Final Score: Manchester United 1 - Arsenal 1
This was another massive rivalry game that also would influence who would have to play in the Champions League qualifying fixture. Both teams kept their normal formations that have been working well for them in recent time. United went to a 4-1-4-1 vs. Arsenal in a 4-2-3-1. The game started I felt with Arsenal doing a great job pressing United’s backline and gave the United defenders very little time to make decisions. However, United handled it well and throughout the game showed that they could keep possession under pressure. In fact, despite Arsenal’s lively start, United dominated much of the first half. In particular, the impressive areas were the understanding and connection between United’s middle three and the individual efforts of Mata and Young out-wide. Blind, Fellani, and Herrera found each other very well in possession and seemed to have a very strong understanding of where each other were all the time. Louis Van Gaal also tactically had decided to place Young wide left so that there is the ability for a right in-swinger and then Mata on the right so can drift inside as well and combine with others using his left. This was very effective in the first half and the problem Arsenal had was that their backs (especially Bellerin) didn’t force play down the sides and make play predictable enough. You need to put players on their weaker foot too.
When United scored in the 30th minute, Ashley Young oddly enough put in a floated left foot cross. United overloaded the middle of box with Falcao, Fellani, and Mata, so that Herrera snuck around far post for a relative easy volley. Bellirin got exposed on this play, like often in the first half, but to be fair to him Ramsey hadn’t ever given much defensive protection in front of him. The two needed to be more connected defensively. The two alarming statistics at the end of the first were that Arsenal had no shots at all and United had 62% possession. If I were LVG, I’d keep encouraging my team and don’t change much. Feed off this positivity. Push for a second. However, if I were Wenger, I’d say there were too many ‘passengers’ out there… meaning when someone goes to press, another person watches and doesn’t press with them or doesn’t lock-on to a United player. United was keeping them pinned back, but Arsenal didn’t do themselves many favors by not working in unison much of the time (ie. Ramsey and Bellerin). If they can defend better as a team then they can get themselves back into it. Second remark would be to stop crosses! Fellani is always going to cause trouble in the box from headers, so limit the service into the box. Bellirin needs to keep Young wide on his left.
In the second, Arsenal were much better! Arsenal grew into the game in the second and finished the game very strongly. They were much better in possession then in the first and as a result they had to defend less. A great addition to the game, and credit to Wenger, was Theo Walcott. He was a real difference maker off the bench and was exactly what you want from a substitute…someone who will raise the current level of performance out there! I don’t think the same can be said for United when they brought on Van Persie. In the 82nd, Theo beat out Blackett and got Arsenal their deserved goal. My question was though: why substitute Rojo? Did he really need to come off? His performance was fine in my opinion and as a result of this change, a lesser experienced Blackett came on who hadn’t yet adapted to the game. In any event, I thought a 1-1 tie was just. A game of two halves really. United didn’t fully deserve the win because they finished the game poorly.