Manchester United To win away at Old Trafford is always special for any Arsenal fan. To humiliate them is extra special, and make no mistake, we humiliated United. Their fans must have been crying with embarrassment all the way back to London. The score was a little flattering for United, and but for their goalkeeper it could have been worse. Something that I’m hoping for this summer is that Real Madrid come in or De Gea. With any other keeper bar Lloris or Neur in their team they would be a lot worse off. Neur won’t leave Munich and while it’s possible that Lloris could go to United I think it’s unlikely, especially if spurs make the Champions League and they don’t. (That’s without Barcelona or Athletico Madrid coming in for him). The fact that the score line could have been worse for them obviously isn’t the only reason Monday was humiliating.
The desperation, rather than determination that they displayed is a huge departure from the great United sides of the Ferguson era, an era which wasn’t that long ago, but must feel like it to United fans. What made the victory so sweet for me, besides it being away from home, was that it was us that truly exposed them. I know the suspicion that they were a shambles has been there for a while, but they were still picking up results, and they were still capable of winning a trophy. We put an end to that.
Desperation In his excellent blog, Andrea likened Van Gaal’s tactics to being like Pulis’s Stoke without Delap. I found it to be a funny and interesting comparison, mostly because it’s true, but without the raw physicality that Stoke employed. The United players knew that they did not possess the guts or guile to play through our midfield. They also clearly feared losing the ball in the middle and being exposed on the counter, so they opted for lumping long balls up to Fellaini in order to bypass our midfield. I tried to keep count of them, but I simply can’t count that high. It was a desperate tactic from a team and manager increasing devoid of ideas, and when I became clear that it wasn’t working they went a step further to claw a result from the game. Diving There are not many things in football that sully it’s name quite so much as diving. Whenever you speak to someone who isn’t a football fan, (also known as a freak) their criticism always revolves around prima-donna players falling over at the drop of a hat. Then the non-football fan starts waxing lyrical about how rugby players break both legs and get up and play on. United gave them all the ammunition they need to moan about football for a year, (and Chelsea’s antics didn’t help either).
First Di Maria took a tumble after being barely touched on the arm, and then Januzaj had a go with one of the worst dives I have ever see. It was a dive so late that it was laughable. I know that the referee had a good game, (mostly) but neither were hard to identify as blatant attempts to cheat. One more point on the ref. He allowed Fellaini so many fouls it was absurd. I don’t understand how he stayed on the pitch. The picture below demonstrates that he had no intention of making a fair challenge.
The first big tactical decision was how we would play. In my blog last week I said that counter attacking was replacing our usual, Giroud centred style of play, but seeing Giroud on the bench and Welbeck up front surprised me. It certainly surprised United. I fully expected Danny to play, but I thought that it would be on the right. It’s worth noting that the Ox did a stellar job on that side and his assist for Monreal was excellent. I know Welbeck didn’t have the greatest of games, but it’s also worth noting that Giroud would never have been quick enough to get on the end of Valencia’s back pass. Arsene knew that United would struggle to break us down. We were disciplined defensively and got at them as soon as we won the ball back. The picture below shows the sort of thing United were faced with all night, and as I said before, they couldn’t deal with it.
Likewise, Arsene also knew that they would become reliant on long balls to Fellaini to progress up the pitch. It was clear that our back four had been drilled for this and they were ready. Mertesacker marshalled him all night, but probably in the knowledge that he would try to bring the ball down in the box rather than head at goal, both full backs were never too far away from Per or Koscielny that they couldn’t close him down and crowd him out.
With his main route forward blocked, Van Gaal was left devoid of ideas other than to try to get crosses into Rooney, but despite being effective they were few and far between, because Alexis and The Ox successfully pinned Valencia and Shaw in their own half, whereas Young and Di Maria did no such thing to Bellerin and Monreal, as the latter’s beautifully taken goal showed.
Alexis v Valencia
Ensuring that crosses to Rooney were only coming from Young and Di Maria was just one part of the plan. The other was how our winger got at their full-backs. The Ox had a good game and made Shaw look every bit as bad as he is, but Alexis v Valencia would have made painful viewing for United fans. Our barrel chested Chillean looked like he was having the time of his life against the converted winger. Valencia for his part was clearly so terrified of Sanchez that he rushed a simple back-pass which resulted in Welbeck’s winning goal. That fear of being caught and losing the ball was the reason he struggled to get forward effectively. It blunted their plans and sharpened ours.
Did Özil play well? Yes. If you need this explained then I suggest you watch the game again.
Wenger has a tough decision to make for tomorrow. We play Monaco on Tuesday and he will believe that we have a chance. That means that he has to think about resting some players, but West Ham are a good side and they can cause us problems. They’re not in great form at the moment but Big Sam knows how to get about us. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alexis on the bench and Theo start. If he doesn’t then I’ll start to believe the rumours that he’s leaving in the summer. As for other changes, Ramsey for Cazorla, Gibbs for Monreal and Giroud back in for Welbeck are all possibilities if Arsene decides he needs the players’ fresh, and if he’s decided to really go for it in Europe this year. I would go into detail about how I expect us to play but this blog is long enough already.
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