Manchester United vs Arsenal goes down as the most frustrating game of the season. We lost. We shouldn’t have. That was a very hard dropped 3 points.
There are some pretty clear areas we need to improve in over the next 2 months if we want a realistic chance of winning things, and the first I want to talk about is confidence.
Arsenal controlled the opening phase of the game, we went a goal up (hilarious goal), then we replicated the familiar pattern of trying to see out a lead like it was the 88th minute. This is a confidence thing. It’s about the experience we lack at the moment. It is a problem because we let teams back into games when we shouldn’t. We’ve even played like this when we’ve won (Spurs / Leicester), the pattern is the same… we don’t know how to lead in games.
The next difficult topic we have to address is that once again, we’re in December, and it’s the senior players letting us down. Last year it was Willian and Luiz, this year it’s Partey and Auba. When I saw Big Mo on the teamsheet, I didn’t think he’d be bossing TP. But he did. The Ghanaian was at his imperious worst. His control was poor, he was giving the ball away for fun, and he just didn’t impose himself on the game. You can’t have that from your £45m centre midfielder. We’re getting to the point now that when Xhaka is back, it’ll be Lokonga partnering him.
Then there was Auba. Is he trying? Yes. Is he game for the cause? Yes. But he can’t player the Arteta system. He’s built for a counter-attacking side and that is not Arsenal. We need a brute. We need someone that can run the line, bully defenders, actually hold the ball up… finish. Our captain can’t do any of those things at the moment and it’s killing us. If Lacazette isn’t there, it’s like playing with 10 men. He was so anonymous.
Arteta gets rolled into this problem. He gave Auba a huge deal. Let’s be clear, there wasn’t another option. ‘I SAID SELL HIM’ doesn’t really wash, because if we had done that at the time, it would have been carnage. However, Arteta is now dealing with the burden of that decision. His richest player is also his captain… and our coach is shying away from benching him. In fact, he’s shying away from taking him off when he’s killing our game. If he’d removed him on 55 when he should have, maybe the game ends differently. The players don’t trust him with long balls into feet. They know he won’t keep hold of it. We spent 150m on defensive specialists that could hit a striker from 70 yards, now our issue is that the striker can’t hold onto it. The Odegaard penalty doesn’t happen if you have Lukaku upfront.
The last issue is errors. They’ve crept back into our game. All of those goals were avoidable. Ben White gifting United possession for the opener. Tavares and ESR having a total fail for the second. Odegaard with a wild slide tackle on Fred for the 3rd. It’s not acceptable to be doing that at Old Trafford.
All three of those goals were out of character for the squad. The sloppy passing with the most painful to digest because we’re too good for that. Part of the panic came from not killing the game off when United were looking extremely lethargic. We don’t have a kill mode at the moment. Part of that comes from not having a sharp point to our spear, part of that is that this team hasn’t had a lot of experiences together.
A few people were complaining about Mo Elneny starting. I’m with you, I don’t like to see him in the starting 11, but I suspect Lokonga had a tight muscle, so they didn’t risk him. Bit of a shame that AMN doesn’t have the trust yet… but let’s be real, he played well, he was the least of our worries.
We deserved to lose because we gifted a shite United the game for very little. The game was so weird. It was like a training match after 3 nights on the lash.
However, I have come out of that game pretty clear that we’re a much better team. United fans know this as well. We have better structure, our football identity is clearer, and the attitude is there. We just need to grow up a bit faster.
There were some good performances as well. Martin Odegaard is getting better with every game. He made a stupid error for the penalty, but that goal was stunning. He’s going to be good for us, I hope he gets more time on Monday to show his worth. There were a couple of United fans in my Twitch stream saying they were happy when he was subbed off.
Martinelli has his sparkle back. He’s powerful, creative, and he will impose himself on defenders. He was very naive not to pass when he was through on goal in the first half, a goal there kills the game, but he’ll make a better decision the next time. He should start the next game.
There were some good periods of dominance in the game. We controlled United and played some nice football when we had the bravery to do it. Problem is, we didn’t do it with enough intensity when the opportunity was there. Our game jolted back when we were chasing. That needs to get better.
So a painful loss. Some obvious areas of improvement. A chance to show what we’re worth on Monday against a very poor Everton side.
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