Manchester United 0:1 Arsenal FC – the good, the bad and the ugly

As an homage to Sergio Leone’s epic western I should keep the sequence in the order above, but if I end this post on a negative note you might disregard the positives from the beginning and will consider me a killjoy or call me Pessimist Pete (if you ever wondered what the first letter in PB stood for). So let’s start with the sad parts and work towards the good.

While Arsenal fans are rightfully happy after an away win against a strong and high prestige opponent, independent supporters didn’t particularly enjoy the game. Gary Lineker tweeted it to be „dreadfully dull”. It might have to do with the amount of shots on goal (2-2) and the key passes (MU: 8, Arsenal:5). These figures are indeed low, especially compared to Everton-Liverpool (11:14) or Fulham:-Crystal Palace (15:11), but far from being the worst as Brighton-WBA (4:5), Liverpool-West Ham (6:1), Tottenham-Brighton (6:4).

Rob Holding said in the interview that „we could have won by three or four”. And while I love the guy I don’t agree with him. We had about 3 half-decent chances. Saka might have hit the target with his header, but that was not a foolproof goalscoring opportunity – probably not for even Giroud himself. Similarly, Willan wasn’t unlucky that the bar saved de Gea, rather lucky that he managed to hit the target with his weaker foot. Furthermore, Auba’s curl from outside the box could have gone in but only about 3 times in 10 attempts, definitely not 9 of 10. And when Bellerin was fouled inside the box he was as far from creating a goal-scoring opportunity as one can get in the penalty area. I’m not saying that a 0:0 draw would have been more fair though; my point is that despite our midfield dominance (which didn’t materialize in possession stats) and defensive stability we couldn’t translate our superiority into clear chances, thus we weren’t particularly unlucky that we needed a penalty to break the deadlock.

Let’s move to the independent area. Modern football doesn’t really care about the number of shots to be enjoyable, though. We had many ’almost’ and ’soooo close’ moments, while Manchester didn’t. So our win is completely justified. Mike Dean was refereeing in a decent manner. And our opponent wasn’t particularly bad either. They are a bunch of skilled players trying to pursue a sub-optimal strategy. We were lucky only from the perspective that MU had Martial suspended, and OGS experimented with the formation (and I don’t see scary when Fred and McTominay playing in midfield together), while we – despite our long injury list – didn’t really have to make compromises from our best XI.

I am probably hopeless for wanting to see games like our 4:1 win against Liverpool (2015) or any of our 5:2 wins against Tottenham, but my enthusiasm is at bay if the keys to victory are „controlled hostility” and „smothering the opponent”. Nevertheless this was a fixture where we haven’t won for the last 14 games, so I don’t mind making a compromise here. But I hope that our scoring statistics will improve, as we scored 4 goals in the last 5 PL games losing 3.

And the good part: Arteta also experimented, but not with the formation, rather with players. And he succeeded; both the last minute inclusion of Holding and the equally improbable and unforeseeable pairing of the forgotten Elneny with the new guy Partey proved to be masterstrokes. However – as it was correctly pointed out by many in the blog, this performance was particularly strong from the team effort point of view. We didn’t have any weak contribution on Sunday night, and we had quite a few really strong ones. I won’t go into details, as TA and others have already been singing their hymns, especially on Partey and Elneny. (I don’t remember the last time when Adrian Clarke awarded split Main Man prizes before this weekend.)

But I cannot overlook the process that transformed a shaky error-prone defense into the best record in the PL. There are several reasons behind that – probably asking for a dedicated post – but the here are my key explaining factors:

  1. Changing formation to 3-4-3 with 3CBs and 2 wingbacks
  2. New Players of the highest quality (Tierney, Gabriel, possibly Mari, Saliba and Soares)
  3. Extreme pressing from the top, notably Lacazette and Nketiah
  4. Emerging leaders such as Luiz (short term) and Gabriel (hopefully long run)
  5. Removing Steve Bould from the first team coaching staff…

We are paying the price for the 5-defender line-up resulting in fewer chances, less goals and some boring games, but this is a price many of us were willing to pay. Arsenal now has a solid, reliable, talented (and mostly young) defence, and a lot of capable and experienced players – along with gifted and success-hungry youngsters – in midfield and attack. Now Arteta needs to find the best formations and tactics to maximize the chances and goals. He might need a creative midfielder, but we probably have the right players, just need to find the best way to utilize them.

By PB.

12 thoughts on “Manchester United 0:1 Arsenal FC – the good, the bad and the ugly

  • Cheers PB. That is a succinct post on the game and you have added your own perspective with sound argumentation. I think there is more good to our performance than our improved defensive stats over all the games in the league this season. But you have put us down on earth again, and we continue to be a work in progress of course.

    It’s funny that you use the neutral supporter as a way of underlining your ‘ugly’ points. i couldn’t give a sh*t what Larry Gineker says about the game. He would be one of the first to use the ‘Same Old Arsenal’ strapline, so feck him. As a matter of fact, many neutrals have been singing our praises and saw a very mature performance by Arsenal. There is a reason the PL teams are winning most of their European games… it is because the best tactical football is being played here and it is continuously evolving. The football is very, very good but it may not be very, very entertaining at the same time at the moment. I could not care less right now: with Arteta we are on the right boat. 🙂

  • Once again a really well thought out analysis PB! Kudos and appreciation to you 👏. This is more a hope than anything else. But, if Arteta has indeed found his best XI, then I think that even with this crew the chances will continue to increase (without any new additions). It feels like the anticipation of where a team-mate would be is getting better, but still not as smooth as in years gone by.

  • You are right, TA, that I could have continued the list of goods by putting the emphasis on how good Partey was (and how easily did he control the midfield – it seemed as if he is taking a walk in the park), and how energetic Elneny proved throughout the whole game. But it was already well covered in the last post as well as the comments under the matchday post.
    And I probably could have reiterated my satisfaction with the first line of pressing of our attackers. But again, it is about our improved defense, where everybody plays a role.
    The only aspect I should have mentioned is praising the crosses, where both Bellerin and Tierney improved a lot from our previous games.

    On the other hand I didn’t complain for the last minutes of panic, or the uncharacteristically defensive substitutions. Bringing Mustafi on for Auba with a good few minutes left in the game implied some sorts of desperation that was entirely unmerited on all previous evidence.

  • Great analysis.

    I believe our best CB combination in 3-4-3 is Holding-Luiz-Gabriel. With Bellerin and Tierney either side as wing backs.

    Right now, our most creative player is
    Luiz with his incisive passes from deep. In this formation, which should be strictly against top teams especially at away grounds, Luiz usually joins the midfield to target Auba most of the times. With Partey and Elneny as the only midfielders, this tactic can suffice

    But in home games and against ‘smaller teams’, I expect a 4-3-3, where our best pair in defence should be Holding and Gabriel, I expect Ceballos to play closer to the final third ahead of Partey and Elneny

  • Thanks, St. Henry for your kind words. I hope your wishful thinking on the chances will become prophecies. 🙂

    Tai I absolutely agree with your assertion on the best 5 defenders. But in that case it hard to include Saka in the team. For the 2 central midfielders role we have Partey, Xhaka, Ceballos and Elneny probably all ahead of Saka in the CM pecking order. And for the front 3 it is also controversial to involve Saka.
    Apparently the only way to field Tierney, Saka and Auba in the same line-up is to make Bukayo LM/LWB and start Tierney as LCB in defense. (In attack Kieran supports the left flank, and Xhaka or another CM takes over the LCB position to stop quick counterattacks.)

    We have a awkward and slightly amusing situation where Saka is not among our best defenders, best midfielders and best attackers, but probably our best player. 🙂

  • That is a good point re Saka, PB. The fact that he started v MU seems to indicate that Arteta rates him highly. He is young, talented and flexible so he will fit in well in the team from game to game. He is now going through the hardest period and doing well. Hardest as in young and talented with growing expectations of him: the pressure does not seem to face him much. Yet he is a humble guy who knows he has some way to go. What is not to love about Bukayo?! 🙂

  • Please find the latest team news update from our medical team ahead of Thursday’s Europa League match against Molde.

    Updates since our last game:

    David Luiz
    Left thigh. Sustained slight thigh issue during Leicester City (h) on 25 October. Now back in full training and available for selection.

    No further issues from Sunday’s match.

    Continued status on longer-term injuries:

    Calum Chambers
    Left knee. Ruptured anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee during Chelsea (h) on December 29.
    Latest update on Calum:
    Now back in full training and progressing well towards full match fitness.

    Pablo Mari
    Left ankle. Sustained significant sprain to ankle ligaments during Manchester City (a) on June 17.
    Latest update on Pablo:
    Continuing outside running and strengthening programme, together with light ball work. Aiming to integrate into full training after the November international period.

    Gabriel Martinelli
    Left knee. Sustained injury during training on June 21.
    Latest update on Gabi:
    Successful arthroscopic procedure undertaken to repair a lesion in the cartilage of the left knee. Has now commenced running outside, in addition to daily strengthening and recovery programme at London Colney. Integrating into outside group sessions. Aiming to return to full training by the end of the calendar year.

    As part of Premier League protocol, all members of our first team squad and support staff continue to be regularly tested for COVID-19.

    Copyright 2020 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source.

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