This article will serve to respond to Herb’s original comment that both Manchester United’s first and second eleven could beat Arsenal’s first eleven.
There’s no denying that Manchester United are the best team in the Barclays Premier League; they are currently 12 points clear of rivals Manchester City for the title and are the only club still featuring in all competitions (FA Cup and Champions League). I believe that while United are a good team, they are not as great as many seem to believe, and in fact the competition among the top teams has dropped off and inconsistencies have plagued sides like City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham.
With that said, a closer examination at the starting elevens for both clubs will prove that we are not quite as far off as you might initially believe:
Goaltending is a wash since both goalies are young and can be brilliant but also absolute rubbish at times. Both De Gea and Szczesny struggle at dealing with corners, crosses and set pieces, are subject to questionable rebound control, yet both have a penchant for making outstanding saves due to their length. Conclusion: Even.
Evra is one of the most established and consistent LBs to play the game. He is a top-notch defender and joins the MU attack seamlessly, and has contributed great offensive numbers for a defender this season (decent over his whole MU career). Nacho is still unproven in the PL, but his performances suggest he is a high caliber player for the LB position. Also, the combo of Nacho and Gibbs together beats any combinations United could muster at the same position. Unfortunately we cannot play two players at the same position at once, so a slight edge to Manure at LB. Conclusion: Slight advantage to United.
Ferdinand is solid as a CB, but much like Evra and a lot of the United squad, is aging and he will become a non-factor soon enough. Johnny Evans lacks skill and is prone to being the worst player on the pitch at times. However, when he’s focused he does his job well and is a no-nonsense defender who just boots the ball out of danger. Vidic was a world-class CB, but is also aging and is starting to become as regular as Diaby or Gibbs on the injury list. Phil Jones is a good, young CB but still has much to prove but is capable of being a good, shutdown defender.
Arsenal’s woes at CB have been well documented this season and all three lack concentration and poise, while Mertesacker’s lack of pace and aggression in the air are always a cause for concern. However, one must bear in mind that two seasons ago, Vermaelen was rated as one of the best CBs in the premiership and Koscielny one of the best last year. Hopefully, they can regain form soon and play to their vast potentials. Conclusion: Advantage to United.
Rafael is a hot head and his defending can come into question, but he’s very astute at moving forward up the pitch and contributing offensively. His screamer against QPR last weekend was truly something to behold. Sagna is more PL proven and used to be more effective offensively. At his peak, he was one of the best RBs in the league and is still relatively effective at both ends of the pitch. Conclusion: Slight Advantage to Arsenal.
Neither team deploys a true DM and for United, it’s been a constant rotation between Jones, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs and Cleverley at the dual DM positions. All are pretty dependable but none are exceptional. Arsenal’s rotation of Arteta, Wilshere, Diaby, Coquelin and Ramsey has produced mixed results, but at the end of the day both teams have quality in their ranks but concede their fair share of goals. Conclusion: Even.
There’s no question that the combination of Wilshere and Cazorla at CAM is miles better than the combination of Cleverley and Kagawa for United. Jack and Santi have supreme class on the ball and pull the strings in attack among the world’s best. Scholes and Giggs occasionally play at CAM for United, but are well past their prime, despite still being rather effective. Conclusion: Advantage to Arsenal.
The wing situation is an awkward one, as United occasionally line up with strikers on the wing in order to give all their players quality minutes. Welbeck is not an orthodox winger and the options they do have out wide are by no means exceptional. Young and Valencia are effective and the latter works very hard, but neither produces a ton of scoring opportunities or goals and assists. Nani has world-class ability but has always found it difficult to conquer the mental side of the game and put it all together. He’s deep in SAF’s doghouse, so he’s basically a non-factor in this comparison.
Arsenal has some high potential in their wingers and as a unit have much more flair and ability than United’s wingers, but Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain have really struggled with consistency during their time at Arsenal. A lot of this could be caused by a lack of consistent playing time, but both have been too indecisive in the final third. Both Theo and Podolski would prefer to play centrally, but have each produced quality statistics out wide this season. From an offensive and statistical standpoint, Arsenal’s wingers trump United’s; however, as a winger you have a responsibility to the defensive side of the game and all of Valencia, Welbeck and Young have displayed good work rates in tracking back and honoring their defensive responsibilities all year. Conclusion: Even.
In my opinion, the biggest gap between Arsenal and United exists in the striker department. It’s very evident that world-class strikers can have the biggest impact on changing the outcome of a game. Van Judas and Shrek are world-class strikers much more capable of scoring and assisting goals than either Theo or Giroud. Chicharito and Welbeck are quality substitute players who can really impact a game and are far better than the alternative strikers we have in our squad. Conclusion: Advantage to United.
So when it’s all said and done, yes United’s starting eleven is stronger than ours and it is evident by their dominance in the standings. But, to say their starting eleven is miles better than ours is a definite oversight, if you breakdown the positional comparisons.
What this analysis does not take into consideration is the fact that we’re not drilled in the same way as United. They follow SAF’s game plan to a tee and execute it as a collective unit. United have not only won games because they have better quality throughout their squad, but also because they defend their leads collectively.
Arsenal is more explosive and approaches the game with total football in mind. We play a beautiful, proper brand of football, hoping that our style and patience will allow us to prevail. It hasn’t been effective thus far, but with the right incoming mix of players this summer, I really feel we could compete with United in no time at all.
However, the original point that Herb was making was that the hunger and desire within the entire United squad would give them the advantage over our starting eleven, no matter which personnel was on the field for SAF. He raises a good point there and something has to be said about a team being able to push above their weight if all players are committed to the same cause, playing for each other with heart and determination.
Please be cognizant of the fact that this comparison was done based on how the two squads currently are. However, the discrepancy then lies in the fact that SAF is very proactive in replacing quality for quality and will likely upgrade his squad at DM and CB this coming summer.
If Wenger can better SAF’s ambition in the summer transfer window and acquire quality talents at ST, DM, CB and GK, then there’s a chance we could be propelled into the title conversation with them and City.
Written by: Highbury Harmony.