12 points on Arsenal v Man Utd
If you take the result in isolation then 2-2 against this incarnation of Arsenal, especially after being in a losing position twice, is a good result. It certainly felt like a positive result at the end of the game. But the problem is that it leaves us in 8th place, 8 points behind Arsenal. We desperately needed to win last night and because we couldn’t we’re now closer to the bottom than we are to the top (in terms of points). Making it into the top four would genuinely be a miracle at this point.
To be honest, I thought that the starting eleven last night were all pretty good. Some were better than others – Rashford, Martial, Lingard, Herrera, and Bailly were especially praise-worthy – but there were no notably poor performances from them, which is about as good as it gets for us at the moment. I would be pretty happy for us to continue on with that 11 for every game, with the exception of switching Shaw for Darmian on the left.
Dalot started off well but he, like Bailly, was clearly struggling for fitness by the end – which is hardly surprising given how little football they’ve played this season so far. But he’s certainly cause for optimism, so I hope he starts to feature more regularly.
Herrera was excellent all game and looked far more like a captain than Smalling did, constantly communicating with and organising those around him. He’s the closer thing to a leader we have, so I don’t understand why he has featured so infrequently this season.
The defence itself was much improved – which feels daft to say, given that both Arsenal’s goals were down to mistakes – but we looked far more solid in open play aside from those two incidents. Rojo and Bailly were impressive, the latter more so, and looked really suited to the formation we used. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means but it was one of the better I’ve seen this season, so it’s at least something to build upon.
I actually thought the 5-2-3 (ish) formation we used was pretty much spot on. Having Martial, Lingard, and Rashford as a fluid front three really worked and you could see some understanding developing between those players. The wing-backs offered a bit more of an outlet out wide, and with more practice that could be the formation that suits our players best. I would still prefer to see us play with out-and-out wingers, but in the absence of a true right-winger then this would be a good compromise.
There were a couple of frustrations though. While Matic is a good reader of the play and does make a number of key interceptions, he is just so painfully slow to release the ball. He plays so deep that when he dithers in possession – which is happening far too often for my liking – he inevitably ends up putting us under real pressure. I would also question whether it’s really necessary for him to play when we’re using a back 5 – we shouldn’t need a defensive screen in that formation and we would have been better with a bit more movement and thrust in midfield. Personally, I think he is in desperate need of a rest, so I would rather see us give Fred an extended run in the side for a bit. He might make some mistakes but he’s not going to improve unless he plays.
Obviously the individual mistakes were frustrating too but it’s impossible to be mad at De Gea given all he’s done for us. Plus he more than made up for it with some of his second-half saves. Rojo’s was slightly understandable – he seemed to be looking around for someone to pass to, but there was nobody showing for him and he ended up caught in two minds. It also doesn’t help that he has also played very little football for a long time, so again I’m not too concerned there.
But the biggest frustration by far was the attitude of the three substitutes. Rashford was sprinting for pretty much the entire 90 minutes; I don’t think I saw one sprint from Pogba, Lukaku, or Fellaini combined. At 2-2 the game was finely poised and we could have easily nicked it with a bit of extra effort and some luck (Arsenal could too, of course), but those three barely touched the ball. I’m not sure whether those players were acting out because they thought they should be starting, but none of them offered any evidence to back that up.
I have been firmly in the “Pogba In” camp up until now, but at this point I would be happy to see him leave. If he doesn’t care about the team – which certainly seemed to be the case last night – then he’s doing us no good at all. He appears to think he’s bigger than the team, and maybe he is, but that isn’t what we need right now. No amount of occasional brilliance is worth what we get the other 90% of the time. I’d rather have someone less technically talented but more engaged and willing to work for the team – what we really need is a Park Ji Sung in his prime right now.
I spent a lot of time watching Lukaku too and I started to notice the things that people have been complaining about. I don’t believe that he’s a bad footballer, like some around me were saying, but he’s definitely not a good one. His first touch is abysmal, his movement limited, and even his effort is lacking. He looks far too bulky, and all the best parts of his game from his first season are completely missing. I’m not giving up on him, but he needs to make some serious changes to his effort and his overall game because both are lacking right now.
All in all, it could have been a lot worse last night. There were some reasons to be cheerful and some not so much, but what we need now is some consistency. I would love for us to find a settled formation and starting 11 and use that in consecutive games. I think there were enough positives on show last night to make it worth giving that formation another go at least. He just needs to stop tinkering and stick with one formation and style so that the players can feel a bit more settled and build some confidence.