ARSENAL VS MANCHESTER UNITED
12.02.2014

Both teams were fragile after the weekend’s games and a good performance rather than an emphatic victory was what red fans wanted at the Emirates more than anything.

PERSONNEL

In: Cleverley and Valencia.
Out: Fletcher and Young.

KEY POINTS

  • Valencia wasted a break after a great shift in body from Mata to build the break; this shift in speed for a break didn’t happen enough.
  • Vidic needed to improve his heading and needs to not moan if he doesn’t win the headers as we saw here.
  • What was going on with the passing? This was poor, from both teams.
  • Whilst not spectacular, United were compact and looked solid. Arsenal found it difficult to penetrate United’s defensive shape (Smalling in particular was excellent), which was impressive.
  • Arsenal’s inertia was surprising and Wenger’s post match comment about their desire not to lose was apparent. Their performance was worse than ours.
  • Rather than taking Mata off would it have been better option to take taking Rooney off with a view to more consistency in the passes to van Persie?

FIRST HALF

United nearly made a great start after van Persie did well to press Arteta and he should have scored; a nice feature of this move was the number of United players in the Arsenal final third.

Arsenal also had opportunities early on with Smalling blocking one chance and Giroud missing a header. Vidic needed to improve his heading and needs to stop moaning when he doesn’t win the headers as he did here.

first half arsenal First half shape

United sat deep to deal with Arsenal attacks with Rooney playing an important role. The thing that let him down was his distribution and success in turning defence into attack.

DEFENDING

The distribution from both teams was poor and a degree of control in the middle was missing. For United it was crying out for Mata who was not in the middle enough to exert an influence in the middle of the park. The passing was poor, from both teams; it wasn’t the ambition but the application. The passes were of the 10 to 15 yard variety and were cut out more often than not.

Another chance for van Persie went wide. This was after a great ball from Mata out wide. If Mta is to be used out wide he needs better service out there and with Mata passing balls to on runners, more running options were required, rather than relying on his ability to deliver crosses. Only then will we see his true worth. Perhaps in this game United’s general caution prevented this.

Arsenal found it difficult to penetrate United’s defensive lines; United’s defence was impressive. The lines were compact and the channels were blocked. This however, didn’t stop the occasional drift from either Wilshire or Rosicky past the United midfield going unnoticed. United were lucky that this did not hurt them.

A feature of United’s game plan was seeing Rooney track back. This was something he did well (certainly better than against Fulham) and it allowed him to be the main developer of any United breaks. New acquisition Mata didn’t have options particularly when out wide, and relying on him to apply his most damaging qualities from this position will not benefit United’s attacks to the maximum. When we did occasionally break Mata’s contributions they were wasted, one such instance was after a neat shift in the body from Mata to build the break only for Valencia to fail to capitalise.

An interesting tactic from Arsenal was how they allowed Smalling to run out from the back with ball and not press him, but mark others. This had two factors:-

1). It saw the centre back’s options to pass generally limited to the long ball and,

2). Arsenal’s played with a lone striker and their midfielders sitting deep and with no wingers any pressure would have been a lost cause.

A second Arsenal corner highlighted the way opposition players like to take advantage of Vidic’s poor marking lately. He let Giroud get away from him and allowed the Arsenal man an opportunity to head the ball unchallenged; we’ve seen this a few times this season which is concerning.

Moyes has bemoaned bad luck for a number of United’s poor results this season and whilst that may have some truth, it is also true that good performances are reliant on the players making the right choices. Examples of poor choices were seen here when United were clearing corners. Two examples were Valencia (header) and Carrick (half volley); on both occasions a cooler head would have shown that they had time and possible break/ball retention was on.

37 minutes in and United enjoyed their best spell where the 5 yard passes were on and players were looking for the second ball. It was frustrating when this didn’t happen more often.

STARTING POSITION

Late on in the half Rafael suffered an injury as a result of a poor Vidic header, similar to the one on Sunday; head the ball to the flanks not the centre. The injury suffered by Rafael resulted in Ferdinand replacing him. As the half ended we hoped that Moyes would send his team out for the second half with the determination to show Arsenal that they wanted this more than them.

SECOND HALF

With Rafael off it was becoming clear that Arsenal’s lack of width wasn’t being exploited enough. Valencia wasn’t positive in daring to go past his man and he generally had a poor game (save for his defensive header off the line).

Whilst we wanted United to change, Arsenal’s reluctance/ability to do so was surprising. With the single option up front they weren’t productive or threatening and didn’t play forward quickly enough; their performance was worse than ours.

Second Half Arsenal Second half shape

The only real threat from Arsenal was with Sagna (so no wonder Wenger wants to secure him to a new deal). The right back took advantage late on of Mata’s and Evra’s positioning which was narrow in order to retain the compact block through the middle. It was fortunate that Arsenal’s crosses were as poor as ours.

Van Persie was starved of service and with the introduction of Young and Januzaj, (in place of Mata and Valencia), we hoped that the ball would get to him quicker. Unfortunately, it didn’t. At more or less the same time as United’s substitutions, Arsenal brought on Oxlade-Chamberlain for Rosicky. Rather than taking Mata off would it have been better taking Rooney off with a view to more consistency in the passes to van Persie?

Finally, finally! A press from Carrick led to the quick break from van Persie and a great ball from Rooney (yes!) to the head of the Dutchman that was saved well by Szczesny.

Quality of distribution

The subs United had now introduced were giving greater width to United’s play. Would the new wingers switch with only 10 minutes to go? It happened almost immediately.

Positions

As the clock had seconds to go there was no urgency in United’s play, none at all; “scapegoat number one” Cleverley had a lot to answer for here. What frustrates people about him is the fact that his first thought isn’t to go forward but to go back or to the side. Frustrating!

CONCLUSION

This was solid but unspectacular from Moyes’ team. Mata showed glimpses of his qualities but wasn’t in the right positions often enough but when he did lay the ball on his passing and vision was the most successful.

Valencia’s inhibitions were obvious and they limited United’s breaking ability but he also wasn’t helped by Rafael who when he did go forward showed very poor technique and accuracy in his crosses.

The service to van Persie has to improve but both he and others need to be more clinical.

That being said, United were greatly improved defensively and looked solid (despite the occasional Vidic header) whilst they also worked hard as a unit with Rooney and Mata doing their bit.

At this time, we must take the positives and say that a draw at Arsenal is better than a defeat.