It’s been a bizarre Premier League campaign so far where expecting the unexpected has become the new normal. Manchester United, under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, have taken this to a whole new level altogether as despite two stunning Champions League wins against the heavyweights PSG and RB Leipzig, they are yet to secure a victory at Old Trafford in four Premier League outings. Their shambolic 1-0 defeat versus Arsenal has been a new low considering the Gunners’ dismal 29-game winless run away to league’s ‘big six’ prior to the Sunday evening encounter.
While the North London side broke the hoodoo after six long years, the Halloween weekend haunted the Red Devils in the worst possible manner. All went wrong from the very first whistle as Mikel Arteta’s ‘negative’ lineup stunned the hosts due to its unpredictability as well as the unforeseen alteration of the gameplan. Pierre-Emeric Aubameyang’s second-half spot-kick proved to be the difference between these two English hotshots, but there’s been more to it if we observe and analyse their tactical combat.
A Tactical Analysis Of How Arteta’s Arsenal Stunned Manchester United At Old Trafford
‘Partey’ Time Continues, But The Excellent Elneny Steals The Show
No one should deny the fact that the Gunners faithful were hoping for yet another stalemate when the teamsheet got announced. Arteta fielded Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny together despite having the likes of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos as key midfield options. Apparently, it was a defensive move with the pair’s preference of operating from the deep, but what happened next left Solskjær shell-shocked as the visitors took quite the opposite approach silencing their critics for a while.
United were supposed to dominate possession with an attempt to break Arsenal’s resilience at the back. Instead, they struggled all throughout to keep pace with the latter’s fast-paced movements, aggressive intent and free-flowing football. Arsenal opted not to sit back and play long balls in the attacking third, and rather focused on quick transitions with Partey featuring as the destructor and Elneny as the distributor.
Arteta tried out various central midfield combinations prior to Sunday’s tie, but the chemistry showcased against Rapid Wien was replicated successfully with the Egyptian dictating the tempo with his pace, pressing, dribbling and decision-making. He was more effective than Xhaka or Ceballos, and the attitude exhibited by the once-exiled midfielder must have relieved the supporters, particularly after weeks of underwhelming display.
United’s Clueless Diamond And The Lack Of Adaptability Ruined The Mood
Solskjær seemed a bit overconfident and unnecessarily experimental with his lineup. He fielded a midfield diamond after grabbing a remarkable 5-0 victory over RB Leipzig, but the decision of playing Scott McTominay at the base and Bruno Fernandes as a ‘number 10’ did not work out at all. The Portuguese could not meet the standards set by Donny van de Beek in midweek, whereas McTominay, irrespective of his high work ethics, was highly disappointing. The weight of his passes was below par; also the horror show of Paul Pogba put the Scotsman under further pressure against the high-flying pair of Partey and Elneny.
Solskjær’s 4-2-3-1 has been more constructive and functional in terms of creating space in the centre of the pitch. The wing play could have dragged the Gunners midfield wide, but the United gaffer never prioritised crosses and long-balls barring the final few minutes of the match. There was simply no Plan B even after having a clear view of Arsenal’s strategy midway through the tie.
Arsenal Got A Gem Of A Centre-half
Arteta vowed to fix the defensive frailty soon after accepting the managerial position. The club gambled on a little-known Brazilian who, however, has been a revelation in the heart of the backline. At 22, Gabriel Magalhães has not only cemented his place in the Gunners’ ‘back three’ set up but also led by example against the likes of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani in the closing minutes. He is not someone who sits back and waits for the ball, but rather chases it down and confront the attackers by stepping out from the deep.
Needless to say, Arsenal badly needed someone who offers such aggression from the deep defensive line.
It’s high time the Red Devils accept their transfer blunder and move on. The Frenchman is not going to be ‘unlocked’ at all and should try his luck in some other league with less physicality and work rate required. He was indubitably the worst player on the pitch who kept on getting dispossessed, showed no urgency in regaining possession, got bullied by Arsenal’s one-twos and tricky movements. Moreover, the foul on Hector Bellerin (even though the Spaniard made the most of it) was scandalous as the right wingback was going nowhere with the ball on his feet. Pogba is not keen on working on his shortcomings either, and there’s no point of fielding someone who is too arrogant to learn from the mistakes going forward. The dressing room lacks characters, and the manager must take the blame too for failing to motivate those who are representing this prestigious football club.