Arsenal 1 – 1 Manchester United: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

Before the game most Arsenal fans would have taken a draw against Manchester United, and the point against Ferguson’s side could still prove to be a useful one. The way I see it, if the Gunners fall short by a couple of points, I would look at many other games where they’ve not been at their best before looking at this one.

Wenger made a number of changes to the starting line-up and the fresher legs might have helped. Arsenal started the game at a frantic pace and it was enough to take the lead. After the game the Frenchman said the fast start was down to mental preparation. It could very well be, it was similar to the kind of initial bout of energy we saw against Bayern in Germany.

Arsenal’s goal looked fairly simple but it was pretty enjoyable with some interesting details. The fact that RvP gave the ball away leading to the transition must surely have worked as a temporarily soothing balm on a multitude of bitterly hurting Gooner hearts. I liked the way Podolski dropped into the space between the lines to receive the pass. That the Germans most noteworthy contribution came in the 2nd minute of the game remains a huge disappointment. More on that later.

Rosicky’s ability to beat Evans with  a drop of the shoulder, his perfectly weighted pass, and Walcott’s electric pace were also delightful to watch.

United’s defence was caught off-guard due to the speed of the transition. The gap between their defence and midfield was yawning, as was the distance between Evans and Evra. It wasn’t a good day for French full-backs and Evra’s sluggishness was also uncharacteristic. In fairness to him, it was a clear off-side and should have been given. It happened again towards the end of the first half when Podolski played the ball into Cazorla’s path but this time the ref’s assistant was alert to off-side.

Arsenal seemed in control for large periods of the first half. But as we’ve seen in this fixture before, Wenger’s side doesn’t create too many high quality chances despite creating an illusion of domination. Once United got into their defensive rhythm the Gunners were limited to shots from outside the box.

Apart from the goal, the only other genuinely exciting chance of the first half came from another quick transition when pressure high up the pitch resulted in a turnover. Ramsey made the wrong choice as he passed the ball to Podolski when Walcott was free. I doubt the Welshman even saw his English compatriot as things happened quickly. His choice would be inexplicable if he’d actually seen Theo with yards of space all around him.

The Gunners attempted over a 100 passes in the final third in the first half. The visitors only managed a third of that. However, in terms of chances both sides seemed fairly even, which highlighted Arsenal’s defensive frailties and United’s efficiency on the counter-attack.

Of course, the penalty was down to a big mistake (or two) by Sagna but United had created three other half decent chances. Two of those fell to Phil Jones while an RvP header was saved by Szczesny’s face. Ferguson’s side were playing on the counter-attack and made clever use of the space behind the full-backs, particularly Sagna, whenever they could. Phil Jones made well-timed runs into the box as he attacked the crosses.

The first half was also characterized by numerous technical mistakes like poor touches and sprayed passes by players from both sides who’re usually much more accomplished.

There were fewer of these in the second half and the visitors grew into the game as time went by, but it’s worth noting that United were less efficient when they saw a lot more of the ball. Before a couple of late counter-attacks, Rooney’s header from close range was the visitors’ only real attacking contribution. Arsenal’s defence looked a lot more secure when they had the support of other outfield players and didn’t have to deal with quick transitions.

Wenger made the obvious substitutions – Wilshere for Rosicky, Gervinho for Podolski, and Oxlade-Chamberlain for Ramsey (Sagna might have been the better candidate given his form in this game) – but, to be honest, there wasn’t enough firepower on the Arsenal bench to make a difference against such an opponent.

The Gunners just couldn’t work any combinations in the attacking third of the pitch to break the United defence down. There were many promising moments that were squandered as the players tried thinking on their feet and made suboptimal choices. Arsenal’s inefficient wing play was also easy for the visiting defence.

Podolski down the middle is an option I’ve wanted to see more off, but there is always the risk that the team won’t be able to adapt to his style without sufficient time. The German is the kind of player who can receive and pass the ball in tight spaces but he needs the ball at his feet and doesn’t always move around to offer himself. This really minimized the opportunities for working combinations with Podolski at the centre. The midfield’s inability to make third-person penetrating runs around him just as the German received the ball from another player also cuts out attacking options.

Giroud and Podolski have very different individual qualities and the other players will need some time to change their styles to suit the attributes of a different central striker. I think Wenger should persist with Podolski as long as the Frenchman is suspended. It might not excite the fans immediately but there is potential there that could be harnessed with some focused work in training. It has a bit of a risk for this season but could be useful practice for the next. In any case, it’s not like there is an overabundance of exciting options for that role.

I thought this game ended on a positive note because Arsenal didn’t concede from a counter-attack at the end. When the Gunners had some pressure in the United box and won successive corners late in the game, my main thought was not of them scoring one but conceding one on a quick break. It almost happened when Rooney released Giggs down the left. In his younger days that would have been a goal. On this occasion, the Welshman’s shot was deflected behind for a corner from which Evra’s free header went over the bar. Arsenal succeeded in preventing United from winning a game they didn’t play particularly well in. Odd as it may sound, it is a commendable result given the recent history of these two teams.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Made one useful save from Van Persie and Rooney’s header was straight at him. Can’t be blamed for the penalty. Wasn’t troubled as much as United couldn’t direct some of their better chances towards the goal.

Sagna: Bulk of the blame for the goal falls on his usually reliable shoulders. Could easily have been sent off for a desperate lunge in the second half. Deserves some credit for tracking Jones’ run and putting pressure on him when the youngster looked set to score. But broadly speaking, this was a game he’d want to forget soon.

Mertesacker: Made some useful interceptions and got on the end of a few of the balls put into the box. Played his part in minimizing the damage Van Persie and Rooney could inflict.

Koscielny: Was again the busier of the two centre-backs with numerous useful interceptions and tackles in front of the Arsenal box that broke up potential attacks. Passing could have been better – for instance, the first chance for Jones resulted from a counter-attack after one of his loose passes went straight to an opponent around the centre line.

Gibbs: Saw much less of the ball than Sagna and probably benefitted from the fact that Valencia was having a bad day. Offensive contribution was marginal.

The defenders had a fairly decent day but it wasn’t as good as is needed for getting big results at this level on a consistent basis. United were able to break forward more often that Wenger would have liked and with relative ease. They were also able find clear spaces to cross and get on the end of some balls in dangerous areas in front of the goal. The tendency to gift goals through major individual mistakes is rankling.

Arteta: Steady game from the Spaniard with decent defensive contribution. Not his best or worst game. Can’t really recall many noticeable events, which is partially good, but a bit more influence from the most experienced midfielder can always help.

Rosicky: Excellent assist and he seemed to be running the show in the first half without quite orchestrating the second breakthrough. It’s good to see him drop deep at times but I’d also like to see him get really close to the striker more often, particularly when the leading man has good technical skills to combine. I expected he will be taken off but was also a touch disappointed.

Ramsey: It’s good to see him have more and more influence on games and hopefully it will become decisive soon. For instance, that pass that didn’t got to Walcott or that superb throughball that Podolski couldn’t take in his stride were moments that could have given him a lot more confidence and the team that extra edge. Pressing up the pitch was useful but I did get a feeling the full-backs, particularly Sagna, could have done with more support.

Cazorla: Forced a couple of good saves with enterprising shots from distance. Wasn’t able to create as much or get closer to Podolski, which was a surprise because usually they combine well. Does look like a player who could use a day off.

The midfield had control of the central third in the first half and produced enjoyable combinations in that part of the pitch but they couldn’t quite find the combination to unlock the opponents in the attacking third. Often it was a matter of picking the wrong option, or seeing the pass a little late which allowed the defence to recover.

I do get a feeling that Ramsey’s greater freedom in midfield is putting greater positional burden on Arteta and is restricting his contribution. Will have to see this over the next few days before forming any opinions.

Walcott: Took his goal well but had very little to offer once the game got congested. He’s not the kind of player who can adapt to a change in partners very quickly and naturally.

Podolski: Have already covered his role and issues above. He really has to move a lot more when playing centrally for a team like Arsenal. Too often you feel he is waiting for something to happen without realizing that it’s his job to make things happen. Constant movement, often seemingly aimless, is an unheralded but vital part of a striker’s role, especially at a club like Arsenal. Dropping deep can help, as it did for the goal, but he also needs to move horizontally along the defensive line with an eye for the space in behind. Even when he drops deep he needs to be alert to options before he receives the ball instead of looking for them after receiving and controlling it. The opportunities are lost in the blink of an eye when playing in tight spaces against well-organized opponents.

The attacking players were involved with the goal but spent the rest of the game being largely ineffective. In part it’s the problem with the system which demands a great degree of mutual understanding, but it’s also an issue with individual qualities and limitations.

Subs: None of them added anything different or extra, which was understandable and regrettable.

Wenger: Ferguson’s ‘formula’ nearly worked even with a side that wasn’t completely motivated. The result does not hide the gap between the two sides. United were more efficient in attack and more stable defensively. It is a systemic issue that Wenger has to address.


9 Responses to Arsenal 1 – 1 Manchester United: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. [...] Before the game most Arsenal fans would have taken a draw against Manchester United, and the point against Ferguson’s side could still prove to be a useful one. The way I see it, if the Gunners fall short by a couple of points, I would look at many other games where they’ve not been at [...] …read more [...]

  2. Winner says:

    This was an opportunity lost. Arsenal failed not because of lack of desire or effort, but simply because the current side is not good enough-at least not yet. United could easily have been run over in the first fifteen minutes when Arsenal clearly dominated. What we missed was the Cesc like quality in passing and the Henry like quality in finishing and influencing the game. I strongly believe that Arsenal will make it to the Champions League. However, I have to admit that I was disappointed by the result and happy with the performance. This is the second time within two weeks that I have had this feeling. After the Everton game I felt the commitment was good and we should have garnered maximum points. I had the same feeling after the United game. I think we lack that little bit extra quality especially offensively. The same kind of focus and commitment should get us maximum points in the remaining games. If that happens and Chelsea beat Spurs we will be home and dry. Third place is not yet beyond reach.There still a number of possible permutations.

  3. Philbet says:

    We do suffer from a class deficit,man for man there is little difference what we are lacking is a top world class player, a Suarez ,Bale (I know), Giggs,Gerrard,Aguero/Tevez or Terry type, a player who the others can respond to who they are confident can and will do it, to get them out of the mess,if things are not going well, all the best teams have this type of player, we of course had RvP and Cesc but sold them, therein lies the difference,without a big game player we will finish around where we deserve =4th:

  4. Cupsui says:

    Well it was a very enjoyable and entertaining game first and foremost. I felt disappointed mainly because the win would have been so beneficial.

    But how many times have we outplayed Manure and been beaten?! Most occasions. Here we outplayed them again and have to settle for a draw. All in all a fair result.

    A number of observations i made during the game. I said before the game we would have to play more direct and high tempo, and we did at least for the first 30mins. Different personal to what i would have chosen…but credit to wenger it wasn’t the usual just keep possession at all costs

    Ramsey was once again good but he is seriously lacking in the final third. For me this is the major reason behind our weaker attack and probably stronger defense recently. But i don’t think its his fault more a tactical dilema. As Desi puts it the search for “BALANCE”.

    He plays so similar to Arteta except he has a little more freedom to move up the pitch. His lack of awareness cost us a second when he played the ball left to poldiski when walcott was clean thru. He was only looking at one thing – the pass to poldi and even that was poor pushing the angle of his shot too wide. he made one really good pass that desi mentioned…but for me its the big difference between Jack and Rambo, jack is just more clinical, creative and efficient in the final third, and Jack also has that (priceless) ability to drive past players and create space. However, (recently) Rambo has been more effective defensively and better at controlling the ball.

    Very impressed again by the Mertesacker/Kozzer combo. Well done lads.

    And finally. IMHO the main difference between Manure and Arsenal is the crossing. The Manure wingers and fullbacks are amazing at placing the ball on the head of the central attackers and really they had more clear-cut chance because of this. But their crossing makes their attacking far more efficient than Arsenal. Now i know that arsenal’s game is not all about crossing but why have we been so so bad at crossing for so so long?! A major technical & tactical ineptness in the coaching at Arsenal.

    thanks as always Desi…best tactical blog on the net!!

  5. s says:

    Fair assessment as per usual Desi.

    Some thooughts on my end :

    1) Gibbs- I thought he had a very good game nullifying the threat from United’s right. Some good intercepts and useful positioning.

    2) Sagna – Shame to see all those fans suddenly slating him. He hasn’t been at his best but as much as Jenkinson is improving, Sagna is still the more reliable overall. Need not take reminding who started the fight back last season against Spurs. Think we should try to keep him for another 2 to 3 seasons. He is super fit and should go on till 34 (ala Lee Dixon). More importantly, he will provide useful experience 9to our system) back up for Jenkinson as he rises and afford time for us to assess young Bellerin in a season or two.

    3) Ramsey, as much as I like his commitment, improvement and graft, Arteta and him seem rather similar. We lack vertical penetration without Diaby and with Jack still several shades off normal. I would think that if Ramsey continues his improvement, he will be a strong candidate to take over from Arteta. We should be looking for someone with height to replace Diaby’s physical presence as a no nonsense DM thereby letting either of Ramsey, Arteta or Jack function beside more as a link man to the CAM.

    4) Also think we are a bit lightweight. Clearly some members of the United squad (read Evra) were already in the South of France. We lack invention. If Santi gets injured we will struggle. Think we need to look for one more wide man who can function as a playmaker, someone capable of the sublime, with good control and if necessary good with set pieces. One of the few International grade playmakers still available is Konoplyanka who can play with both feet across midfield. Another option may be Hamsik albeit slightly more expensive.

    5) Podolski. He needed to stay in the box more often. And we needed to be a bit more commited going forward. We didn’t have enough numbers supporting which itself may be a result of the curse of an early goal and half the mind set on protecting what we had. Think TRANSITION as you mention is key which is where Ramsey and Arteta are still a bit too ponderous where Rosicky is more efficient but clearly not fully fit. With someone like Podolski, he thrives on the counter. We need to be aware as soon as we win the ball over from United where he is (much like Rooney with Giggs later on) and we need to move the ball up efficiently with as little touches as possible. An example of too many touches would be when Santi cushioned the ball brilliantly but elected to take one more touch which unfortunately led to a mis-controlled kick. One touch and put the laces through the ball, hit it like we really mean to. This is still an issue with us. Glad to see the shots from distance but they seem half convicted at times.

    6) Central defense looked sharp. A couple of dangerous moments where they should have picked out Jones better but otherwise, good to see the composure at the moment.

    7) Finally as far as the race is concern, Bould should be prepared from some tugging on his jacket from Wenger sans Pat. Looks like skin of the teeth stuff again. nothing conclusive and the point may yet be an extremely big one. Wigan looks the most tricky fixture with them struggling for their PL lives. Chelsea and Spurs will drop points but with Chelsea with a game in hand and above us, we better hope they do us the favour and sink the lillywhites for us.

    • Cupsui says:

      Agree with the Ramsey sentiment. he has improved a lot and is playing well but too similar to Arteta and our attack is being stiffled due to this. Defensively i think the team is better setup but Ramsey is still lacking in the final third…

      wenger still working on the “BALANCE”…maybe getting closer but still working

  6. The Tactician says:

    Hi Desi,

    Excellent analysis as usual…

    Only 2 points to make:

    1) I am appalled at our inability to send dangerous crosses into the box from extremely good positions. Other teams, even lower ones do this consistently and with ease, straight to head of their forward. Why would this be…?? Cant believe that our team wont be practicing crosses in training…

    2) Ramsey for all his work rate and defensive qualities, I feel, slows the pace of our passing game with 2/3 extra touches. If those touches are for taking the ball forward, like how Santi and Jack does, it would have been useful but otherwise, it is slowing down our attack and making the quick runs and movements of other players useless.

    Good luck to our beloved team for the remaining games…!
    :-)

  7. […] I thought this game ended on a positive note because Arsenal didn’t concede from a counter-attack at the end. When the Gunners had some pressure in the United box and won successive corners late in the game, my main thought …read more […]

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