Wenger finally vindicated by Arsenal performance: Five things we picked from Arsenal 2-0 Man Utd

Who will end in the top four race this season? The battle for the top six took another turn as the Gunners defeat The Red Devils 2-0 at the Emirates to leave conclusions open with only two games left to play.

Goals from Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck fired the hosts in front in the second half for a big win against their rivals for the last remaining Champions League qualification place. The visitors couldn’t prompt a response to get back on level terms.

Here are five things learned from Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United.

1. Arsenal did it for Wenger

For all of his own unusual decisions, how many times have fans and pundits come away from a game this season asking whether Arsene Wenger’s players let him down?

At the Emirates, against the Frenchman’s old foe Jose Mourinho, the Gunners stood up and did their manager proud. They lined up for the fifth time in the 67-year-old’s new-fangled 3-4-2-1 formation, and put in their best showing yet in the shape.

It all fell into place: Granit Xhaka smashed home exactly the sort of long-range shot that is meant to be his trademark; Laurent Koscielny was imperious after a season full of defensive glitches; Danny Welbeck headed home a second goal to make sure of victory; and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain flew down the right as a wing-back to bag two assists and keep United’s left side busy all day long.
Almost everyone played their part. Everything went to plan. Wenger beat Mourinho in the Premier League for the first time in his career. Did the dressing room do it for the man in the dugout who his former charges still call “Boss”? Following on from their defeat in the last-ever North London Derby at the old White Hart Lane last weekend, they certainly played like it.

2. Ramsey needs to be given the right platform

Mourinho rolled out the man-marking tactics again to try and kill off Arsenal’s game. He stuck Matteo Darmian on Mesut Ozil and set his team up to pounce on every mistake and poor touch made by Alexis Sanchez and hit back on the counter.

The Chilean’s busywork has made him an endearing figure for many fans at the Emirates who love to see a player try so hard but he can be a danger to both sides when on the pitch in his current form, giving away possession, wandering off from where he has been deployed to play and taking too much on for himself.

Yet with United focusing their attentions on trying to nullify their host’s two key players, that left an opportunity for another member of the Arsenal team to take advantage of, and with the visitors preoccupied with stopping Ozil and Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey became the driving force for the Gunners.

Playing alongside Xhaka in central midfield, the Welshman’s urgency to get forward and attack the opposition’s box left the home team looking a bit wobbly at times in the middle – a situation not helped by Sanchez’s frequent wandering about to further affect Arsenal’s shape. However, he sought to take the game to United when others were marked up or unable to do so.

Despite a few dodgy touches and some imperfect decisions on the ball in the final third, Ramsey showed why he should be in contention to play behind the striker in this new 3-4-2-1 shape, as the more abrupt and direct partner to one of Wenger’s two headliners, much like how Dele Alli plays the role for Tottenham Hotspur. He thrived in a similar position to great effect for Wales at Euro 2016, and was one of the players of the tournament.

Give him the right platform and who knows what he could do for Arsenal. It might even help to fix the Sanchez situation. Stick him up front, pair Ramsey with Ozil and suddenly the Gunners have a bit of everything in attack.

3. Rooney is not a Mourinho midfielder

With Paul Pogba having only just returned from injury, and fitness issues forcing other members of his squad to play almost two games a week throughout April, Mourinho took the decision to rotate his side and rest his most weary campaigners for the match against Arsenal.

However, that left him short of options to play in the middle, and despite writing off the idea of ever deploying his captain as a Number Six or a Number Eight in the summer after taking over at Old Trafford, the Portuguese went back on his words and turned to Wayne Rooney to plug a gap in midfield.

Needs must however, and the 54-year-old was only following in the footsteps of Sir Alex Ferguson and Louis van Gaal in bringing the club’s record top-scorer back to play a deeper role behind the attack.

Yet while the Scot and the Dutchman both saw the Englishman as a potential source of magic on the ball to find runners in the final third, Mourinho tasked him with trying to put in a carbon copy of Ander Herrera’s dynamic performance on the other side of the midfield, playing in front of a deep-seating Michael Carrick. He simply didn’t have the legs for it.

Although his birth certificate may say he is 31, there are many more years on Rooney’s body clock when it comes to professional football.

He broke through as a Premier League regular for Everton at 16 and even before the end of the first half against Arsenal, he was already blowing his cheeks and breathing heavy. As the minutes ticked down, he noticeably slowed up, failing to stay with Ozil, who made the most of the extra room to work.

Given his goal record, Mourinho kept him on as United chased a two goal deficit but it was clear by the break that Rooney cannot be the sort of midfielder his fifth club manager needs him to be if he is to play deeper.

Was that really something that was “learned” from watching his performance at the Emirates? Not really. It merely confirmed what was already obvious and well known.

4. Holding and Tuanzebe show age is but a number in defence

Experience is always held up as a premium for players at the back. Age is often used as an indicator of wisdom, if not quality, for centre-backs and full-backs. Defending is a trade that must be learned through doing, rather than playing on instinct as young attackers can, or at least that is the argument put forward by those who would rather trust in veterans.

At the Emirates, both teams lined up with youthful additions to their back lines. Rob Holding returned to Arsenal’s back three while Axel Tuanzebe finally made his Premier League debut as a right-back – a 21-year-old and a teenager, respectively.

Their presence on the pitch produced only one hairy moment, when the former Bolton Wanders centre-back played a poor back pass to gift Rooney a chance to have a shot saved by Petr Cech. Sanchez was wasteful and ineffective down the left for Arsenal, and it was no coincidence that he shared a flank with Tuanzebe all game.

As the two young defenders showed, for some players – even at the back – age is but a number.
five-things-learned-from

At the Emirates, both teams lined up with youthful additions to their back lines. Rob Holding returned to Arsenal’s back three while Axel Tuanzebe finally made his Premier League debut as a right-back – a 21-year-old and a teenager, respectively.

Their presence on the pitch produced only one hairy moment, when the former Bolton Wanders centre-back played a poor back pass to gift Rooney a chance to have a shot saved by Petr Cech. Sanchez was wasteful and ineffective down the left for Arsenal, and it was no coincidence that he shared a flank with Tuanzebe all game.As the two young defenders showed, for some players – even at the back – age is but a number.

5. Mourinho’s big game tactics work better without Ibrahimovic

Even in defeat, United somehow put a positive spin on playing what looked to be a six-man back line at times again when they had everyone drop deep to defend.

This has become the club’s standard operating procedure under Mourinho. He first set his team out to take on a top six opponent in this way back in October at Anfield against Liverpool.

In that game, Zlatan Ibrahimovic led the line. United could have grabbed a suckerpunch win had the Swede put away a chance created out of nowhere by Paul Pogba, but he put it wide.

His team enjoyed greater success at home against Chelsea as Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford added speed to the attack to turn the back six into the perfect platform to play on the counter as the Blues lost 2-0 at Old Trafford.

At the Emirates, the French forward was the main outlet on the break for United to find with their forward passes, and looked dangerous running off the shoulder of Arsenal’s defenders, even if his side left north London without a goal.

For all the goals that Ibrahimovic has scored this season, in the big games – where pace can unsettle even the staunchest centre-backs – Mourinho’s backs-against-the-walls tactics look almost positive with pace up front. Not positive enough to win or to score, however.  Despite boasting the most expensive squad in the division, the Portuguese’s side haven’t put a single shot into the back of the net against a top six rival on the road this season.

With superior finishers, bought at great expense in another big summer transfer window, the pace of Martial and Rashford may lead to a back six being rolled out more often by United, especially in Europe, but it needn’t be a drab, dirge of negative football.

 

You might also like More from author

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

default-poup