Fifteen years ago this fixture was the pinnacle of English football. However, in the last three years Manchester United have regressed to a team battling for European qualification while Arsenal have consistently underachieved in their title challenges. While Sky Sports attempted to build up some hype by naming the clash ‘Reunited’, the game lacked that real top quality which was so prominent in times gone by. Both teams were desperate for three points; United needed to build up momentum if they were going to break into the top five while Arsenal were slowly slipping away from Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool at the top.
Jose Mourinho changed his formation to a 4-3-3 for the first time this season, to the fans’ delight. United’s midfield three of Carrick, Herrera and Pogba dominated the game. Carrick’s deep-lying nature and composure allowed Herrera and Pogba to buzz up and down the pitch, linking well with United’s fluid front three of Martial, Mata and Rashford. The Reds’ defence was not as appealing on the eye; Valencia, Jones, Rojo and Darmian will never strike fear into an oppositions’ attackers, but Mourinho had organised his make-shift back four sufficiently to stop a blunted Arsenal attack.
United absorbed Arsenal’s possession and hit them hard on the counter attack, racking up five shots on target until Mata broke the deadlock. Unfortunately, Arsenal only needed one shot on target to beat De Gea and steal a point. Mourinho bemoaned United’s lack of luck; it is now three home Premier League games in a row that the Reds have dominated the opposition but failed to pick up a win. Despite the disappointment, the general formula for winning is to create opportunities and stop the opposition from creating chances for themselves. United are heading in the right direction, and if they keep playing the way as they are, success will come.
GK: David De Gea: 6
Mourinho said after the game that United’s first choice keeper had been on holiday against Arsenal, but not in a negative sense. The Spaniard was not tested at all, and Giroud’s thunderous header was unsaveable.
RB: Antonio Valencia: 8
The most impressive performance from the Ecuadorian this season. Valencia kept Aaron Ramsey anonymous in both halves and caused Monreal lots of problems with his driving runs forward. Probably should have been awarded a penalty in the first half after he nutmegged Monreal and was subsequently brought down. Won more tackles, and the joint most dribbles, than any other United player.
RCB: Phil Jones: 6
Like against Swansea, Jones did not look particularly confident at the heart of United’s defence. With Bailly and Smalling out, Jones was preferred over youngsters Axel Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. He dealt well with Sanchez and Ozil’s movement but when Arsene Wenger brought on Giroud, Jones was the United player thoroughly beaten by the Frenchman’s leap to equalise.
LCB: Marcos Rojo: 7
Rojo proved once again that he is much more comfortable at the centre of defence rather than on the left. When asked to perform technical duties like forward dribbles and incisive passes, as is often the case with wing-backs, Rojo fails to live up to the standard which United demand. However, at the centre of defence, the Argentinian’s no-nonsense defending and pure strength comes to the fore. Offensively, Rojo missed a very good chance to double United’s lead in the 79th minute.
LB: Matteo Darmian: 7
Dealt sufficiently with the frightening task of subduing Theo Walcott. Was lucky to still be on the pitch at half time with a yellow card and a few dodgy tackles to his name. Did not get forward as often or as effectively as Valencia on the opposite flank, partly due to Pogba’s marauding movement in front of the Italian.
CDM: Michael Carrick: 7
The answer to Manchester United’s midfield problems? Quite probably. Carrick’s screening of the back four allowed Herrera and Pogba to dominate Arsenal’s midfield with their industrious running. His composure also adds a sense of calm to United’s transition from defence to attack; not often did United lose possession in front of their defence.
RCM: Ander Herrera: 8
United’s form player just keeps on churning out performances. After being rewarded with his first international cap in midweek (it is no mean feat getting into Spain’s midfield) Herrera provided the impetus to United’s creativity. It was his driving run into the box and incisive lay off which led to Mata putting the hosts ahead. Herrera played a total of three key passes, equal with the whole of the Arsenal team combined.
LCM: Paul Pogba: 8
Another example of the Carrick-Pogba midfield partnership which gets the best out of the Frenchman. His raiding runs up and down the pitch gave Coquelin and Elneny a torrid time. Two dribbles, four aerials won and a tackle do not do that the record transfer justice. His monstrous presence gave United a real lift offensively. When winning, Pogba pulled out some impressive back-heels in Arsenal’s final third, however, his skills did not lead to any end product.
RM: Juan Mata: 8
The little Spaniard played a ‘false winger’ role which allowed Valencia to be so effective on the overlap. His subtle movement inside and link up play with Herrera and Pogba pulled Arsenal’s defence out of position numerous times. Mata’s smart, late run into the box was picked out by Herrera and the technique on his finish was textbook, giving Petr Čech no chance. Mata also put in an impressive display defensively, winning the second most tackles of any United player. Despite being Mourinho’s ‘unloved child’ and Chelsea, the Spaniard has found his feet under the Portuguese manager at the second time of asking.
LM: Antony Martial: 7
Did not enjoy a successful game against the third-choice right back Carl Jenkinson like many thought he would. Because of Mourinho’s tactics, Martial was forced to play much deeper than he is comfortable doing. While the Frenchman was not particularly impressive going forward, he put in a good display defensively. On the only occasion which Martial threatened, he forced Čech into a very good save just before the first half.
ST: Marcus Rashford: 7
Drifted out wide often and put in two very tantalising crosses for Pogba and Martial in the first half. At times, the youngster looked like he was trying to run the game himself, picking up the ball from deep and driving at the heart of Arsenal’s defence. Unfortunately, Rashford’s positional flexibility meant that United often lacked an out and out forward getting on the end of low crosses. His awful attempt at tracking Oxlade-Chamberlin led to Arsenal’s equaliser.
Wayne Rooney: 7
Replaced Martial in the 63rd minute and played the lone striker very well. His touch and hold up play was the Rooney of old. Unfortunately he could not make an impact on the result.
Daley Blind: 7
Subbed on for the carded Darmian in the 64th minute and looked solid. Will probably come into the starting eleven for United’s next Premier League home game against West Ham.
Came on for Mata to solidify United’s lead in the 85th minute but unfortunately failed to help United hold on to three points.
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