MANCHESTER UNITED vs ARSENAL
28.02.2016

After two cup wins perhaps United fans could be optimistic going into this game. But then again Arsenal could be considered a far more accomplished side than either of the two previous opponents. On the one hand Van Gaal continued to wrestle with injury problems, but on the other hand his team has a reasonably good record against better opponents, where the opposition is less likely to park the bus. Given their title aspirations Arsenal perhaps needed to try to win this game.

PERSONNEL

In: .De Gea and Rojo.
Out: Romero and Riley.

KEY POINTS

  • This was a strong performance from United, you can’t really pick out a players whose performance was poor. They didn’t all excel but as a team this was an effective performance against an under par Arsenal.
  • Van Gaal tweaked his shape here pushing Herrera further forward alongside Mata. This made the team shape more of a 4-3-3 with Schneiderlin as the single defensive midfield player. This meant that Herrera and Mata closed down Arsenal’s double pivot of Ramsey and Coquelin. This worked.
  • At key times in the game United’s right hand side was quicker and far more effective than their left as an attacking force. This might have been surprising given that Arsenal’s best player Sanchez was operating on that side. All United’s goals came from deliveries from the right as the early ball prevented Arsenal recovering lost space or shape.
  • All United’s youngsters, including those who came on as substitutes played well, but Rashford was excellent again. He took both goals well and set up the third. United looked far more effective when they directed an early ball forward in his direction, his pace causing problems.
  • Valera, who had to cope with Sanchez, deserves a special mention. He was solid in defence despite picking up an early booking and found time to get forward delivering a number of dangerous early crosses, including an assist for Rashford’s second goal.

FIRST HALF

Initially there was a high tempo start from both teams with very little space available, both teams struggled to get ball over half way line as they attempted to build up play from the back. When they crossed into United’s half Arsenal looked the more threatening of two sides and had a good early chance, De Gea forced to save from advancing Monreal.

first half CcThrf3UkAIz9zg

United’s first half shape and Marcus Rashford; speed, power, an eye for an early shot, crisp clean shooting and intelligent movement and great awareness. Two shots, two goals.

Arsenal started with their usual 4-2-3-1, but their was a slight bit significant change from Van Gaal, he moved  Herrera further forward, so United had only one defensive midfiled player – Schnniederlin. Mata and Herrera then occupied Coquelin and Ramsey. This made it hard for Arsenal to build up play from back and it was this that resulted in their difficulties getting forward. Sanchez and Walcott were often left isolated with no early service forward to test United’s inexperienced and makeshift defence. In the early stages, and in Walcott’s case for the whole time until he was substituted this pair made little impact. United also struggled to move ball forward but showed better patience, Mata and Herrera both shuttling up and down pitch, dovetailing with Schnedierlin they formed effective midfield three. But United had little threat at this point. It was a tight game.

After 14 minutes a penalty shout showed United the way forward. That way was an early pass towards Rashford. On 14 miuntes an early pass on left allowed the youngster to run at two Arsenal defender; he drew a foul correctly given outside area, but this showed what United should do, contain Arsenal and hit on break towards a fearless youngster with power and importantly pace.

It remained a tight game until the half hour mark when United suddenly scored twice. Rashford hadn’t seen much of ball to this point, but a noticeable pattern had emerged where United moved the ball forward quicker and more effectively on the right through Lingard and the excellent Varela. They delivered early thrust, whilst on the left Memphis and Rojo delivery was a little slower. Herrera and Mata worked hard in the centre to move the ball wide quickly isolating Arsenal’s fullbacks. Walcott and Sanchez consistently failed to track back to help out, but it was on the right behind Sanchez wher United were most effective.

Boom! Rashford 1-0

Boom! Rashford 1-0

This first goal came slightly against run of play. United stole the ball, excellent pressing again as Arsenal struggled to get the ball over the half way line and Valera delivered an early cross from the right. There was a bit of pinball in the penalty area before Rashford ghosted into position, (that’s an invaluable skill in a forward), and clinically shot home through a crowd of players. Boom! 1-0. 29 minutes played.

Boom! Rashford 2-0

Boom! Rashford 2-0

Then almost straight away it was 2-0. Again this came from the right. The ball was fed over to that side and United seemed to have lost it but Varela and Mata kept it alive and  Lingard chipped a cross onto the head of Rashford who had again ghosted into position between defenders to deliver a glancing header into the corner of Cech’s net. Boom! 2-0 after 32 minutes.

Mata and Herrera -dynamic box to box midfield players

Mata and Herrera -dynamic box to box midfield players

After the goal United seemed to have adjusted slightly with Herrera dropping deeper now and being more passive. This was a mistake as it allowed Arsenal too much time on the ball in the deep to develop play. United were collectively too deep and this allowed Arsenal to enjoy a short but productive spell which resulted in their scoring from a free kick in the 40th minute. This seemed a fairly soft goal a straight delivery from a central position was headed home by our old friend Danny Welbeck who was first to react. This classically demonstrated that United were too deep and too passive as Welbeck was allowed his header with Schnedierlin and Rojo in close attendance.

Schneiderlin - a single defensive midfield player

Schneiderlin – a single defensive midfield player

Not long after this Rashford was forced to clear off his line. United had gone to sleep and this had allowed Arsenal back into the game. Half time 2-1.

SECOND HALF

Maybe Van Gaal and his coaching staff spoke about the last ten minutes of the first half during the break because United came out and adjusted again with Herrera again pushing forward. The after 55 minutes the Rojo took a knock and Van Gaal was forced to make a change introducing Fosu-Mensah who slotted in at left back.

2nd half fosu-mensah

United’s second half shape and debutante Tim Fosu-Mensah.

Shortly after this United change Wenger made his own change removing the anonymous Walcott, and introducing Giroud. Noticeably Sanchez switched across for a while, presumably to test out Fosu-Mensah who was making his debut, but having switched he saw very little of the ball on that side and soon switched back.

Varela - an excellent performance. Rumour has it that the then reserve coach at Real Madrid , a chap called Zidane, was desperate to make his loan deal a permanent move. United said no!

Varela – an excellent performance. Rumour has it that the then reserve coach at Real Madrid , a chap called Zidane, was desperate to make his loan deal a permanent move. United said no!

The United scored again, and again it was a quick break out after soaking up some Arsenal possession. Varela moved the ball forward quickly to Mata who ran forward and played a quick reverse diagonal pass for Rashford to chase running outside from a central position towards the United right. He didn’t seem to have anywhere to go but turned around around and fed the ball back inside into the path of the advancing Herrera. His first time shot took a deflection but went in. Boom! 3-1 after 65 minutes. The goal was made by quick early passing forward, especially the early pass to Rashford and the youngster’s football intelligence to turn and lay the ball off.

Unfortunately it only took Arsenal 4 minutes to pull a goal back. A poor United clearance, a cross and a scrambled shot from Ozil and the score was pinned back to 3-2.

There were no more goals after this but there was a number of incidents including a flare up between Ramsey and Herrera where both were booked. The Arsenal man should really have been sent off after raising his arms following Herrera’s tackle; he was clearly frustrated that he had been denied room by Herrera all afternoon. Soon after following another Herrera challenge Louis van Gaal did his dyeing swan act mimicking the ease with which Arsenal players were going down.

Average player positions. Note how much higher Herrera is than Schneiderlin

Average player positions. Note how much higher Herrera is than Schneiderlin

There were then a number of substitutions, Elneny for Coquelin after 70 minutes, Januzaj for Rahford after 80 minutes, Iwobi for Welbeck also on 80 minutes and finally Weir for Herrera in injury time.

Arsenal had a good spell in the last fifteen minutes with Sanchez coming more into the game but in truth they never really looked like scoring again.

CONCLUSION

With a number of injuries forcing Van Gaal to field several youngsters and to play other players out of position this was a brave performance from United. Braver still Van Gall chose to go with one defensive midfield player and to push Herrera forward alongside Mata. This move allowed United to close down Coquelin and Ramset and prevented them from taking control of the game.

The game demonstrated how much more effective United are when they play with a good tempo and play the ball forward early or get early crosses in. This always puts the opposition under pressure and with Marcus Rashford maintaining a high central position they then have no room for error or time to recover if they put a foot wrong. A target man up front can make all the difference. Both teams pressed each other at times and both struggled to deal with this at times, but United’s triangular midfield shape helped them retain the ball and with a bolder mindset they more than held their own.

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Going into this game United had to play all teams above them again. They will need to win nearly all those games if they are going to break back into the top four, but they generally do well against better teams, struggling to break down more limited teams who are tempted to park the bus. We shouldn’t be surprise then by this performance or result, but perhaps we should be given the number of youngsters in the side.