Killing the wrong team
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
Did Manchester United deserve to win the game? Part of me thinks absolutely not. We looked like the superior team on their home patch and are clearly a better team right now. They rely strongly on individuals as they did yesterday.
On the other hand, what are the keys to winning a football match?
To be simple, it is to have your game plan work better than the opponents. Also, to deny what they are doing well.
Manchester United have the most tackles in the penalty area in the Premier League this season. This is a little embarrassing for them but also a compliment. In the midst of them being an average team these days, they are leaning into their strengths which are clearly denying goal scoring opportunities and relying on broken play and transitioning through two superb passes of the football and an electric forward.
Meanwhile, we were in control for 70 minutes and dangerous at all times. The difference was that as dangerous as we were we are yet to be killers. As I’ve said before, that is going to be the last chapter in our growth. I watched Martinelli and Saka terrorize their full backs yet neither of them showed the same killer instinct when the other one had the ball. They were too passive at the back post and too predictable. Never making a run across the face of the defenders to the near post where the ball was almost always sent. Jesus gave them fits as he does every back line but again in the penalty area he seemed to be reactive. Our attacking midfielders were snatching at their chances. Xhaka from the edge of the box and Odegaard was either not shooting when he had a chance or panicking where he has previously shown composure. Fabio Vieira looked like he was playing in one of our previous five games. He looked looser and was trying to kill them. Less tense and more in tune with how you kill.
Poor finishing will happen. It’s ridiculous to always want players to be accurate in every game. The disappointment comes when you get so bored of the puzzle that you walk away before putting the final piece in.
At the other end, we were busy killing ourselves there too.
Eriksen and Fernandes were the instigators of Manchester United‘s only threat. If they were nullified early on then we win. That simple. Instead we saw Arsenal killing themselves. Ramsdale‘s positioning, pushing up your high line when there is no pressure on the ball, overenthusiastic defenders and giving United way way too much respect at kick off. Details on all below.
Having played that game, I bet the Arsenal players would absolutely love to play them again next week. They would’ve seen that they are a superior team. No need for fear at the first whistle. No need for defenders to try to make an individual difference by making a big play. Trust the structure over yourself.
The good news is that we have proved to ourselves that we are superior. Just got to believe from kick off and remember which team you are supposed to kill.
- Saka terrorized United. We are really getting to see the benefits of his upper body strength now. I loved him going around the outside more. It looked like he had been working on it this week. His first dribble in particular was perfection. It’s always smart to put your full back in doubt early. If he thinks you are always going to go onto your left foot then go to your right foot on your first dribble so he is unsure for the rest of the game. Beyond that, the way he instantly accelerated, cut into the box and cut off his full back was very promising. If we were in killer mode then Martinelli or Jesus would’ve made a run to the front post proactively and maybe the game changes.
- Sambi had another good game. Watch the game again and you will see how quickly and progressively he moves the ball. Remember that he’s playing as a single pivot at Old Trafford too. Those that thought he was out of position on the goal will notice that he was correctly covering for Zinchenko.
- I made the extremely bold prediction at the beginning of the season that Fabio Vieira will win Arsenal Player of the Season. His abilities are rare and his composure also. If there is one criticism of Odegaard since he has been at Arsenal it is that we rarely see the incisive defence splitting passes that Vieira showed us after five minutes of being on the field. Those who are concerned about his frame need to know that Arsenal have told him to not put on muscle mass right now. There is an advantage to having a more nimble frame and being easy to push over. If he was a direct dribbler like Saint Maximin for example, it would be a problem but he is a quick passer and a quick decision maker and rarely gets himself into physical play.
- Max informed me during the game that Arsenal have won their last 11 football matches. Starting at the last game of the season running through preseason and up until yesterday. I know that’s a bit of a stretch and Tottenham would make a DVD about this but that has to affect the mentality of our players who are now used to going back to the changing rooms having won. The main mental issues in sports stem from players feeling inferior or lacking confidence. I don’t think Arteta would’ve had to persuade them that they are a better team than Manchester United after watching that game. Simply a game of individual mistakes and poor play in the box.
- There were two decisions that have annoyed the online fanbase. The high line and the substitutions. I can only state how I felt at the time as good analysis doesn’t come from replicating others emotions and being persuaded that what you thought was good was actually bad. I remember at the time thinking that it was a good idea to go to our alternative formation that has worked extremely well. When we were about to make those substitutions I thought it was smart to take off two players that weren’t 100% fit and bring on an in form Eddie as well as a player in Smith Rowe that had great success last season at that venue. The Viera substitution made us more dangerous and I think everybody agrees on that. If I felt that the decision was right at the time then I can’t blame the coach based on what the final score says. The high line was the reason that we were so dominant for over 2/3rds of the game so that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that when Eriksen or Fernandes were in space we should’ve dropped off.
- I got the impression that Ramsdale was too hyped like others were. Not loose enough and focused. The first goal he either needed to stay a little deeper or come a little closer. The second goal his starting position is clearly too deep. I think he was so aware of Rashford‘s pace that he was reticent to try to beat him to any ball as we saw with the third goal too. A higher starting position on the second goal would’ve easily given him the time to beat Rashford to the ball. From the moment of the pass to Rashford‘s first touch on the ball is a 30 yard difference. If Ramsdale was on the top of his box then he has 10 yards to travel. Surely Marcus Rashford can’t run 30 yards quicker than Ramsdale can run 10?
- Sometimes I feel like our defenders do not need to be in the changing room when Arteta is firing the team up before games. I think that they need to be kept calm. All of them at different points in the game did something rash that proved crucial. They are all superior to most of their opponents and so do not need to take risks.
- Going back to the Ramsdale Rashford observations above, even though Fernandes is pressured his passing options are not blocked. Whoever was in charge of team communication in the back should’ve said ‘drop off.’ Again, our players have the speed to catch Rashford if they give themselves a 50-50 race. Saliba in particular.
- I’d love to know why we were so passive during the first 15 minutes. Were Manchester United overhyped by our coaching staff? Did we deliberately show them respect from kick off? It was as if our players had been told to be cagey and contain United for the first period of the game. United are not a strong team in possession and didn’t need that respect.
- I would love to see one of those compilations of our short corners during the Arteta era. I can’t remember one ever coming off.
- I hope the strange habit of conceding when our opponent is not playing well isn’t going to be a long-term habit. Is it a focus issue? Complacency as we feel superior?
I will go into detail about VAR on my podcast below but I think this is a very fair thought…
Paul Tierney as referee for Manchester United v Arsenal tomorrow and he is from Salford, Greater Manchester. Lee Mason is on VAR and he is also from Manchester…
— Tara (@taraAFCx) September 3, 2022
Would FIFA ever have an Italian crew of referees if Italy were playing Brazil in the World Cup? They recognized, as long as I’ve been alive, that at the very least this is a really bad look and unnecessary when there are alternatives. Paul Tierney and Lee Mason might be staunch Manchester City fans but then that would be unfair to United.
This map showing where all of the Premier League referees are from needs to be addressed because fans have become very aware of it. The perception can often become reality. I would like to think that none of the Premier League referees have any form of bias but it sure doesn’t look good and invites questioning.
- It sure is impressive that Balogun has gone to a different country and scored in every single game bar one so far. It’s also slightly unsurprising as he’s always been a goal machine when given opportunity. Let’s not forget that there’s every chance that he can do what Eddie has done and prove himself to be good enough to be part of the Arsenal squad.
- Really odd that Smith Rowe can get injured in a warm down. People will rightly be concerned that he is either not performing his stretching routine correctly or has weak muscular structure and may turn out to be injury prone. Either way, today’s outcome essentially worked in Fabio Vieira‘s favour moving forward. It may well have given Reiss Nelson a chance that Arteta wasn’t planning to give him too.
- Talking about Reiss Nelson I remember well being so frustrated that Alex Iwobi was given all of the game time at left wing and Reiss Nelson was given virtually none. It was obvious to me that Iwobi excelled between the boxes as he is proving at Everton, as final product was his weakness. Makes you wonder where Reiss Nelson could be in his career whether it be at Arsenal or elsewhere if he was given the trust Alex Iwobi was given to play out of position?
- Nothing to do with us I know but quite hilarious that I’m watching Udinese finish their game against Roma having beaten Mourinho‘s team 4-0 Small smiles on a frustrating day.
- I’m thinking that Arteta will pick a strong defence against Zürich and rotate his midfield and forwards. That is what I would do also. Get the defence back to a solid structure and trust our attacking minded players against a team with no win in seven games who are currently bottom of the Swiss league.
Big picture. Arsenal has played six games and won five. Arsenal went to Old Trafford and produced a frustrating performance but still showed that they are a better football team than Manchester United. Unless injuries derail our season, I would be stunned if they finish above us. There is also the thought that the fact that we killed ourselves unnecessarily will be the most important moment of our season.
Give my podcast a listen. It is only 15 to 20 minutes long and I think I’ve got some very fair points to make especially about VAR.
Former Highbury regular. Moved to TN, USA in ’99. Married with 3 kids. Coached in UK and US for 27 years.
Mike McDonald Soccer Academy in Morristown TN, Olympic Development coach, Regional Premier League Champion.