Last updated : 13 September 2004 By editor

From The Torygraph:

''There are nine points separating Manchester United from Arsenal at the top of the Premiership and that divide has begun to look perilously wide. Perilous because it spans the gap between what United were and what they have become. It is now clear that what United have become is a team no longer deserving to be called 'great'.

Regimes fall, dynasties end and, with equal inevitability, football clubs do not dominate forever. I should know because I was still at Anfield towards the end of Liverpool's 15-odd years of ruling English football. I always had a feeling it would come to an end because it is impossible to sustain that kind of success for such a long time. Eventually, something has to give.

We are only five games into the Premiership season but what is daunting about United's task is that they are being hunted by not one but two powerful football clubs. For United to get back into the title race they would not only require Arsenal to start losing but they would also have to count on Chelsea doing the same. On form, a blip for Arsenal looks unlikely to get any worse than a couple of draws. Making up nine points on them looks like a tall order.'

Three years ago United bought Juan Sebastian Veron for £28.1 million. He was recruited as a highly-rated international who looked certain to improve the existing squad and help maintain United as the Premiership champions and serious contenders for the Champions League. Veron didn't deliver on either count and the quality of most of United's inward transfers – although by no means all – has declined since then.

Ferguson and United are at a crossroads now. Does he admit that some of his signings have not worked out and start again at the next transfer window? Admitting that you are wrong is not an easy option for any manager and it is a long time to wait to start solving the problems in your team. United do not have the bottomless pit of money at their disposal that Roman Abramovich has given Chelsea.

The first signs of United's decline were there quite clearly at the end of last season. Since the summer, Tim Howard has not looked comfortable and the defence, although it still awaits Ferdinand's return, no longer looks quite so sound.

If they don't win the Premiership this year then their domination of English football will be over. After that it becomes difficult to attract the very best players to the club.'