Sunday, April 21, 2024

Man Utd 3-1 Arsenal: All kinds of frustrations

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Arsenal remain top of the Premier League, despite a frustrating day at Old Trafford yesterday.

Mikel Arteta restored Oleksandr Zinchenko to the side in place of Kieran Tierney but other than that we were unchanged from Aston Villa. United started quite well in the opening ten minutes or so, but the game changed when Arsenal scored, but then saw the goal chalked off for VAR.

I think it’s extremely soft, the kind of decision a home team gets, and I find it hard to square this new ‘let it flow’ edict with what we saw yesterday. If that hadn’t led to a goal there would have been no further analysis of it, and it just strengthens my belief that VAR is a pox on the game, and it’s ruining football for the match going fans and everyone watching on television around the world.

I suppose it’s pointless talking about it now, but what a pass that was from Bukayo Saka to Gabriel Martinelli, and the way the Brazilian took the chance – racing through before firing it beyond David de Gea with his left foot into the far bottom corner – was sensational. But the video spoilsports had to make it about them, Paul Tierney went to have a look and seemed to be taking so long it gave me a glimmer of hope he might trust the initial judgement of his own eyes, but no.

Instead of providing an enthralling moment of the highest quality, the Premier League served up tedious ‘drama’ more akin to reality TV than top level sport. It’s like a Michelin-starred chef serving you up a wonderful dish, only to take it away as you try and have a bite, replacing it with a bowl of his own shite.

Afterwards, Martin Odegaard said:

I barely touched him, they keep saying this is the Premier League and want it to be physical. I don’t understand how he can go back on it.

While Mikel Arteta bemoaned the lack of consistency. If you saw the Brighton v Leicester game yesterday, Youri Tielemans barged Solly March off the ball to set up the opening goal, a far more obvious foul than Odegaard being too strong for Christian Eriksen and that goal stood. And people wonder why fans are close to boiling point with these kind of decisions.

However, that incident did spark us into life and for about the next hour I thought we played some very good stuff, as good as I’ve seen us play at Old Trafford in a long, long time. With the caveat that we didn’t make the most of that dominance. United scored through Antony after we’d been pulled apart a bit and our defensive positioning wasn’t what it should be, but I always felt if we kept going we’d get back in it.

It took longer than it should have because we spurned good chances. Odegaard in particular ought to have scored early in the second half but miscued with the goal at his mercy, but eventually it came. Odegaard fed Jesus who held off the United defender – as he did brilliantly all day – the ball broke for Saka and he made no mistake to make it 1-1.

United’s second came when we got a little complacent, perhaps over-confident, giving the ball way in their half. It pains me to say it, but it’s a very good pass from Fernandes to Rashford who took it on and scored. I do think there are elements of inexperience about this team at times, and I just wonder if William Saliba might learn from this one and drop off a bit in future. He had to turn around himself as the pass was made and he was never going to catch Rashford. Ben White almost got back to make a superb block but the ball squirted beyond Ramsdale and into the net.

Mikel Arteta insisted afterwards that his triple substitution didn’t make the team more open as United scored their third, saying:

I don’t think so. The way we were playing, we have the same numbers in the backline against the the players they had.

I don’t really agree. The issue for me, anyway, is that those changes initially left us just a bit imbalanced, not in our proper shape, and you could see that by the way United cut us open. Saliba was over on the left, Eriksen looked onside as he burst through a space where a midfielder should have been but wasn’t, and again Rashford finished as once again White almost chased him down to make a block.

It’s interesting how managers see things. I was watching the Merseyside derby on Saturday, and Liverpool were absolutely on top in the second half until Jurgen Klopp made a double change (full backs) which completely halted their momentum. I can understand Arteta wanting to change something, but we’d been playing so well, I just felt like three was probably one too many at that point – especially from a manager who is normally quite cautious about how he uses his subs.

We did get to see Fabio Vieira though, and there was plenty to like in his 15 minute cameo. He looks quick, he got a couple of shots off, and almost pulled off the pass of the game with a curling ball towards Martinelli as we tried to get back into it. I do like the fact we’re a team that plays with attacking intent, and to go to Old Trafford and control the game the way we did is encouraging, but I think we need to work on how we deal with teams like this who will look to hit us on the counter. As James said on the Arsecast Extra, with Sp*rs coming up soon, that’s a lesson we need to learn quickly.

In the end we had 16 shots but only 3 on target. We just didn’t make the most of our dominance from an attacking perspective, Arteta saying afterwards:

It’s a big lesson. If you want to win here you have to do everything so right and especially if you don’t do it there [defensively], then in the opponent’s goal with the amount of chances that we created we needed to score more goals.

There’s nothing we can do about it now, but it’s easy to understand why the manager was looking for ‘more firepower’ before the end of the transfer window before injuries changed our focus. We just have to get more from the players we have, and I think they’re capable.

In the end, it was a day of frustration because I think the complexion of the game changes if Martinelli’s goal is allowed to stand as it should have. We know how important the first goal is in a game, especially for this team which still has something to prove in the ones where we go behind. There are lessons to be learned front and back, but in terms of the way how we played overall for a significant majority of this match, you can easily take positives.

Defeat was always going to come at some point, and losing to United in familiar fashion will scratch at old wounds, but I’d be much more down this morning if we’d been played off the park or just didn’t turn up on the day. Making sure we learn quickly is the only thing that’s in our hands, because like other sides we’re going to get diddled by VAR again at some point.

We can do better offensively, and defensively this was probably our weakest performance of the season, but it’s one game, and how we respond to this setback will give us a bit more insight into what this team is really capable of this season.

James and I recorded the Arsecast Extra for you last night, so for discussion of the United game with a bit more ‘heat of the moment’ flavour, all the links you need are below. Have a good one.


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