Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal: Wenger’s heaviest defeat as Arsenal manager

August 28, 2011

The starting line-ups

An astonishing game ended with a resounding Manchester United victory.

Sir Alex Ferguson kept the side that defeated Tottenham on Monday, with Danny Welbeck continuing upfront.

Arsene Wenger was without Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna to add to various previous injury and suspension problems, so Carl Jenkinson played at right-back, and Johan Djourou in the centre. Francis Coquelin made his debut in the centre of midfield.

The match was a barely believable stream of United chances in an amazingly dominant display. Arsenal were wretched from start to finish, completely unable to make the most of their numerical midfield advantage, and remarkably disorganised at the back.

Defence

Where to begin? It’s difficult to look at an 8-2 and break it down into specific areas that went wrong. Arsenal were simply poorer in every possible attribute that goes into competing in a football match, and the logical continuation of this stream of thought is that Arsenal’s problems do not lie predominantly in tactical issues – there’s something deeper that must be addressed.

That’s not to say that there weren’t tactical problems, however. For a start, they lacked any kind of cohesiveness without the ball. Some of the side seemed to be pressing, some seemed to be standing off. Coquelin, thrown into such a huge game on his debut, played a relatively deep position and picked up Rooney. Bizarrely, despite Rooney claiming a hat-trick, Coquelin did reasonably well: Rooney’s impact upon the game in open play was relatively little in the first half, and all three of his goals came from set-piece situations. Wenger’s decision to remove Coquelin at 3-1 on 61 minutes (though possibly because of fitness reasons) backfired spectacularly.

That was the only thing that went OK for Arsenal. The problem with pressing meant that Arsenal frequently had no pressure on the ball in midfield – despite the fact that they could afford Coquelin sitting, because Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky could close down Anderson and Tom Cleverley. Somehow, and again arguably due to fitness reasons, this failed – Anderson and Cleverley got time on the ball and could hit passes over the top.

The secondary issue was with the high defensive line, which is suicidal enough when there is no pressure on the ball – but that almost becomes a pedantic point when the main issue was that the back four was incapable of moving as a unit. Two players would step up, two would drop back. Sometimes it was amazingly easy for United players to waltz through and score – the Nani goal being the best example. On other occasions a lone Arsenal player would become trapped behind the rest of his defence and be forced into a last-ditch tackle – Jenkinson collected both his bookings in this fashion.

United were frequently pleasing on the eye, and the quality of their finishing was consistently superb, but they didn’t even have to play particularly well. They passed the ball much better in the 3-0 win over Tottenham and in the 3-2 win over Manchester City. Some of the goals – the Park Ji-Sung shot, the Welbeck header – simply came as they had too much time and space on the ball. Rooney’s three goals came because Arsenal had conceded fouls by diving in. Young’s strikes were superb – yet if they’d been the only goals in a 2-0 win, we would have been here questioning why a right-footed player was allowed to come inside onto his stronger side so easily. Almost everything went wrong for Arsenal.

Basic errors

The most striking thing from the chalkboards is that even in the basic areas, the most primitive concepts in football, Arsenal were outclassed. United completed 64% of the tackles they attempted, Arsenal just 45%:


by Guardian Chalkboards

Another example – despite the ball spending most of the time on the edge of the Arsenal area, United managed to block six shots compared to Arsenal’s one:


by Guardian Chalkboards

Getting tackles in, getting blocks in – not sophisticated, not the Arsenal way and unlikely to be a deciding factor upon the game, but when your side can’t keep the ball, can’t keep an offside line and is letting the opposition play, these are the things you have to be halfway decent at. If not, you’re liable to concede eight goals.

Conclusion

Part of the issue, in simplistic terms, is that Arsenal didn’t have players who were fit to perform the tasks required. Some of this was because they lacked experience, some because they were simply the wrong players for the situation. Laurent Koscielny finished with a 100% pass completion ratio…yet kept getting caught too high up the pitch when defending. Carl Jenkinson was a force going forward and got an assist…yet didn’t make a single successful tackle. Ramsey and Rosicky are creators, not battlers. To use these type of players in the positions they played in, you must be in control of the game, and Arsenal were never close to that.

United continue their impressive start, though even they must have been surprised at how easy it was. Their 4-4-2 shape (with two strikers coming deep) provides forward runs from a lot of different angles, and with Nani and Ashley Young being able to go down the line or inside for a shot, they are very dangerous going forward.

Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal: Wenger’s heaviest defeat as Arsenal manager

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