Arsenal 1 – 0 Manchester United Talking Points

Arsenal celebrate Ramsey's goal

AUTHOR: – Doron

United endured a fourth league defeat this season and ensured that trips to London have not been an enjoyable experience for travelling fans this season. Arsenal meanwhile kept alive slim hopes of a league title whilst the biggest cheers will have come from Chelsea fans as they are now just three points behind the Reds on the same goal difference with a trip to Old Trafford next weekend. Here we discuss the talking points of the match and welcome both sets of fans to contribute to the events.

Talking Points

Change of set-up from Fergie and Rooney in the wrong position

Selection and set-up away at Arsenal is often something Fergie gets spot on at Arsenal. If by chance and luck or tactical nous, Fergie had a winning system. A 4-5-1 built to soak up pressure and contain Arsenal but able to hit them hard on the counter attack with deadly pace.

Click on images to enlarge

Arsenal away ’09-’10 (won 3-1)

Arsenal home (league) ’10-’11 (won 1-0)

The key to both of those victories was a solid defence, a three man midfield that would work back and wing play. In the match preview I alluded to the fact that Fergie would have a selection problem. In Rooney and Chicharito, Fergie had a pairing in form however it would mean going away from a system that has served him so well against Arsenal. Personally, I opted for the system over the partnership leaving out Chicharito with Park playing as a CM in the absence of Scholes, Fletcher, Hargreaves and Giggs who is ill.

Fergie opted for fitting in the successful Rooney-Chicharito partnership with this formation:

Arsenal today (lost 1-0)

Rooney has done very well in a ‘number 10’ role lately but today there was only room for one striker to start (be it Rooney, Chicharito, Berbatov or Owen). It was key to match Arsenal’s 3 man central midfield with out own. Rooney isn’t a central midfielder and never will be. His instinct is to attack be it from deep or a high line. I’m not singling him out for criticism rather the selection, it wasn’t his choice to play there. He wasn’t disciplined in keeping on Arsenal’s deepest man, Song and nor were his combative skills good enough to play in that position today:

Song vs. Rooney

Rooney tackles

Rooney, if asked to play as the third central midfielder, had to copy what Anderson did earlier this season and sit on Song in the middle of the pitch. As the heatmap shows, Rooney was erratic in where he was. That’s part of his game though, he doesn’t like to stick to one position and nor is he someone you’d usual detail with a man-marking job, hence I thought Park would have been perfect for this role. Song was passing in United’s half for 54% of the time today but Rooney was only that deep as a starting position for 25% of his play. Rooney also struggled with his tackling. He’s passionate player who’ll always attempted to win the ball back but too many of his attempted tackles today were unsuccessful, again highlighting the risk in asking him to play the role much more suited to a natural midfielder.

This change in system from Ferguson, to not pick three central midfielders was key. Arsenal most definitely won the midfield battle today with Anderson and Carrick often caught out by slick passing from the Arsenal players. A third natural midfielder in there helping could have made a big difference.

Anderson substitution leads to Arsenal goal

With the scores at 0-0, Ferguson took off the ineffective Anderson. He’d only completed 14 passes in 55 minutes and hadn’t made a single tackle. Having left Gibson out of the 18, there was no central midfielder on the bench – although O’Shea has before performed in a deep central role.

On came Valencia, with Park moving centrally in a deep role. Park is usually very disciplined, he sticks to his man well. However he was asked to play much deeper than usual – previously when he’s played centrally, he’s been the furthest forward of a three, sticking to the opposition’s deepest central midfielder (a famous example would be the job he did on Pirlo in the Champions League at Old Trafford last season). However in a deeper role Park is understandably more uncomfortable.

It was Park’s error that lead to Arsenal and Ramsey scoring the game’s only goal. As the series of images below show, having originally been tight to Ramsey, he lost sight of him and allowed him to be totally free. It’s worth adding that Ramsey’s finish was excellent and despite being free he still had a lot to do in order to pick his spot with players onrushing to attempt to block any effort.

It’s frustrating that the passage of play came immediately after the substitution and tactical change for Park. It was the one rare slip by a United player in that respect during the game. Errors have cost United lately, against Man City the game was similarly won by a United mistake. Anderson would have been tight on Ramsey as he had been all game despite not influencing United’s play greatly when he had the ball.

Ferguson even admitted to MUTV post-match that this was why Arsenal scored:

“When we made a substitution, taking Anderson off, Ji didn’t adjust to it immediately and still went to the left-hand side which freed to Ramsey to score.”

Song and Wilshere standing out

As previously mentioned, the midfield battle was well and truly won by Arsenal today. Song, Wilshere and Ramsey have an average age of just over twenty and a half yet supported by Nasri and Walcott cutting-in with Van Persie dropping deep, they passed rings around United’s often isolated midfield duo of Anderson and Carrick. That isn’t to say it often lead to much other than Arsenal pressure, as often is the case against Arsenal, United were more than happy to let them have the ball 30-35 yards from goal.

Keeping possession is though key and both Ramsey and Wilshere did this well with the latter often demonstrating quick feet to get away from a challenge as well as good strength to hold off players:

Wilshere and Ramsey passing

As the chalkboard above indicates, both Wilshere and Ramsey kept the ball well without really hurting United. Both of them concentrated their passing 35 yards from the United goal with excellent accuracy – Wilshere had a success rate of 87% and Ramsey’s was even better with 89%. They were supported well by Alex Song. He as mentioned was given a bit more license given Rooney wasn’t able to nullify him like previous United players have. As a result he was free to roam about chopping up United attacks with ease:

Song interceptions and tackles

Song made five interceptions, more than any other player on the pitch as well as having an impressive 100% tackle success rate – 9 made, 9 won. He was key to frustrating United and certainly had his best games in months after a poor 2011 so far.

United’s best performer also got lucky

In a game where collectively United were poor, it seems odd to pick out someone as a good performer. However, Vidic was as he so often is a rock defensively particularly in the first half. Arsenal started the game on the front foot and put in a lot of crosses in the first half. However, Vidic was on the end of most of them, clearing 12 balls in the game with 10 of those in the first half. His performance also included a few key tackles and he won every challenge he made:

Vidic tackles and clearances

Vidic was also incredibly fortunate. Just after half an hour he inexplicably handled a cross from Walcott. At first glance there appeared to be nothing wrong with it as only Van Persie appealed but with the aid of a replay it’s clear that Vidic handled the ball and may well have been lucky to even stay on the pitch having denied Van Persie a goalscoring opportunity.

At first glance (above) it’s hard to tell that there has been any hand involved at all. However on a replay…

…Vidic’s misdemeanour is clear to see. It begs the question of why the linesman, who had a clear view, failed to wave for an offence. After Chelsea’s fortuitous win yesterday the subject of video technology reared itself again. My stance is that I would like goal-line technology where by there is an immediate ‘yes’ or ‘no’ that is given to the referee if the ball has or hasn’t crossed the line. Human error is key to the game, it always has been and importantly it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the football. Referring decisions to a video referee would disrupt the regular action and even then, decisions are still often unclear. Feel free to debate this point further and elaborate on how you feel in the comments section below.

Arsenal may well have been aggrieved by the failure to award a penalty but United too had their own penalty appeals turned down. First, Ramsey charged down a shot/cross with his hands and the referee awarded a free kick despite replays showing the incident happened in the penalty area. More clear-cut though, late on, Owen was clearly fouled by Clichy (see image below) inside the area but the referee, who’s sight may well have been blocked, gave nothing.

Match Conclusion

Sir Alex Ferguson chose not to shuffle his strike-force or defence as United travelled to Arsenal, unbeaten in their last 7 meetings. Instead he opted to select Nani and Park out wide with Carrick and Anderson in the middle – the system was heavily reliant on Rooney’s ability to offer the qualities of a midfielder rather than an attacker. Whilst Arsenal lost their skipper Cesc Fabregas to injury yesterday.

Arsenal started the match strongly, having more than 75% possession in the opening ten minutes. Wilshere had the games first chance as he fired wide from an uncharacteristically poor Vidic clearance. Chances were few and far between though, Walcott’s outstretched leg could only direct Clichy’s shot over the bar whilst for United, Fabio’s breakaway couldn’t find Chicharito – in truth the Brazilian should probably have had a shot himself. Just after thirty minutes the half’s talking point occurred. A Walcott cross appeared to be cleared by an excellent Vidic header only for replays to show he’d used his arm. Arsene Wenger having seen the replay on the big screen was understandably furious.

Arsenal were forced to bring on Arshavin for Nasri at half time due to an injury but United kept their shape the same and started the half well with Rooney’s free-kick saved by Szczesny. United then made a tactical change, Park was moved centrally to allow Valencia to be brought on to replace Anderson. Immediately an Arsenal attack saw Park lose his man and Ramsey was able to pass the ball accurately into the corner of the net from 12 yards out. It was Arsenal’s first shot on target all game – Van der Sar would only be tested once more on what was a quiet afternoon for the Dutch keeper.

Having fallen behind, United responded. Vidic headed wide when he should have at least hit the target and following a good run from Rooney, Nani shot straight at Szczesny when he should have squared the ball – United had broken with four men against Arsenal’s two. There was further drama with the referee – Ramsey handled the ball inside the area but Mr Foy only gave a free-kick. Then with three minutes to go, Owen was brought down from behind by Clichy inside the area but the referee gave nothing at all much to the displeasure of Sir Alex Ferguson. Despite ending the game having had more possession and 7 shots on target to Arsenal’s 2, United couldn’t muster a goal and slumped to a fourth league defeat of the season.

United’s next game is home to Schalke in the second leg of the semi finals of the Champions on Wednesday 4th May.

AUTHOR: – Doron

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21 Comments on Arsenal 1 – 0 Manchester United Talking Points

  1. The only technology I would like to see is
    goal line tech. Other decisions are just a part of the game.
    I think we should have gone with 4-5-1, but that is easy to say after the game.
    RvP had 42 passes. We had to get past a wall of midfielders before our strikers could have an involvement.
    Also I think this gave Arsenal too much time on the ball going forward. We defended well mind

  2. Nice summary.

    I think you are absolutely right, that while our system looked similar it was ultimately different w.r.t. the position of our wingers. Ferguson, showed a surprising insistence on personal (playing both Rooney & Hernandez) over formation this time, that ultimately didn’t pay off.

    I have a question regarding stats. Song is reported to have 9/9 successful tackles, but also he made quite a few fouls, 5, to be exact. Some of those fouls are actually the result of failed tackles. So how come failed tackles that result in fouls are not counted as unsuccessful tackles in this stat?

  3. @hrizantem

    Good question – I guess it depends on the nature of the foul. E.g pulling a shirt or blocking a player isn’t deemed a tackle. The one foul that was given against him for a tackle, he actually won the ball hence the Guardian (where the Chalkboard is from) awarded it as a successful tackle. Hope that helps

  4. Now its time to bring up Nani. He had a terrible game today it has to be said! He was selfish as always and never really got into the game and into his stride. He’s been phenominal this season but ever since Valencia has come back..he’s been a different player, in a negative way. He needs to play on the right and that is where he is most effective. My mate who I watched with today was furious with Nani! He feels he goes down way too easily, is very selfish and doesn’t pass hence a glory boy who likes to steel the headlines instead of playing for the team. He needs to improve!!!!

    Park was very average, Chicarito never got into the game, Valencia never had enough time + he couldn’t break them down when he came on, Rio was poor and Evra was also not the same player we have seen all these years…

    Lastly I have to say that we lacked spirit, drive, hunger and determination today! We never looked up for it! Our players were slow and looked tired! There was no urgency about their play and we only started to press when we went a goal down…that’s just not good enough for a Man United side!!! We are man United and we should be doing better!! And if we want to win the league, we going to have to do it the hard way! The lads need to pull there socks up show us that they want this title as much as us fans do!!! Come on MUFC let’s fucking win this + get to another Champs League final on Wednesday!!! MUFC we’l never die!!!

  5. @max

    He’s struggled with the return of Valencia and I think for some reason with a return to form of Rooney. I guess one thing may be that with Rooney playing so well, he’s the man the team are looking to pass to all the time, whereas before it was Nani – he clearly thrives on being ‘the main man’. He’s definitely become more selfish in the past couple of months, bizarre considering his contributions earlier this season.

  6. This is the logic behind playing Rooney as number 10: Rooney loves drifting around, and can draw Song, Arsenal’s main holder, into awkward wide positions. After that, United can use Anderson to attack the exposed space in front of Arsenal’s defense. In theory, it was a good plan.
    However, it failed because Ramsey and Wilshire were very disciplined, and occupied space that Song had vacated. In addition, Song did a great job on Rooney. We couldn’t find space in front of the center backs, Park had a below average game (he had played well against Arsenal several times in a row, but didn’t have it today), and our counterattack was really stifled.

    The question is, will chelsea learn from this? Last time we played them, Rooney was rampant and pulled Essien into absurd positions all game. Giggs then strode forward to capitalize. If Lampard and Ramires copy Ramsey and Wilshire’s defensive discipline, its going to be a tough game.

  7. @matt I agree Matt – the theory is perfect. The one thing I’d add is that I don’t think Rooney did enough to help Carrick and Anderson – they were left awfully exposed quite regularly. Rooney’s a super player but to ask him to have the tactical discipline of a central midfielder is too much.

    Lots of sub-plots next week. Do Chelsea have to go for the win or can they be happy with a draw and hope we slip up again? Do United go for the win or be satisfied keeping it tight?

  8. max can i ask how rio was poor really dont see your point…..
    i do agree that we we`re sluggish today n have been all season away from home but i dont think they would have scored had we been better organised after making changes they didn`t threaten us up to that point….the premiership is in our hands we are in the semifinal of the champions league 2 up n as martin tyler said today we are a team who have won 8 major trophys since arsenal n going well for another 2…for you to say the performance is not good enough sory i quote thats just not good enough for a man united side!!!we`re you around in the 70`s or 80`s as a united fan

  9. Isnt Sir Alex went with similar formation when he won 2-0 aainst them in the cup earlier?

  10. @iannoha

    I do agree that I wasn’t sure that Rio was poor. Thought he was fine. I couldn’t see them scoring either – was just unfortunate that one lapse in concentration from Park lead to a goal. The performance wasn’t good enough but had we won 1-0 playing like that, few would be moaning. It’s one of the side effects of a loss, people naturally consider the performance.

  11. valid point nameonthetrophy but i just think fans are so fickle it annoys me…we are so spoilt as fans its unreal n people need to realise that we don`t own any trophy..i read on another blog earlier some1 calling anderson a fat tub of lard abso shockin

  12. @ianoha

    I totally agree with you. I don’t think we’re the worst bunch… when it comes to fickle fans there are fans of other clubs who make us look like saints. The expectations at United are immense though – many will be unprepared for the day when we don’t win and we do slip backwards – it’s bound to happen, you can’t be successful forever. I got stick here only last week, was told I didn’t criticise our players enough. Was told I was flawed in always trying to find the positives. My response was I back whoever wears the Reds shirt and naturally I’ll always look for the positives over the negatives. If someone plays badly or does something wrong the there is a case for constructive criticism like with Fergie today however there’s no point being critical for the sake of it. Think it was aimed at Gibson mainly, he’d done little wrong in a game and yet because I hadn’t criticised him I was criticised myself!!

  13. I disagree about the play that led to the goal. From my vantage point, the main “culprits” were Evra and Vidic because they “over-played” van Persie who is a notoriously one-footed player. van Persie ALWAYS feints to his right and then turns back to get the ball on his left foot (which is tremendous). What happened in the lead-up to the goal was that van Persie feinted right and then turned back to his left and passed the ball to Ramsey who was left alone at the top of the box. I’m not disputing that ThreeLungPark wasn’t at fault but I am asking that the analysis look more closely at the defensive lapse – the only one in the match, by the way ! – that created the goal. Evra and Vidic are seasoned, veteran defenders who should “have a book” on van Persie – they were fooled too easily. That’s why they were “the culprits”.

  14. @david levine – appreciate your comment – makes sense, but just figured that if Park was tighter to Ramsey, even if Vidic/Evra fall for the RVP trick, he has nothing to do – his only option was going to be Ramsey who was unfortunately free. RVP couldn’t shoot from there and had no one else available but in a sense you’re right, if Vidic/Evra aren’t fooled then he may not be able to get the ball to Ramsey in the first place.

  15. I thnk ferguson has started to lose his abilities. Switchin over to a 4-4-2 formation showed that. Also the substitutions were horrible. Park is not a central midfielder. You cant blame him for being out of position. It was ferguson who put him there. I think its time, we find ourselves a new manager.

  16. I haven’t understand what’s Sir Alex intended to prove with 2 men in center midfield. Did we let Arsenal to gain that much possession in first half, or is it just our strategy to begin with (to exhaust the opposition and reserve more energy to go out at 2nd half)?
    We have never seen comfortable with the ball, let alone building a legitimate counter attack as we usually done with arsenal. Alex Song is indeed been immense in the middle of the park, but wasn’t it supposed to be Ando’s task to dismantle Song.
    At first, i really thought that Nani in the right flank instead of Valencia will do justice strategically as he played better in the first half of this season and he played it at the right flank, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case last night.
    United never comfortable with the ball, don’t have a clear scheme of attacking and let the opposition hold the ball without challenged for too long is what has been our tactical failure last night.

  17. We might have lost but we got the better of the decisions, overall. Losing Vidic would be a bigger blow to our chances than losing this game.

  18. I completely agree with Ian @ 2:57 a.m. Losing Vidic would have been massive – for Sunday’s game and three more.

    nameonthetrophy – Park lost Ramsey but the key to Ramsey receiving the ball was that both Evra and Vidic went for van Persie’s feint to the right. This raises a more general problem – most players have “tendencies” and these are well known after close scrutiny (e.g., Anderson’s right foot is generally used only for balance – and so on) so why would two seasoned and experienced professional defenders “over-play” van Persie’s right-sided feint. Surely, one would think that when playing against Robin van Persie it would be advantageous to shepherd him to his right so that he can’t get the ball on his left foot. Same goes for Anderson and Giggs and Arjen Robben and FatAdriano to mention only a few players who are so one-sided that they are unlikely to cause problems by being given freedom on their weaker side. That said, the key issue is why Patrice Evra’s concentration seems to be soo frail this season – handball against West Ham and leaving the post on at least two occasions (West Brom immediately springs to mind). Similarly, Nemanja Vidic has “form” in that he was lucky to escape punishment on Sunday for his sneaky handball and was equally lucky to escape punishment for his open-field foul on Demba Ba against West Ham a while back. Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic are crucially-important players for UTD and probably play too much – concentration breaks seem to be happening more frequently for them.

  19. I think SAF was a bit arrogant yesterday starting with rooney and hernandes considering how poor we’ve been away from home this season. I think we should have played 5 in midfeild cos it was clear to see after a couple of minutes that arsenal we’re gonna dominate the game. Also Nani needs to learn how to play on the wing cos I am sick of seeing him always cutting inside and taking a shot when he should be taking it to the byline and getting the cross in more often I mean the one time he did this hernandes nearly got on the end of it, its frustrating to watch him play cos he rarely makes the right desicions.

  20. Man.utd was just unlucky! and when it comes to the only goal we conceded, Fergie said that Ji never got the message to shift to central position for some reason. So I think there is no point of blaming it on him cause he was not informed that he had to stay in deeper role other than regular position he prefers.

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