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article imageArsenal dominates Man United with cohesive play

By Tyrrell Meertins     Oct 4, 2015 in Sports
In regards to reaching an elite status, Arsenal and Manchester United are generally at the same stage, but the former’s emphatic victory over the Red Devils told a different story.
This was a polarizing display that illustrated a method of attack that Arsenal currently flourish in, whilst exploiting the deficiencies within a Manchester United side that are swiftly shaping into a Louis van Gaal product. In terms of individual talent, Arsenal’s front four is comparable to the top side’s in the country, whereas United’s systematic cohesion is superior to most – here, the former triumphed.
Most fittingly, it was Arsenal’s big money signings of the last two seasons that were integral to the home side’s dynamic start. Alexis Sanchez constantly tormented Matteo Darmian when cutting infield from the left, whereas Bastian Schweinsteiger’s intent to close down Santi Cazorla – who picked out Alexis twice in the opening minutes with two lovely diagonal balls – presented further space in central areas for Mesut Ozil to receive the ball, and subsequently play intelligent passes.
Wenger’s admiration with possession-based football has been bittersweet over the last decade, but Arsenal’s fluidity and precise one-touch passing easily bypassed United’s languid pressure. The build up to the opener witnessed Francis Coquelin evade Wayne Rooney and combine with right back Hector Bellerin, and the latter located Ozil between the lines to push the Gunners forward. Arsenal doubled their lead a minute later with Cazorla getting away from Rooney to find Alexis, whose back-heel enabled Ozil and Walcott to combine and the former coolly beat David De Gea.
At times it appeared Schweinsteiger was unsure of Ozil’s positioning, as his compatriot constantly charged into space behind the United midfielder when he pushed forward to press. Meanwhile, Alexis terrorized Darmian, which resulted in the Italian earning a booking, and two impressive goals.United conceded too much space between the lines when they pressed, and the duo of Schweinsteiger and Carrick were constantly overrun. The former endured his worst display since his move from Bayern Munich, as he failed to cope with fast-paced tempo, and unsurprisingly withered when pressured.
Likewise, Cazorla’s passing from deep positions also played a significant factor at the Emirates. The Spaniard completed 89 per-cent of his passes in the first half, and along with igniting the break for the goal, served as the catalyst for two Arsenal breaks that resulted in over-hit crosses from Hector Bellerin and Walcott. It was equally odd to see Schweinsteiger push forward to press a technically gifted, two-footed player, as Cazorla effortlessly dribbled past the German.
Ozil’s movement bamboozled Schweinsteiger, and Carrick was equally underwhelming, leaving many to question Van Gaal’s decision to exclude Morgan Schneiderlin. It’s evident Van Gaal preferred a combination of experience and control in midfield, but against an Arsenal front four containing excellent transitional attackers, United risked being overrun in central areas.
“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. We also had space behind our defence. When you always put the pressure on, they cannot make their passes so easily. That was our problem in the first half," said Van Gaal.
“They were not aggressive. And you have to do it not only with the two in midfield but as a team. You have to be more compact. You need aggression at the moment you have a duel and Arsenal were much more aggressive.”
In contrast, Arsenal displayed the organization, cohesion and discipline associated with United’s fine start to the season. Van Gaal’s preference of Ashley Young over Antonio Valencia was pivotal in this respect because it enabled his best full-back to play in his natural position against Arsenal’s best attacker, but also offered an attacking threat down the left behind Ramsey.
Nonetheless, Arsenal’s defensive shape was fairly competent. Ramsey moved infield alongside Coquelin and Cazorla to limit service between the lines, and quickly surged towards the flank to press Young when he received possession. Walcott’s pace prevented United’s back four from pushing higher up the pitch, and his pressing offered an additional element to Arsenal’s game. The England international’s willingness to sprint back into position and dispossess Schweinsteiger in the first half was an ideal example that resulted in a legitimate scoring opportunity.
In search of three goals, Van Gaal altered his shape to a 4-3-3 with Marouane Fellaini slotting into midfield and Antonio Valencia replacing Darmian. Apart from another promising Anthony Martial performance, Van Gaal’s change was futile. Perhaps Fellaini was utilized as combative presence in midfield, but the Belgian contrastingly committed the game’s most fouls (3), as his aerial threat in an advanced positioned was sacrificed to aid Carrick and Schweinsteiger.
Wenger, however, deserves credit for equally altering his side to prevent a miraculous United comeback. Arsenal reverted to a 4-1-4-1 with Ramsey and Cazorla ahead of Coquelin, pushing Ozil to the right flank. The Gunners dropped deeper and faced lengthy spells without possession, but United’s glaring inability to penetrate through midfield, combined with Arsenal’s threat on the counter secured three points.
"We decided to start strong, to press, to be quick in transition. We did that well, and when we do that we can score goals. After that we were disciplined to defend well together, to be compact and it worked," said Wenger.
Arsenal average one of the highest possession rates in Europe, but this result supplied further proof that they’re utmost best when they’re direct, and attack with speed in transition. In a week were Wenger was under heavy criticism for Arsenal’s midweek loss to Olympiakos, the Frenchman, not renowned for his tactical prowess, outwitted van Gaal.
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