In a closely fought affair,Arsenal ended Manchester United’s unbeaten run of 25 Premier League games. With both sides still somewhat in the race for a top 4 spot, it was a vital win for Arsenal who find themselves battling to be in the UEFA Champions League next season having played in every season since 1999.
Reactive set up from Man United
With the Europa league away leg against Celta Vigo to be played in midweek, Jose Mourinho rested many players who played on Thursday against Celta. Axel Tuanzebe found himself making his debut PL start for Manchester United. Jones and Smalling also returned to the starting lineup for the first time in months.
As it has been against all big teams this season, Jose Mourinho set up a side so as not to concede and punishing the opposition for their mistakes after encouraging them to push up. Another interesting aspect of Manchester United’s strategy was that they did not use their fullbacks as passing outlets when in possession. This meant that they had to resort to playing vertical balls and diagonal balls hoping to find Martial running onto one of such balls. This also meant that ball retention was difficult for the central midfielders in Carrick,Herrera and Rooney against Arsenal’s midfield. Without overlapping fullbacks,United often found themselves in a position of numerical inferiority against Arsenal’s 3-4-2-1 block. As a result,it was not much of a surprise that after Mata’s cross was headed over by Rooney in the 24th minute,it took 50 minutes for United to create another chance. Rooney had a chance to slot in Holding’s poor backpass but it was more a case of Arsenal creating that chance for Manchester United on that occasion.
In the defensive phases,wingers Mata and Mkhitaryan were instructed to slot outside fullbacks Tuanzebe and Darmian making a back 6 to neutralize the threat of Chamberlain and Gibbs who often found themselves in very advanced positions. But this meant that Arsenal’ s midfielders had ample time to pass in front of United’s midfield 3 of Carrick Herrera and Rooney. Sanchez and Özil always looked a threat when given such time to pick out their passes. Ramsey’s runs from deep were often left untracked by the back of Manchester United which led to some decent chances for Arsenal.
The game continued in much of the same fashion in the second half. Ramsey continued his runs from deep between the channels left by United’s back line. Short of numbers in midfield,it was no surprise that one pass found Granit Xhaka with space to shoot in front of United’s midfield line which gave Arsenal the lead. A second goal from a cross by Chamberlain from the right flank killed Manchester United’s chances and gave Arsenal a faint glimmer of hope of making the UCL next season. As for Manchester United, Jose Mourinho said that his side’s chances of finishing in the top 4 is impossible making it clear that he will be going full out to win the Europa this year to secure UCL qualification for next season.