Manchester United 1 – 1 Arsenal
Given our record at Old Trafford, a point is a good outcome. This, however, feels like a glorious opportunity missed.
The quality of football on offer was poor given the players on show. As teams, United are distinctly average and we weren’t any better.
Conditions didn’t help but that’s a pitiful excuse. We went to Old Trafford determined not to lose. A win, if it could be nicked, was fine and dandy but a point sufficed.
In the cold light of day, it took us to fourth place and kept us in the mix for Champions League football come the end of the season. But it was painful viewing.
Emery picked an adventurous XI; two wingers in a forward line containing plenty of pace? Surely we were going there to attack. Instead, we contained, barely troubling De Gea in the opening 45 minutes.
A lacklustre United did the same to Leno until McTominay fired home from the edge of the area. Granit Xhaka was set to head the ball wide when Sokratis slid in, more mindful of conceding a freekick through handball than blocking the shot. The deflection off his leg took the ball away from Xhaka to give the impression the Swiss ducked.
I’m far from Xhaka’s biggest fan but in this instance, he is being wrongly maligned. It’s not as if you have to look far for things to criticise him about, is it?
The most laughable aspect is that McTominay was only in the position to score because he was baulked in the counter-attack. Had he not eaten turf, he would have been further forward. One of football’s little ironies.
It was a rare moment of quality in forty-five minutes of drudgery.
Right Man, Wrong Time
It took twelve minutes to equalise plus another one to overturn the ludicrous offside decision by the assistant.
Auabmeyang was played onside by around six feet (!) as the lino was looking away and missed the defender three feet in front of him keeping Auba onside.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a man looking hopelessly out of his depth, bitterly complained the referee blew his whistle before the ball entered the net. It’s so pitiful that “You’re getting sacked in the morning” seems unnecessarily cruel.
Not that Emery is on much more secure ground.
Beyond Saka’s effort shortly effort, deflected for a corner, we created very little which is all the more disappointing given how poor United were.
Saka was a rare bright spot in the evening. A strong sense of purpose in everything he did underpinned his play as he gave Ashley Young a thoughtful evening. Defensively, Saka worked hard and gave Kolasinac the support he needed.
On the right, Chambers was set for a torrid evening with James. An early booking put him on the back foot but intelligently, the Arsenal man didn’t get involved in foot races with the Welshman.
However, Matteo Guendouzi was the star turn. A busy evening, working hard to close United down as well as supporting the attack. Not only that, he left his infuriating habit of hitting the turf all too easily in London.
I suggest making the most of Lucas Torreira. Unai Emery is intent on pushing him out of Arsenal. Once again, the best defensive midfielder at the club found his talents wasted. Pushed further forward, the Uruguayan was replaced by Dani Ceballos in the second half.
A more adventurous player, he failed to improve the impoverished nature of our set-pieces. They were simply abysmal all night.
The match was vexing in so many areas, not least the tactics and nature of our performance. Neither of the latter bodes well for the future. There’s no sense of progress from two seasons ago with turgid displays such as this.
We lack vitality and are treading water. Emery might argue we’re taking it steady, getting ourselves back together after Anfield and Watford. I keep having to remind myself that we didn’t lose the latter; that’s how bad the capitulation felt.
Nonetheless, I wonder if those two results and conceding twice against Villa scarred the coach. His philosophy isn’t taking hold at the club, whatever it is.
At the moment, Emery is getting results – we’ve still only lost one match this season – but his football is, at best, mundane and not winning friends. There is a balance between results and entertainment, however, and we’re not getting that anywhere near right.
If this continues, not even a top-four finish may be enough for him to see out the final year of his contract.