Tuesday, 6 October 2015

POST ARSENAL DEBRIEF


If you are reading this, then congratulations upon resisting the temptation to slit your wrists after Sunday's events! Three cheers!

Now that everyone has had a chance to calm down and emotion has subsided a little, we I can deconstruct the pants-down happenings of Sunday afternoon in North London and replace emotion with reason.

Football has a way of kicking you in the teeth especially when you least expect it to. It's why this particular sport retains a romance-drama feel to it that gives it an edge of Home Box Office special. Sunday though cannot be categorised as the kick in the teeth that if only because there were, admittedly in hindsight,  obvious oversights in the Manchester United set-up that allowed Arsene Wenger to hold a check-mate with within the first few seconds of the chess game.


Tactical De-Brief:
Louis van Gaal, bless him, is a meticulous man who will think, double-think, triple-think and then cross triple-think out in-game situations to allow himself the benefit of preparedness to neutralise every possible threat.

There is but one danger in an otherwise flawless philosophy; the likelihood to over think it! So much so that when it looks like you couldn't be more prepared, you have in fact gone full circle with permutations and effectively failed to meet even the most basic of challenges from the opposition.

Even before apportioning individual blame, it was on the whole a toxic strategy to use the high line, leaving lots of space in behind, on a pitch that is one of the widest in the division. Arsenal's pass and move game thrives when there is space in behind to allow their runners a race against the opposition.

It's easy to see at what point van Gaal made the decision. The cross triple-think stage. The Dutchman at that point must have worked out that Arsenal play the ball in to feet and therefore would be undone by a high-line that would leave the defence with enough pace behind to snuff out their moves. Unfortunately though, it took little account of the pass and move game at speed that Arsenal play, a threat the Dutchman might have already worked out at the double-think stage.

Indeed, the Dutchman had already been successful with this approach a year ago even in a shambles of a 3-5-2 formation. In fairness to the manager, the high-line had served him well in the 3-1 success over Liverpool last month but the Merseysiders barely showed interest to get at United. As such, it was easy for Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger to dictate proceedings against an unwilling team.


Individuals' Appraisal
Where the system failed as a whole, it was not aided by the individual performances. It is unfortunate that almost a month on, we still have to make reference to the injury suffered by Luke Shaw. The manager has already admitted that it was the one position in which the club was short of a replacement.

Matteo Darmian, out on the right, was twisted and turned by Alexis Sanchez, no doubt unaided by the space in behind with which the Chilean could work with. For the Italian, it was a second personal chastening at the hands of the former Barcelona forward, having come against him, in a 0-7 romp at the hands of Udineese during his time at Parlermo. Then, Matteo was only 21, learning. The learning curve has steepened since. The good news is that Darmian retains the class to do the job in his favoured right-back role. Indeed, he was the club's best player in August as voted by fans. The second month though has been more inconsistent. It hasn't helped that he was been moved from right-back to left-back, sometimes in the middle of games. He is however our best natural full-back option available who looks like he could do with much less chopping and changing.

Over on the left, Ashley Young fared no better. His problems however were compounded by the unwillingness of Memphis Depay to do his fair share of defensive work. The Dutch winger, also hooked at half-time seems to be bordering on the periphery of a bench role.

Wayne Rooney, who usually saves a performance for Arsenal, was as labored as we've come to know him recently. This time though, he had the company of at least ten of the XI on the pitch. Only Anthony Martial emerged with credit on the day.


On The Sub-Plots
The danger of being shown up defensively in a game of that magnitude is that it allows future opponents to study areas of weakness and quite simply attempt to repeat the damage. Louis van Gaal, over the next 10 days or so will probably ponder over whether to recall the now fit Phil Jones to partner Chris Smalling at the back and move the more assured Daley Blind on the left such that Darmian can keep right-back. That way, he reduces the number of round holes in square pegs around the team.

Forget being defeated, this was only the second time in Louis van Gaal's tenure that United have lost a league game by a three goal margin. The last team to do that? Everton who are next up.


On The Bottom-Line
In football, you are as good as your previous result. As such from being acclaimed for title glory last week, United are now the easy target for everyone that can string together a couple of English sentences.

As such, it is easy to lose context. Manchester United were not favourites to win the title this season and therefore will still suffer some harsh lessons this season. The target was to be competitive in the league and the Cup competitions. Two points off the top in the league after 8 games is a position we would all have taken going into the season.

Further, United do not need to beat potential members of the top four to do well or even win the league. Indeed, last term, United's dominance in the games against top opposition counted for little because of the points dropped to sides in the bottom-half of the table. As such, United have only registered one poor result domestically---the home draw with Newcastle.

Whereas it was alleged that United have not been tested prior to Sunday, it is their run of results against teams that apparently have not tested them that saw them rise to the top of the table ahead of the other 'stronger' contenders.

If Louis van Gaal can get his side to notch up the winnable points, it will matter very little how United do in the big matches! More than anything, that will show progress.

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