Arsenal came into the game having been perfect in points and performance. Yet United came away with the three points today. Outside of the first 10 mins, United were under the cosh for much of the game. The new boy, Antony, capped his debut with a goal against the run of play for the previous 20 mins. Saka was able to level in the second half, which was warranted given Arsenal’s dominance. However, a double from Rashford, one in a 1v1 against Ramsdale and the other into an open net, meant United would get a 4th win in a row
Soak Up and Punch Back
There has not been many times that United have gone into a game being resounding underdogs to Arsenal. In a strange sort of way, both teams have managed to have their declines mirroring each other whereas the difference in quality doesn’t eclipse each other to such a standard. Given the start to the season both teams have had, this is one of them and unfortunately it wasn’t in the favour of the Red Devils.
Everyone was excited for Ten Hag’s blueprint being implemented. whereas we became a progressive possession team but unlike many Dutch managers, Ten Hag’s ability to be pragmatic is more pronounced. He will do what it takes in order to get wins on the table before he slowly but surely puts in place the principles, which will in order the team dominate the ball. However it has been clear since the Liverpool game that he cannot trust this group of players to take on board and enact what he would want of that rendition. So he has become more defensive.
Outside of Antony, the team has been unchanged as a reward for getting three wins on the bounce. Unlike Southampton and Leicester where it would be a slog both offensively and defensively, there was a very clear way for us to attack. Arsenal, having built themselves up for three years, are now one of the teams where concession of possession is not a bad tactic as they will leave space behind to trust that their athletic centre backs will cope with balls over and in behind them.
It is a sign of the times but it is a way of playing that United are comfortable with. When you have the pace of Rashford along with Bruno, Eriksen, Sancho and, the new addition, Antony who are willing to thread passes through, it was the only option that was viable. Even the goal that Antony was able to slot into the net, it came from a breakdown with the Gunners that Sancho and Rashford quickly move from left to right. Both goals were typical United goals that you would have seen in the last 4/5 years where Rashford was set through on goal. Breaking out the high press and being able to get 1v1 with the keeper was the Man Utd modus operandi and today, you saw it in clear effect
Man Utd have been begging for a defensive midfielder for more than a decade and they finally got an established premium one in Casemiro. However, Ten Hag has been abiding by a policy of meritocracy and McTominay continuing to start games is a show of that.
Whilst he has been much maligned throughout his Old Trafford career, these past 4 games has seen a new sense of discipline and composure on the ball compared to the previous exploits you have seen the Scotsman play. Even next to Eriksen, renowned for his excellent distribution qualities, he was able to keep the ball better than most. Eventually, Casemiro will work his way in because of the immense quality that he has but McTominay has thrown down the gauntlet in terms of him being the one to be ousted.
However, it is going to be hard when Eriksen is playing the way he did today. Outside of the assist, The Dane was outstanding and deservedly got MOTM from the commentators. Playing deeper, he had to run more than he has in his formative years yet he is keeping up with all of those around him. It was an outstanding display.