball about the pitch, but that's where the great defensive midfielders just get it and keep it so simple.

People often say Makelele never scored but that wasn't his job. It wasn't Keane's job either. Their job was to protect the back four and - I'm not going to say give the ball to better players because I don't agree with that, they were as talented players as the ones going forward - but their job was such an art.

It's such a hard job and that's why I can't believe Arsenal aren't going in for a player like Rice.

A player like Rice can allow the attacking players to flourish and it gives the central defenders the chance to be better than what they are. I don't care who you are in football, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and even a Virgil van Dijk, if you've got people running at you left, right and centre every minute, they are going to go past you on occasions.

Chelsea's Paul Hughes competes for the ball with Arsenal's Patrick Vieira
Image: Arsenal are missing a Patrick Vieira-type player, says Merse

That's where good protection in front of the back four comes into it and every team needs it. There are not too many world-class centre-backs in the world so that makes the defensive midfield position all the more important.

For me, a good holding midfielder is priceless.

Arsenal haven't really had a disciplined defensive midfielder since Gilberto Silva. Everyone talks about the club never really replacing Patrick Vieira, and of course, but they never replaced Gilberto either.

There are players in the current team that are meant to do that job but they don't have the discipline to do it, and that needs addressing.

No qualms about Fab's Arsenal exit

fabregas
Image: Cesc Fabregas lifted the lid this week on his Arsenal exit

I can understand the reason Cesc Fabregas laid out as to why he left Arsenal for Barcelona in 2011.

I don't know too many footballers, who when Barcelona and Real Madrid come calling don't go.

Fabregas is an interesting case because he did leave Barcelona as a youngster to go to Arsenal, but he couldn't turn it down when they came calling again.

I can't think of too many players that could turn it down. You may get a player to wait around another year, but they always end up going in the end, and I had no problem with Fabregas going when he did.

He was a great servant for Arsenal, and I can understand where he was coming from when he spoke about the pressure on winning trophies and the club's lack of recruitment.

He'd given his all for the club and the reality is that he could probably see Arsenal were a team in decline, and as I said, I don't know too many professional footballers who could turn down Barcelona.

In the end, his decision was proved right. The lad's a special player, there's no doubt about it. Whatever football team he'd have gone to he would have improved. There are not many footballers around the world that can say they can walk into any side in the world and improve it.

There are players like Van Dijk, Kevin de Bruyne, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo that can do it, but not many. Fabregas was a special talent and I had no qualms with how his time at Arsenal ended.

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