Manchester United’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of Arsenal will go down as one of the most disappointing of Louis Van Gaal’s reign as Manchester United manager.
Whilst United have faced defeats under Van Gaal previously, never has Van Gaal’s side been so decisively defeated.
The match was over as a competition as soon as Sanchez cut in from the left and leathered a rocket past the helpless David De Gea for Arsenal’s 3rd, sending United who started the weekend top of the table to 3rd place.
The most disappointing thing about the defeat is United fans will feel that it was very avoidable.
Arsenal were undoubtedly the better team on the day, but key decisions from Van Gaal made the whole thing a lot easier for the under-fire Arsene Wenger.
So just where did United go wrong?
United’s penchant for starting slow finally catches up
Manchester United have been playing with fire this season with a number of slow starts, most recently against Southampton and Wolfsburg.
But whilst they managed to get back into both of these games and secure wins, today they were unable to do so. Finding themselves behind after 6 minutes, Arsenal doubled their lead just a minute later and whilst United looked out of it, Arsenal sealed their win after just 19 minutes.
Whilst there is no conclusive explanation as to why United are so lethargic at the beginning of games, you would hope that with United seemingly losing their ability to come from behind to win (it has only happened 5 times under the Dutchman), it is something that they sort sooner rather than later.
Following the game Louis van Gaal told Sky Sports:
“The problems did not start at the back, they started in midfield. Their midfield players, especially Cazorla and Özil, had too much time and space.”
You don’t need to be Manchester United manager to know that if you give players like Cazorla and Ozil space they will hurt you, so it makes you wonder why United set up with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick in the middle of the park?
Individually both players are brilliant and have shown so on many occasions this season, but a lack of pace and mobility in the middle of the park was badly exposed today.
When the team was announced, that was the first thing that caused alarm bells to ring. Ander Herrera’s energy was one of the key factors as United dominate for large spells of the game as the two sides drew in May but unavailable today due to injury, United could have used the legs of Morgan Schneiderlin in beside Carrick or Schweinsteiger.
Of course we can all appear to be Pep Guardiola with hindsight, but it has been something we have seen before (remember the dark days of going to Anfield with a midfield two of Carrick and Scholes and suffering the indignation of seeing the likes of Lucas Leiva, part of a 3, dominate?)
This was clearly a mistake on Van Gaal’s part and hopefully he is now aware that against top level opposition, this is a pairing that we can’t even dream of fielding.
For a manager as tactically astute as Louis Van Gaal, it’s obvious that United got it wrong today.
We’ve seen numerous times that success against Arsenal lies in containing them and then hitting them on the break. Instead Van Gaal’s demand for possession saw United coming out to play and thus playing into Arsenal’s hands.
With Martial and Depay in the side United aren’t short of pace in attack, and the inclusion of Per Mertesacker should have seen United make the most of the pair, instead United played in front of Arsenal, passing from side to side rather than looking to get in behind. I can remember one instance of United isolating Mertesacker and from that Martial was able to break into the box and fashion a chance, a rare occurance that happened far too late in the game.
Arsenal on the other hand, played to their strengths and would often bypass the middle third in order to prompt quick attacks, utilising the pace of Sanchez and Walcott.
Realising that Sanchez had Matteo Darmian’s number, they targeted the Italian fullback and did so until he was hooked at halftime.
Under Van Gaal we have quickly learned that possession can be pointless if not used correctly, today was a prime example of this as United enjoyed 62% of the ball to Arsenal’s 38% but ended up 3 goals worse off.
What does Wayne Rooney have to do to be dropped?
It’s astonishing to think that as Jose Mourinho is being criticised by all and sundry for persisting with Branislav Ivanovic, Louis Van Gaal is getting away with continually fielding the under performing Wayne Rooney.
Having been off the pace for this long, it would be fair to say that Rooney isn’t in a rut, rather his abilities as a player have diminished.
I have seen Rooney come in for criticism for his performances and rightly so, today was no better as he again had a stinker but what I can’t fault him for is the reason behind his downturn. Having played first team football since he was 16, it is understandable that now, as he approaches his 30th birthday, he has run out of steam.
Naming the Liverpudlian as United captain, Van Gaal has painted himself into a corner as he can’t possibly drop him… or can he? Van Gaal has shown throughout his managerial career a ruthlessness and now would be the best time to show it again. It may not be time to take Rooney out back with the shotgun, but pulling him out of the team to let him know that he isn’t undroppable could do the striker and United the world of good.
James Wilson looked impressive in his brief cameo today, buzzing around the box and getting involved as United chased the game whilst Martial has shown that his capable of leading the line, one of the few players to come out of today’s drubbing with any credit. Dropping Rooney would allow Juan Mata to again try his hand in the #10 position, and whilst he has not shown his best there when given the chance, it’s unlikely that he will perform worse than his captain has.
United now face a tough run of games that sees a trip to Goodison Park, unhappy stomping grounds for United in recent years, followed by a tough trip to Russia to face CSKA Moscow before rivals Man City visit Old Trafford.
Last season a defeat to Arsenal kickstarted a run of games that saw Van Gaal’s side consolidate a top 4 finish, the Dutch manager will be hoping today’s defeat acts as similar catalyst