|Image from the Telegraph|
Manchester United went into the New Year with back to back wins against Newcastle and Burnley only to suffer another disappointing defeat to out-of-form Arsenal at the Emirates with first half goals from Pepe and Sokratis making the difference for Arteta in his first win for Arsenal. A big win for Arsenal but many questions for Manchester United who were pathetic on the night.
United made three changes to the side that beat Burnley with Williams, Young and Pereira all out for Shaw, Wan-Bissaka and Lingard. Paul Pogba failed to make the squad after sustaining another injury that will sideline him for four weeks and with McTominay also out for two months, Fred and Matic made the midfield two.
De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire (c), Shaw, Matic, Fred, James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial
The first half began with a United attack and Rashford got off an early shot to test Bernd Leno but after that, Arsenal were rampant. Kolasinac charged down the Gunner’s left, played in by Aubameyang and cut the ball back for Pepe to finish into an open net with twelve minutes played and the Emirates erupted. United were unable to keep the ball or play any attacking football while Arsenal bossed the midfield and overwhelmed United in the wide areas for most the half with Ozil pulling the strings excellently at no.10. United were hanging on until they were punished for sloppy defending again as Ozil’s whipped corner was saved brilliantly by De Gea but only to Sokratis who was unmarked and hammered the ball into the back of the net before half time. Maguire had another guilt-edged chance to score but failed to halve the deficit with a tame header easily caught by Arsenal’s number one.
Solskjaer had to get United playing forward and connecting with the forwards but in the opening fifteen minutes of the second half, nothing emerged as promising play despite having most the possession and thus James and Lingard came off for Pereira and Greenwood. Pereira could have halved the deficit after some lovely football but hit the side netting from a narrow angle with no other options. Arsenal played on the counter in the second half and United could not break them down and it was the same story as it has been all season with low blocks, United could not find the chances and slumped to a defeat that, although keeping them in fifth, leaves them five points away from fourth.
Arsenal played almost perfectly but it was an awful performance from Manchester United. Despite the recent success, this process of going two steps forward one step back has been this way for some time and not just under Ole. The midfield was not invested in and Lingard and Pereira are not suitable candidates for the no.10 against teams that defend deep and counter and it seems Mata is not able to perform against high-level opposition anymore. With Pogba and McTominay, United would have swept Arsenal aside but we are weak in this midfield area and it should not be a shock that it has caused us problems all season. In January, we need to sign a number 10 and a central midfielder if we are to compete for silverware and get back into the top four. Another thing is Luke Shaw who was woeful again against Arsenal and when comparing to Brandon Williams’ latest performances should indicate who is playing better and should get the nod for the next spell of games.
David de Gea 6/10
Could do nothing for the first goal and did well to stop the second effort at first but nothing he could do for the second. Will probably be rested against Wolves for the City game where he will need to be at his very best.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka 4/10
Got overrun at times and could not handle all of it. Tried to attack but is still weak in that area. Needs work but needs help from James too.
Victor Lindelof 6/10
Played alright and made some good blocks. Half his fault for the second goal but did a decent job and has looked better in recent weeks.
Harry Maguire 4/10
Poor performance and should be commanding in both boxes but failed at his job as the leader and stronger defender. Needs to look at himself before some big matches on the horizon.
Luke Shaw 2/10
Run raw by Pepe and should have marked him for the first goal. Non-existent in attack and struggled in defence. Brandon Williams is breathing down his neck and it won’t be long till his place is taken.
Nemanja Matic 5/10
Despite his limitations he did his best and that’s all you can ask for in his situation. Strong on the ball but had no quality in his final ball. Should not be in that situation but it is what it is.
Again was asked too much for the kind of player he is but did as best as he could.Worked hard and put in a graft all game despite the lack of final product. Will want the midfield strengthened as he does need more help there. He cannot be a no.6, 8 and 10 all in one player. Not many can.
Daniel James 4/10
Again, worked hard and gave Kolasinac problems but there was no service to him and so he struggled. He is not a Messi in which he can do it all himself. He needs service and there was none.
Jesse Lingard 1/10
Pointless to have him on the pitch. The one thing you can always count on with Lingard was his off the ball play but it was barely there and he could not link the play and was bossed by Xhaka and Torreira all 58 minutes he was on. Should’ve been subbed off sooner but to be honest should never have been in that position as he is not capable of playing against teams that sit off.
Marcus Rashford 5/10
No end product but struggled for service again. United need that number ten that can link teams up against low blocks and then United will have a better chance of winning these kind of games.
Anthony Martial 6/10
The best of the front four by far. Tried to get the game going by coming deep and tried to make runs but again no service. He is becoming a proper number nine but needs to have that number ten to get him into those one-on-one situations.
Mason Greenwood 5/10
No service but tried to get the game going. Still only 18 and so he will have a lot of time to adapt but will need service if he is to keep scoring goals.
Andreas Pereira 5/10
Came on to provide service at no.10 but failed in his task. Did OK but not enough and is not the right type of player for the game. Disappointing but not unexpected.
Juan Mata N/A
Came on for 12 or so minutes but had no true impact. He could have started the game and made a difference with his quality but the fact that he didn’t shows a lot about how much he has declined. He will probably start against Wolves in the FA Cup and if not it will be a shock given Wolves’ tactics to sit back but we shall see.