After the quite incredible performance against RB Leipzig, finishing with a 5-0 victory and Rashford hat-trick, continuing that type of form in the Premier League was the paramount focus after three winless games in the league. But the poor home form continued. United went back to the usual league form as they passed the ball as slowly as they could and failed to make significant inroads in the Arsenal half. The Gunners were set up splendidly and were almost toying with the Red Devils by the end of the first half. An uplift happened, perhaps naturally, with Ole’s Red Men but it soon fell back into the same pattern. Then, all it took was a poor decision from Pogba in the box to give away a penalty and Aubameyang stuck it away with aplomb.
Diamonds Aren’t Forever
The biggest takeaways from the game in midweek was that the diamond shape worked a treat given that we were able to keep the ball well and press intensely as the midfielders were planted in the half spaces and in between the lines, where the opposition loves to play. Solskjaer went with the same system today but not the same personnel. Martial, Van der Beek and Matic were replaced by Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and McTominay. The difference was stark as United were unable to play into the feet of their DM, AM and one of their STs as the former players were able to play under intense pressure in the middle or making sure the ball sticks into the front man. McTominay was drifting too far inwards into the spaces that Fred was occupying, whereas Fred was keeping relative width to stretch the game and give Matic more space. Van der Beek done marvellously well in weaving between players to get out a pressure or playing it quickly to break the pressure. Martial took it into feet on the left hand channel, linking up well with Pogba and Shaw along making sure the ball stuck in the final third to alleviate some pressure. Without these three’s qualities, it was impossible to continue in that shape. Despite all the plaudits in midweek, during the second half, Ole did actually change the shape a little and went to a 4-2-3-1 with Paul Pogba playing out of position on the left. The manager made that change much earlier as Arsenal were constantly exploiting the little width that the diamond gives you and the narrowness that McTominay and Bruno kept playing with. There was a big difference once this occurred, allowing us to stretch Arsenal a bit more laterally, thus giving more space to those in the middle, which those three dearly need in order to play successfully. Fred, at his best, his passing is incredibly sloppy and it was even worse than his usual standards today. This, plus his yellow, combined to make for an early exit in the game as Matic came in.
Wretched at Home
The league home form since the Bournemouth game last season has horrible. Southampton, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Spurs and Chelsea have all come since then and have at least come away with 1 point. They have done it in different ways but the way in which it is done doesn’t matter but the effect it has and that is slowing down the pace of our passing and limiting the space in which we are able to play in. Southampton, Spurs and Palace put on a full court press so that the defenders and deeper midfielders were unable to build play properly and conceded possession cheaply in strong areas for them to attack. Chelsea and West Ham sat back, not allowing any room for the attackers, the biggest threats, and allowed the game to drift listlessly. All in all, it is the same issue – our ability to build from the back to progress play into the front men consistently and handle the ball with intent attention assigned to them. It is clearly an issue with the personnel available but the opponents today have a quality dearth too but they can play out from the back effectively and press their opponents. The way which we position ourselves is not good, the players are barely ever on the half turn to receive the ball and it is an indictment on the coaching staff that this is still the situation after almost 2 years in the job. It just goes to show the difference a good quality coach can make.
De Gea faced another penalty and yet again, he dived to his right. Aubameyang went to his right and it continues that De Gea has only saved three penalties in his tenure as a Man Utd goalkeeper. Perhaps he should try learning how to dive to his left given that it is quite obvious that he does not feel comfortable the other side.
The substitutions from Ole unbalanced the whole team after correcting the initial issues in the first half. Taking off Greenwood and Bruno left the team without width on the side that Rashford failed to be on. The fear of opening up meant that McTominay stayed on the pitch and it came to our detriment as United continued to play slowly and failed to open up Arsenal at all.