Manchester United Preview: Another Tricky Day

It’s a sign o’ the times and has been for a number of seasons. Not just when Ferguson retired and Arsenal spiralled, but before then. When Arsenal ceased to be a title challenger, that’s when this fixture begand to fade from relevance to that race. It’s still a big game for us; it always has been and it always will but if you ask me, I feel a bit ‘meh’ about this afternoon’s fixture.

United have named a weakened squad; they still won’t lose. We’re hopelessly out of sorts and the manager is out of ideas on how to reinvigorate his side. Instead we listen to words about the players being wounded animals. He who was once a breath of fresh air at the club is sucking out the oxygen; how has it come to this? Even Mourinho is being nice to him, and in the process making Arsène look the sourpuss which takes some doing. Let’s be honest, the media which hounded Wenger for years is now his biggest fan, having tired of Mourinho’s boorish behaviour.

Arsenal recognise the fading allure of this Premier League season. Already the attack dogs are unleashed. Incomprehensible transfer gossip surfaces in the back pages:  £85m for Mbappe “and they’ll promise to play him centrally every week“. This is the club which has the longest list of ‘nearly-signed players’ in the history of football. We’re being set up for a summer of “we tried”, in complete contrast to last week’s ‘you failed’ headlines of how Alexandre Lacazette wants Champions League football and isn’t coming to Arsenal because of that. Unless it one of Spain’s big three who go for him, I’m guessing Arsenal’s money will more than compensate him for a season or two in the Europa League.

I Like Nightmares

In a perverse way, this season’s failure is welcome at Arsenal. The complacency within the club itself about finishing in the top four must surely have been shaken out of the upper echelons of management, including Wenger himself. If the ‘root and branch’ changes we’re led to believe are happening, it must include a more dynamic approach to the transfer market, including no longer letting the manager have the final say on price. He and Dick Law are too conservative by far, to be effective for a club with pretensions of becoming a European giant.

Whether or not Wenger is here is another matter. While the timing suits a new broom, I don’t believe he wants to leave. The only reason he will is if he does not want to work with the changes in the hierarchy; no other reason. Nor do I believe it will be just a two-year renewal. There’s little sense in that, with the changes needed at squad level. There are a number of players over 30 and all of them key. Wenger walking away with the squad decimated by the loss of key players? It’s not going to happen. This summer’s renewal is the precursor, in my view, to four more years. The new two years to overhaul the squad, the second two for a final tilt at glory.

The Kids Are Alright

Just remember you read that headline here first. It’s going to be used if/when United don’t lose this afternoon. Much is being made of the youthful additions to United’s squad for today’s game. Mourinho isn’t going to throw this match. No matter the circumstances, his record of not losing a competitive match to Wenger – no-one seems to regard the Community Shield as competitive any more – is not something he will give up lightly.

United this season are almost an object lesson for Arsenal next season. Get to the Champions League via the Europa League while shying at the top four. With the title a pipe dream, we have to follow the same template. A little bit more flair, if you don’t mind; the numbing football United play is the antithesis of Ferguson’s era, but it’s nonetheless been effective. If we don’t win today, they will finish above us.

Two decisions for Arsène in terms of the line-up. Olivier Giroud’s goal at Old Trafford is likely to see him keep his place in the XI, no matter how ineffective he is. Mustafi will return, shifting Gabriel to the left of the trio of central defenders while I expect Coquelin to be recalled in place of Xhaka, no matter that Elneny is a better player.

It leaves the line-up:

Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny; Gabriel; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Coquelin, Monreal; Özil, Sanchez; Giroud

Finally, a new playlist is set for Dad’s Jukebox this morning. A belter in the series ‘Jukebox Classics – The Originals of Covers By‘ sees the Arctic Monkey as the lab rats. They have covered an eclectic mix of songs by other people and it may be the only time certain groups feature on my playlists!

Enjoy the match wherever you  are watching it.

’til Tomorrow.


148 thoughts on “Manchester United Preview: Another Tricky Day

  1. So what have I missed?

    Just kidding!

    Needed the luck for the first goal, but the second was a beauty. Amazing the difference in our game now our tails are up.

    If only Ramsey could pass and Gibbs could cross.

  2. I have been saying for a while that we would have a strong finish. We always do that in order to paper over the cracks. I think we have a very good chance to win these last 5 games and 75 points has a reasonable chance to be enough for 4th. Imagine the celebrations if we win at home against Everton and secure 4th

  3. Bill,

    I still think there’s too much to do. Southampton are very difficult to score against and won’t give us any space.

  4. Wavey.

    Don’t bet against us. The football gods have always done everything in their power to give Arsene his top 4th finishes. We will find some way to nick a scruffy goal or may be get a penalty.

  5. What the hell is Coquelin doing that far up the field at this late stage of the game? Someone should be screaming from the bench for him to drop back. Clearly he has been given licence to roam, which makes no sense at all.

  6. Spy,

    Hilarious. Didn’t a score, or assist. His shots were poor and his passing was so-so. He ran around a lot and made a nuisance of himself. Is that a MOTM performance? Not deliberately getting on his case, just surprised that the pundits thought he was the best player on the pitch. I don’t see it.

    A much, much better performance once the first goal went in. Handled United well at the back and Cech didn’t have a huge amount to do. Most of the shots were from distance. Holding put in another good performance barring the cock up in the first half. Even that one was partly down to Kos switching off.

    Nice to beat Maureen. I’m expecting a brave attempt to get into the top 4 will end up with us finishing in 5th. Wenger will some how claim that the fighting spirit has convinced him to sign up again. Cue disappointing transfer window and another mediocre season.

  7. It didn’t look great in the 1st half, got a little better in the 2nd and we got the 3 points. All that matters really.

    United didn’t look great either, it was a game of two teams who are struggling to raise their game.

    Thanks for the effort to win this one, I think the positive of the game is the move and finish for the 2nd goal.

    On to the next game and hopefully another 3 points.

  8. I think what was best about today was the clean sheet without Cech having to save so many good shots. He had 2-3 important saves, but overall the defense was better than it has been recently. Holding did a good job on right apart from one weak back pass. Even Gibbs had a good game–and I really doubted him.

  9. moaninho does not play to win against the Arsenal ever.
    sets up team in 6 yard box and hit on counter.
    May the Arsenal build on this to finish the season strong and win the FA Cup!

  10. Rambling, mumbling interview from Mourinho, his poor overworked team are hard done by. Should have spent the club’s money better. His mycky mousetarian striker looks a complete waste of space.

  11. Mourinho’s negativity caught up with him finally – and it feels so good.
    Back 6, Mata and Mkhitarian (sp?) as FBs?! Would quite possibly have worked if Xhaka hadn’t had that shot.

  12. I know MU are lousy and Pogba and Rashford were rested but that was a strong side overall. Jones and Smalling weren’t great but weren’t the main problem. So give this one to AW. Even the subs, I thought, were good ones and well timed to control and kill the game.
    Rambo had a good game, which was good to see. The only one I thought was not on the mark was Ozil who slowed the ball up many times when a bit more courage to press the advantage in attack would have been helpful. Xhaka was fine but he also isn’t an accelerator of our play. If someone could work with Ox defensively, he’d be more of an asset there. I might start Bellerin one of these upcoming games.

  13. Limestonegunner,

    can’t quite believe you’re knocking Ozil today.
    Agree to disagree then. I thought he did well.
    Sanchez was pretty disappointing by his own standards but overall we looked better, including in midfield.

  14. Agree, Wavey, that we’ll finish 5th. As for the rest of your predictions–is that not what always happens?! So how can we disagree…

  15. Sam,

    I like Ozil generally. I’m not being gratuitous. I just think he did not help us much today. Alexis had some great passes into the box but played to deep to create chances for himself.

  16. That was great. Never looked troubled really.

    Monreal’s got the instincts to play in a back three. He was actually OK at CB a in a two a couple of years back.

    And if you take a longer view the midfield has definitely improved since the switch, Ramsey in particular.

  17. Limestonegunner,

    Yep. The usual rinse and repeat. It will be the chase for the top 4 that Wenger will use as his excuse for signing up again though. The same old nonsense as his claim that the win in the FA Cup against Hull gave him new belief when he signed his last contract. A load of old bollox, but Wenger loves to spin a tale for the fans. AKB lap it up.

  18. It was good to beat a top 6 team of any description. Enjoyed it. I think it might help us prepare for the cup final if we can win a few more and become more comfortable with the formation. That’s really all that matters this season.

  19. Spy,

    He had a strong game against my expectations. Hats off to him. One thing did bother me though–he spent far too much of the time ahead of Sanchez on the left. Alexis comes too deep and Gibvs loves getting forward. I’d have liked to see more of Alexis ahead with Gibbs back. It happened one or two times very noticeablywhen their positions needed to be reversed. But it worked out and was better balanced than v Spurs on that left side.

  20. Also, on how silly the PL is at the moment. Man U fielded a weakened side by selecting the player who has now cost them…£45 million in fees (?) instead of the one who has just come through their youth ranks.

  21. Great result.

    How does the team that against powerhouses like West Brom and Crystal Palace, amongst others, looked like they were seeing a football for the first time in their lips, produce that?

    I guess I’ll have one of whatever Gary Neville has been having……………

  22. Limestonegunner,

    We do love a good DM, unfortunately most others don’t. I do think that Xhaka has started to play better but I think he is a player that can be the deepest midfielder and with our current set up I would start Elneny to do the busy work and link between defense and attack.

  23. C,

    I’m surprised honest in this formation that Elneny hasn’t featured more. Perhaps we need more attack minded mids like Ramsey to make it work. Not sure but whatever the case next season we do need a proper player there. So much recruitment needed. This is an aging team as well. Santi, Merts, Monreal, OG, Kos, Cech, Debuchy. New blood has to come in soon. Rather a new manager rebuilt this team.

  24. Best I have seen Arsenal play in 5 months. By a long way.

    Rambo found his boots, Gibbs was excellent, Chamberlain looked like he could get back to his best. Arsenal were quick, assured and on top in large parts.
    Lucky goal started the best of it, but we have had our fair share of shit.
    Pity it was Manchester’s third eleven.

  25. This evening I’m surrounded by a warm glow. Beating United always has and always will be special, but this time around it is even more special than usual. Not only have we taken three point off them, but we have also ended their twenty-five game unbeaten run. A little payback for them bring the Invincible run to an end.

    That said it doesn’t disguise the fact that we are eighteen points behind League leaders Chelsea and, what is worst, fourteen points adrift of Spurs.

    We now have five games in which to resurrect our league season, Bill assures us that we will get into the top four, I wish I had his confidence but there have been a few too many false dawns for my liking.

    Southampton and Stoke City away are going to be no walkovers, drop points in either match and it will be Europa League here we come.

  26. Orson

    I am not assuring us of anything other then we will finish the year with a good run of results and perhaps even win the last 5 games in a desperate attempt to paper over the cracks. Whether 75 points will be enough for 4th place depends on Liverpools results and we can’t control that. They are certainly wobbling and if they drop points in either of their last 2 games we can pass them. It’s been 7-8 years of stagnation, however, finding a way to finish 4th against the odds is the one positive thing Arsene still has in his locker. I certainly would not bet against him or the football gods who always seem to help him out.

  27. Nothing is 100% accurate but the one thing the last 13 years has taught us is that history almost always repeats itself in terms of our results and how our seasons tend to play out.

  28. The other thing the last 13 years has taught us is just how quickly our form can turn around. We can go from really good to indifferent or bad in a heartbeat. We can also go from bad to good just as fast.

  29. Limestone

    I don’t think we play as well with 2 midfield pivots. We always seem to play better when one of our central midfielders is the defensive player and the other is more aggressive attacking and more dynamic. Cazorla and Ox move forward aggressively with the ball at their feet and when Ramsey is playing well and being more influential he is more aggressive. We need somebody in the midfield who can push the tempo. Ox did it from the R wing against Man City and Ramsey did it today. Long term I think Iwobe might have the skill set to be more dynamic in the box to box role. Elneny does not really fit that aggressive/dynamic model that I think we need in the “box to box” role. Elneny’s best position would be deepest midfielder IMO.

  30. Someone in our team has to push the tempo. The best example was Ox in the FA cup semi vs Man City. Cazorla is the obvious choice when healthy but without him we have to find someone else. Ozil would seem like he has to the skill set to be able to push the tempo but that is just not what he does so someone else needs to take charge. I think the Sanchez gets into trouble sometimes because consciously or subconsciously he recognizes that we are getting bogged and he tries to kick start the team. For better or worse he is at least he is trying to make something happen.

  31. Bill,

    I was thinking Elneny and Ox partnering centrally for example. I think you are right about one more defensive and the other going forward. You are coming dangerously close to concerning yourself with midfield balance, however. Don’t let C catch you talking like this! He’ll think you’ve converted.

  32. Limestone

    You’re right. Thinking more like C is a frightening thought 😉 The reality is that the player who pushes the tempo does not have to be a central midfielder. That impetus to move forward can come from anywhere.

    I do like the idea of Elneny as our deepest midfielder but then what do we do with Xhaka and Le Coq? I guess its good to have some depth.

  33. I’m struggling with the concept of two midfield pivots.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but the seesaw is the simplest example of a single pivot device, one end goes up as the other goes down. If you have two pivots, wouldn’t both ends go down simultaneously and vice versa.

    To have two midfield pivots sounds like a recipe for chaos.

  34. Always nice to beat United, especially with Jose at the helm

    Ramsey again looks to be benefiting from the new system in being free to play his game. Not sure about motm though? Maybe Ox was a better choice?

    Only downside I would say is that the standard was more a case of which team isnt the worst. Both very timid, with flashes of the class they carry within them. I think Juve are probably the best there is at the moment, complete all round package. Either of those sides yesterday would be obliterated by them. A sad statement on where “the best league in the world” currently sits and the fare it serves up

Comments are closed.