The Arsenal Vs United fixture was never going to be a classic, not like those contests of the 90’s, when Arsenal and Manchester United slugged and scrapped it out for every point and trophy.
Back then, those two teams had everything. It was a time when the word ‘battle’ was completely justified and summed up those full bloodied, feisty encounters.
Since then however, both teams have gone into decline for various reasons and the lack of gladiators and world class athletes is obvious. Arsenal and United are now in the shadows of Liverpool and Manchester City and they are a world away from competing with either for years to come.
In terms of the Arsenal Vs United match, had these two teams met three weeks ago, I’m convinced United would have won a rather flattering victory against a demoralised and battered Arsenal but unfortunately for Solskjaer, Arsenal appointed Pep Guardiola’s apprentice.
Arteta has suddenly injected new purpose into a calamitous side which had no plan or ambition. He has somehow managed to make believers of his players, nurtured the potential of the talent in his ranks and fostered a team spirit that hasn’t been seen for very long time.
Arteta conveys his message and tactics without graphs, pie charts, reams of data and hours of video analysis. Instead, he uses simple and direct instructions, which a footballer understands and adopts an approach which everyone can embrace.
What a contrast from the shambles under Emery and one can only compare the level of failure endured by him to that of Jose Mourinho at United, when he lost control and the club nose dived drastically under his stewardship.
The Red Devils were expected to bring their ‘A’ game in the Arsenal Vs United fixture, having put together a string of decent wins and they started reasonably brightly, which made the home fans slightly nervous.
Arteta looked on unmoved as Arsenal tried to match their famous counterparts and the signs were that Kolasinac was trying to perform his own mugging in and around the United area. The hulking Bosnian, flew down the left flank to the byline before cutting back via the foot of the hapless Lindelöf for Pepe to strike the ball firmly into the net (8 mins).
Then the most bizarre thing happened, United started to play a version of football that Arsenal had perfected under Unai Emery. Dull, clueless and unimaginative stuff, which saw passes fail to reach their destination or sail past their target.
There followed a series of negative side passes, back passes and pointless passes and as the game wore on, it was clear that this was not going to be a pleasant evening for non Arsenal fans. How United supporters craved the appearance of the want-away Paul Pogba or Scott McTominay.
Arsenal added to United’s misery when a Pepe corner was flicked on by the head of Lacazette and when the ball finally made its way into space, Sokratis hammered it home (42). United had been caught cold and flat, something of an Arsenal disease of late and the likes of Shaw, Lindelöf, Maguire and De Gea were completely exposed for not being up to the task.
The visitors threatened on occasions but they had no change of gears or creativity, with moves often breaking down before they reached the key areas. All too often, Arsenal suffocated their opponent’s attack before hitting them on the break.
United looked confused and if you were looking for key differences between the inexperienced coaches, Arteta’s plan was fully executed by the players at his disposal, players that had seemed incapable of forming a team four weeks ago.
Solskjaer seemed to employ a ‘go out and express yourself’ mantra which was doomed against an Arsenal packed with desire and intensity.
At the post match press conference, Solskjaer complained about Arsenal’s luck, with both goals taking a deflection off his players, but he had completely missed the point. His team weren’t good enough and only major surgery in the transfer window will resolve those issues.
This became an uncomfortable evening for me personally, with David Luiz and Granit Xhaka both playing well, what’s that all about ?
What was I going to complain about now ? Arteta’s choice of clothing on the touchline or the length of the Emirates grass ?
In short, every player in the Arsenal team put in a shift and it’s been a revelation how Arteta has managed to squeeze performances out of his rejected and unwanted players such as Özil. The man so often benched by the previous coach has played well in his last two appearances and is beginning to look well worth his place in the side.
Özil has always been needy, preferring an arm around the shoulder to a harsh word, he needs to be appreciated even if it hasn’t been totally deserved on occasion. It’s all part of the armoury of a modern coach these days.
The Spaniard hugged his players after the final whistle in the Arsenal Vs United game and placed words of encouragement in the German’s ear. Smiling had been a stranger to everyone inside the Emirates and although the result was a serious shot in the arm, Arsenal need to bolster the squad with two or three additions to improve their position in the league.