Monday, 29 August 2011

United 8 (EIGHT) Arsenal 2 - Post Match Post Mortem

Picture courtesy of @thedevilstweets
Manchester United stamped their mark of class all over the Premier League on Sunday with a sensational 8-2 victory over "rivals" Arsenal at Old Trafford.Once again, Sir Alex Ferguson entrusted his faith in his youth players as the same side (averaging just 23) took to the field after their encouraging victory over Spurs less than a week before.

Although Arsenal were ravaged by injuries and suspension, United were without many first choice regulars also and Patrice Evra's statement last year that it was "men against babies" has never felt so apt. First half goals from Welbeck, Young and a Rooney free kick put the Gunners to the sword with just a solitary Walcott strike their only crumb of comfort. Their inept first half display was neatly summed up by Van Persie's penalty when United were only a goal up. Weak and lacking in confidence or assurance, De Gea was able to plunge to his right to push away his effort much to the delight of his team mates and the Old Trafford faithful.

The final thirty minutes resembled something akin to humiliation for Arsenal as their defensive ineptitude hit new heights as wave upon wave of home side attacks were met by precious little opposition. To be fair, United's goals were of the highest order in terms of finishing but the sheer lack of fight among many of the Gunners experienced nucleus was shocking to witness. A second Rooney free kick was followed by a team goal of amazing quality finished by a cheeky Nani chip, Park got number six before a penalty brought Rooney his hat trick. The icing on the cake was added by Ashley Young in stoppage time with a wonderful curling effort when cutting in with his right foot. A Van Persie strike was barely all that Arsenal could muster as the Reds ran riot and in all honesty it could have been much worse as numerous opportunities were spurned during the game.

Post match debate

Goals Analysis
Danny Welbeck's opener - a microcosm of the game was displayed in United's first goal. With 8 players plus the keeper goal side, there really should not have been too much to worry the Arsenal rearguard as emphasised by the picture below. All the attackers look well marshalled and the threat looks something that can be contained. However, all it takes is a clip into the box from Anderson (admittedly a sublime one, similar to what Scholes was capable of) to cause havoc as Djourou is left flailing as he allows the ball to bounce and Welbeck, ever alert, steals in to nod the ball past Szczesny. Rule number one in the defenders manual states that letting the ball bounce when it is possible to meet it on the full is a recipe for disaster and so it transpired.

A simple lob over the defence leaves Arsenal flailing despite being comfortably positioned at this point in time.
Goal no 5 - I have picked out this one due to the bizarre nature of its inception and then the dazzlingly incisive break that ultimately leads to Nani finishing with ease. Rooney, in his own half, attempts a back pass that runs out of play for an Arsenal corner. The ball breaks to Evans deep in the United box who, rather than hoofing the ball up the pitch, tries to play his way out of danger. Eventually, it comes to Ashley Young who spreads the play wonderfully to the onrushing Smalling down the right with centre back Phil Jones in tandem outside him. The ball is laid inside to Rooney on the edge of the Arsenal box and here is where the Gunners rearguard lose the plot.

As the picture below shows, the three away team players are all attracted to the inherent threat of Rooney but completely neglect the obligation for at least one of them (probably Djourou in the centre) to hold their ground. This creates the space for the through ball to Nani while the defensive calamity is further exacerbated by the last man trying a ludicrous offside attempt.

Note how the Arsenal players are drawn to the ball to leave the space in behind.
All it takes is a simple pass that bypasses them all to leave Nani free to clip the ball beyond the helpless Szczesny in goal. Not one Arsenal defender is in his own box as the Portuguese player receives the ball. Suicidal defending by anyone's standards.

Just a simple pass, takes all the defenders out of the game leaving Nani with an easy finish.
Freedom of movement
A feature of United's electric start to the season has been the fluidity of the front four who have combined wonderfully to cause havoc in the opposition half in each game. At the heart of it is the pace at which they break and it is clearly very difficult to stop when in full flow. I particularly like the link up play between Young and Rooney who appear to be on the same wavelength ever since they discovered each-other at international level. At times the formation can resemble a 4-2-4 as the Reds attack from all angles and with Anderson and Cleverley supplementing the forwards with their skill and craft, it is looking a potent weapon. All of this comes in the knowledge that we are still to see Hernández at his best and with the likes of Berbatov, Valencia, Owen, Giggs and Park barely seen as yet. Unfortunately, the hamstring injury to Welbeck means that a change will have to be made and Hernández looks the likely beneficiary as his speed of thought and movement should see him seamlessly slot into place alongside Rooney.

Strength in depth
Although the scoreline demonstrated the gulf that exists between the two sides, a glance at the respective benches tells a similar story. Both teams were without numerous first choice players but United were still able to field such quality in reserve that if the game needed changing then the personnel were there and ready. Contrast this with a look at the opposition bench and you found it made up of mainly youth players, which even left some Gunners fans scratching their heads at their identity or quality. In addition, United had the following not even involved yesterday - Vidic, Rafael, Carrick, Macheda, Diouf, Valencia, Fletcher.

We saw last season how matches can turn on the introduction of a substitute and it is clear that with so many games, having a deep and talented squad is a must. With a glut of impressive youngsters in the reserve and academy sides just waiting for their chance also, the future of United looks very bright indeed.

Areas of concern
While it may sound churlish to criticise the team after such a wonderful team performance, you know that the manager will do exactly that. I was particularly concerned with the continuing inconsistency of Evra at left back who continues to frustrate with some poor decision making at times. There is little doubt that he is an excellent attacking threat down the left who has built up a lovely understanding with Young in the short space of time they have been together but at times yesterday, he was found wanting from a defensive point of view. It is also very noticeable that when he loses possession or finds himself out of position that he does not always try his best to get back to his post leaving others to cover. He has been a worry for a while now and whether it is complacency or simply being out of form, his lapses should not be tolerated for too much longer without a spell out of the team.

While both Anderson and Cleverley have been magical in tandem at the heart of the United midfield in the early stages of the season, it has been very noticeable that sizeable gaps are appearing at times that better teams than the ones we have faced will exploit. It is for this reason that I can, unfortunately, see a change coming where either Carrick or Fletcher is employed as a sentry in front of the back four to screen this area for danger which will allow either of the aforementioned creative players to supplement the attacking areas of the side.

Other notable performances
Not for the first time this season watching United, fans could marvel at the confidence, composure and footballing ability of Smalling and Jones in the Reds back four. Both are fearless competitors, good on the ball and not afraid to bring the ball out of defence when required. Evans, although he had the odd sticky moment, was solid once more while De Gea made some vital saves although will be disappointed with the Walcott effort before half time. The dive to his left to keep out a sharp Van Persie drive ably demonstrated his shot stopping capabilities as a strong wrist was used to ensure the comfortable lead was maintained.

Cleverley and Anderson were once more exciting and adventurous in the centre of midfield and thoroughly outshone their counterparts. The Englishman looks overdue a goal to me as he carries such a threat with decent shooting ability and clever one touch passing on the edge of the opponents box often finds him close to a strike at goal. Young and Rooney were mesmeric at times and Arsenal had no answer while Nani lived up to my pre-match description of being frustrating yet still incisive at times. One hopes that the two week international break to in Welbeck's favour as he looks to recover from his hamstring injury. A second goal in two games to go with his blossoming confidence augurs well for a season when he will look to establish himself as vital cog in the United machine.

Player Ratings
De Gea 7, Smalling 8, Jones 8, Evans 7, Evra 6, Nani 7, Cleverley 7, Anderson 8, Young 9, Rooney 9, Welbeck 7.
Subs: Hernández 6, Giggs 7, Park 7

United's next fixture is away at Bolton on September 10th as an international break now kicks in. The Reds will be keen to quickly recapture the momentum on their visit to the Reebok stadium as rivals City have made an equally impressive start to the campaign. As for Arsenal, it will be fascinating to see what transpires over the next few days for them. The last few days of the transfer window must see some movement from them if they are not to fall further behind their rivals in the race for the top four but you also have to worry for their fragile mental state after being humiliated by United.

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  1. I'd be more worried if I were a Spuds fan; it was,after all, their first team that lost heavily at home. At least it was our reserves (more or less) that lost away to the 12 men of Manure.Why is there not more media focus on Spurs? I forgot - the press love 'Appy 'Arry.

  2. Maybe theres less focus on Spurs because they didn't concede 8 goals. . .

  3. Proud of the travelling support, they were amazing and that team didn't deserve to play in front of those Gooners in the stand. One man to blame for this debacle.

  4. I agree about the travelling support - vocal when their team needed it and let done by the manager and squad.

    Their is definitely a media love-in with Redknapp but it is increasingly noticeable how his tactical know-how etc is found wanting at the top level.