Manchester United fell further behind in their title race after playing out a goalless stalemate against Arsenal on Saturday. A scratchy and slow display from United left them 3 points behind noisy neighbors Manchester City. Ole’s men labored hard but could not break down a defensive and disciplined Arsenal side.
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer retained a trusted lineup for this key matchup. David de Gea was the goalkeeper with Maguire and Lindelof part of the center back pairing. Wan Bissaka and Shaw were the wing-backs behind Fred and McTominay. The midfield comprised of Bruno, Pogba, Rashford and in the attack was Edinson Cavani. Greenwood, Martial, Telles, van de Beek, and James were among those on the bench.
Manchester United started the game off excellently, keeping possession and controlling the ball very well. It seemed like Arsenal did not get a touch on the ball in the opening 3 minutes of the game. However, that changed shortly as Arsenal grew into the game quickly and began controlling the ball effectively. Bruno, Cavani, and Rashford tried a splendid combination move but Rashford’s poor first touch broke the move down, allowing Arsenal to intercept. Both sides made some poor mistakes in the center of the park, allowing the other team to create chances. In one such instance, Fred’s error gave Arsenal a good chance but United somehow escaped trouble. During this time, Scott McTominay came off due to an apparent stomach issue and was replaced by Martial.
United came close again through Bruno and Rashford. However, instead of making an attempt on target, they both instead chose to make square first-time passes. This has been an issue of this United attack- too much trickery and cheeky play without making a direct approach towards goal. This leads to bad giveaways and wasted opportunities while also slowing our game down a lot. Fred came close through a corner but a fingertip save from Leno denied the Brazilian midfielder.
As the half came to a close, the game slowed down significantly as Arsenal parked the bus, preventing any United foray into the attacking half. The most agonizing moment of the half came in the 43rd minute when Rashford received Shaw’s cross. The forward decided to employ some trickery instead of poking the ball home from 6 yards out, leading to the attack breaking down. Very little desire and belief from United here in the attack leaving fans severely disappointed.
Arsenal came out strongly in the second half, denying United the opportunity to hold possession whatsoever. For the first 10 minutes of the second half, it was United who were parking the bus and trying to stay afloat. It really looked like United were still sleeping as they constantly kept giving the ball away and making defensive errors. Much to the relief of United fans, Arsenal were unable to find the back of the net despite their opportunities. Although United started the second half on the backfoot, they soon found space in the attack and began taking control of the game. In the 58th minute, Edinson Cavani made a horrible miss from close range in a glaringly open chance. However, Arsenal almost sucker-punched United when Lacazette hit the bar from a freekick.
Marcus Rashford had another good chance in the last 10 minutes but instead of searching for a squared pass, he made a hopeful attempt from distance. In an attempt to seize all three points, Ole brought on Mason to replace Rashford. Marcus had a relatively rough outing today, showing poor attacking ability and little to no belief. United came close again but Cavani’s volleyed attempt off a cross was off-target again. Perhaps Martial running in behind him was in a better position to put that cross away. The final minutes of the game were even more frustrating as Fred’s attempt went agonizingly wide, and Bruno’s passing lacked the cutting edge.
United’s display today can be described as lackluster and passionless. The wingbacks were quite successful in defense and attack, delivering several crosses and winning tackles. United got 31 touches in the opposition box compared to Arsenal’s 17 while also maintaining 58% of the possession. Arsenal’s wall-like defense gave United’s front three a lot of trouble allowing them little to no movement and options. Although Bruno was instrumental in passing, his playmaking and chance creation were very poor today. Unfortunately, Rashford has looked worse off in the past few weeks really looking to be too fancy and selfish. Ole might have to consider a formation restructure or a different approach to the attack. Unfortunately, Cavani had a bad game as well, missing some huge opportunities, and going invisible for moments of the game.
After their heartbreaking loss to Sheffield United, Manchester United were hoping to secure maximum points against rivals Arsenal today. In a tightly contested and competitive battle for the top spot, United lost ground to Manchester City. The Red Devils currently sit at 2nd place with 41 points after 21 games, trailing City who have 44 points from 20. United might also look below towards Leicester who have the chance to nab the second spot on Sunday. The upcoming games will also be challenging for United as they face off against Southampton and Everton. Maximum points against these two will be a good statement of intent for Ole’s men if they are to contend for the title.