Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United: A Lot of Work for Two Former Players

Arsenal versus Manchester United was once one of the most anticipated fixtures of the season. But ever since their respective longest-serving managers have departed, the clubs aren’t nearly as relevant at the top of the table.

Unai Emery’s time at Arsenal won’t be remembered fondly by anyone. Since the start of last season, there has never been a moment where Arsenal looked like a capable side, relying heavily on the brilliance of Aubameyang and Lacazette. Their shot numbers were consistently average, and there were countless games where the team generally lacked an attacking structure, struggling to break down teams like Wolves and Crystal Palace. Emery’s man-management also did come under scrutiny. His treatment of the club’s highest earner, Mesut Ozil, was somewhat baffling and continued the narrative of Emery’s difficulties in dealing with prominent personalities.

Yet, what bothered me the most was how Emery was utilising his midfielders. Since summer 2018, Arsenal have brought in several midfield reinforcements. Lucas Torreira arrived as a defensive midfielder, having a massive defensive output while being a competent ball progressor. Matteo Guendouzi was arguably the highlight of Sven Mislintat’s time as head of recruitment. The Frenchman arrived for £5 million and has done a lot more than I expected from a player coming from Ligue 2. He’s proved to be a progressive passer, even if the defensive side of his game still needs a lot of work. 

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I never liked how Emery set up these players. He’d regularly play Granit Xhaka has a single defensive midfielder. While Xhaka’s passing can make him a valuable asset to every manager who he’s played under, his lack of mobility will always make him a target defensively. It was more frustrating to see Torreira playing as a box to box midfielders and Ceballos as an advanced playmaker. While they’re versatile enough to fill those roles, it makes it difficult for them to play to their strengths. A cohesive midfield can be built with these talented players, which makes the lack of protection offered by the midfield even more infuriating.

Mikel Arteta appointment as the new Arsenal manager is the most exciting Arsenal have been for over a decade. While Arteta is an unknown in terms of how I think his team will play, some factors hint towards a man who could become the long term successor to Wenger. Generally, central midfielders are seen as the smartest players on the pitch. The likes of Sergio Busquets, Fernandinho and Marco Verratti are all excellent readers of the game, able to spot their teammates in hard to reach positions, and sense danger before any attacks materialise. We’re seeing this now with some of the most prominent managers in Europe. Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Didier Deschamps and Roberto Martinez, all previously midfielders, have shown to be intelligent tactically, whether through building a philosophy for their teams or showing a high level of adaptability. Arteta’s work with Pep Guardiola and experience playing under Arsene Wenger have given him a high level of knowledge from two of the games best thinkers from the century.

Arteta is clearly seen as a long-term option, but if he is to success for the next six months, he must fix the midfield and add some consistency in terms of approach and lineup. It would help evaluate the level of many of these players. Arsenal do have a lot of players I like, but thus far haven’t shown the level we know they can play at. If he can do that, as well as make them fun to watch, he will set himself up for an exciting second season.

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Since we last spoke about Manchester United, after their 1-1 with Arsenal, not much has really changed. While Rashford’s improvement in form and Martial’s return to the starting XI has helped them move up the table, the same issues persist. Big wins over Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea, did help push United into the conversation for Champions League football next season, especially with these same opponents dropping points at crucial stages of the season. United have been reliant on the pace in their forwards when playing one of the bigger teams, accepting that they are the underdog in these games. City and Tottenham struggled to deal with the speed in which United were transitioning. Martial would consistently drop deep to retrieve the ball, while Rashford and James would stretch the defence and use their pace to beat whoever they’re against. Manchester City consistently leaving themselves open was definitely a factor in their 2-1 defeat. However, United still deserve praise for taking advantage of the weaknesses City have gained since De Bruyne’s return.

In all fairness, their ability against the bigger sides was never in question. The problem was how they could break down teams who were willing to sacrifice possession in the same way United do. Defeats to Bournemouth and Watford and draws to Everton and Aston Villa highlighted how these issues have remained. Their 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth, in particular, was awful. A lack of chance creation and the forward line failing to get behind a rather weak Bournemouth defence. Their lack of consistency is easily the most significant issue. One week they’ll beat two of the best teams in the country, the next they fail to beat a relegation favourite.

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Yet even with questions regarding the players in this squad, having better players would fix a lot of their issues. However, I think it might be a while before United will ever be back in the conversation for a title. When hearing Ed Woodward speak on how difficult it is to sign more than three players in a summer window or the lack of value in the January transfer window, it makes you wonder if the club even want to get back to the top. A majority of the players linked to the club are usually players from Premier League clubs who would cost an insane amount of money. James Maddison, Jack Grealish, Declan Rice, John McGinn and Dominic Calvin-Lewin do fill the rather strange policy of going for British players, but there is better value out there. In the summer alone, we saw Thiago Mendes move for £20 million, Julian Brandt for £17 million and Marcus Thuram for £10 million. Even now, players like Dani Olmo and Marco Roca are available for less than £40 million. You can always find value in the market, but it entirely depends where you are looking. If Manchester United’s focus remains only in the Premier League, it’ll take years to build a cohesive squad. 

Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Manchester United was the first time I’ve managed to watch Arteta’s Arsenal, and they’re showing some promising signs. The lineup the former Arsenal captain chose was a massive departure to the defensive starting XI’s seen under Emery. Nicolas Pepe, Ozil, Lacazette and Aubameyang all started this game. These elite talents were one of the reasons why Arsenal did look so good in the first half. Kolasinac and Aubameyang linked up well on the left side, with the Gabon forward consistently staying wide, allowing Kolasinac to run with the ball through the space opened from Wan-Bissaka staying with Aubameyang. This was how the first goal was made. Kolasinac had another free sprint right at the defence. He picks out Aubameyang, who notices Pepe free in the box, and delivers a perfect ball for the Ivorian. 

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What impressed me a lot about Arteta was just how quickly Arsenal were able to get into United’s half. While their opposition do deserve some blame for this, the ways they were able to quickly create chances in the first half. They could progress the ball through the full-backs, or use the excellent passing of Xhaka and David Luiz to send a long ball into the wingers. Arsenal were really exciting in that first half, and while they did slow down in the final 45 minutes, the game was in their hands. 

Defensively, Arsenal looked very good. The attacking lineup did cause some concern, mainly if United could produce similar counter-attacks as they have done against some of the top 6. However, all of their forwards, with some garnering a reputation of being lazy, were fantastic defensively. All four of Arsenal’s forwards kept United’s defenders short of options during buildup play. Even Mesut Ozil, who many pundits have consistently labelled as lazy, made 46 pressures, more than any other player on the pitch. United were slow in moving the ball, but Arsenal made it so difficult for them. 

Torreira returned to his more familiar role as a true defensive midfielder. Xhaka was given more licence to push forward, while Torreira would ensure the defence wouldn’t be facing much traffic. It was arguably the most significant crime Emery committed; not playing one of the best young midfielders in the right position. 

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While Arsenal were more focused on holding onto their lead in the second half than truly humiliating United, that first half was such an encouraging sign for any Arsenal fan. For the first time since Wenger, they were fun to watch in a game. They were attacking with speed, dynamism and skill. The question is if they can do this consistently, but we’ll have to wait and see. 

As for United, the lack of energy and pressing was disturbing. United aren’t the pressing side they probably wish to be, but Arsenal were given so much freedom in transition. David Luiz and Sokratis had so many opportunities to run straight into midfield without a United player to close them down. Martial and Rashford looked slow in this game, and you can’t really blame them. The pair have played so much football when they’ve been available. With top four looking like a possibility and the Europa League returning in a month, I doubt they’ll ever get a chance to sit out games. They are United’s only chance of getting into the top four. If they have to rely on James, Lingard and Pereira, they’ll plummet down the table. 

Both managers are in very different places. Arteta, replacing a pretty unequipped coach, has given Arsenal players and fans something to be excited about. Solsjkaer also went through this same period, so we’ll see if Arteta can reach the same level as the coaches he’s worked with. 

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Solskjaer will be under a lot of pressure until the summer arrives. You hear a lot of trusted journalists say the Manchester United board are happy with the Norwegian, but that sense of doubt will always be there. If Pochettino wants to join the club, will they just let Solsjkaer go, similar to what they did to Van Gaal once Mourinho was available? I can’t blame Solsjkaer for all the problems. There are so many holes throughout the squad that one window isn’t enough with the lack of urgency United currently operate with. Woodward can go on and on about how difficult it is to sign players, but with players needed in midfield and attack so clear, it’ll be an embarrassment if their targets aren’t brought in by the end of June. 

 

3 Players Who Attract Unwarranted Hate

With how popular social media has become over the last 4-5 years, and how pundits and other commentators will say whatever it will take to earn clicks and attention, it is fair to say some crazy things are said. Let’s go through three players who seem to be hated by certain people, when it isn’t entirely justified. There isn’t a ranking of any sorts here, because hate is something that shouldn’t exactly be ranked.

1. Paul Pogba

By far the player who seems to attract the most hate, Paul Pogba is a controversial player since his world record transfer. Whether it is Garth Crooks constantly complaining about his haircuts (which to this day is a stupid thing to criticise a player for), or the mainstream media saying he doesn’t do enough for the team in the bigger games. Everyone always wants to find a guy to blame, because it’s easier than finding a real problem. I do not know how many times I have to keep stressing how much of a special talent the Frenchman is. If United play well, it’s because of Paul Pogba. I have only seen him have a few bad games in a United shirt, being Spurs away, Chelsea in the final of the FA Cup, and in the league cup final. Other than that, I don’t think he has any particular bad games. In his first season for the club, Pogba was getting a lot of unnecessary stick, but it can be defended very easily. I remember on the last game of the season against Crystal Palace, where Paul scored and assisted. Ian Wright on Match of the Day said he wasn’t good enough because of his lack of goal contributions. But I think that’s too vague. I constantly complain about pundits not doing their research, and this is another example. Zlatan Ibrahimovic that season had a conversion rate of 12%. You expect your striker at the top level to get around a 25% conversion rate. While Zlatan did carry them in an attacking sense, he would still have his moments of failing to good chances away, and who picked him out during these missed chances? Paul Pogba. The now world cup winner was excellent in picking out his Swedish teammate, but Ibrahimovic failed to convert these chances. You cannot blame to the creator for his striker not putting the ball away, when he probably should. What’s important to remember about United is that they rely heavily on Paul Pogba. One of the main reasons he has been playing so deep is so he is able to get on the ball as much as possible, but doing that limits his ability going forward. Pogba is a player who is great when dropping wide, and also excels in front of goal. You want him further up the field to get the best out of him. Having him further back puts more emphasis on his defensive work, which isn’t great, and at times woeful. But that is not the strengths of the player. You want him playing a role where his defensive work, while not absent, is more limited. It also does seem that fans and pundits just do not like how he presents himself off the pitch. I can defend his ability and performances on the pitch, but what he does off the field is more or a matter of opinion. Many fans do not like all the haircuts, the dancing and the Instagram videos. My opinion on the social media side is the who really cares? If Pogba wants to enjoy life, let him. He shouldn’t be scrutinized on his personal life. When he performs, it is never mentioned, but when he has the occasional average performance, social media is the first thing that is blamed. I just will never understand why it is relevent. It could be the Manchester United fan in me, but I do feel the hate he gets is very unjust. Let’s hope he continues to silence his numerous critics.

2. Raheem Sterling

I briefly mentioned the hate he was receiving when discussing players that I wanted to see succeed in the summer, but I will try and elaborate. Up until last season, Sterling was always a very frustrating player, but was never a bad one. He is an excellent player in getting in goal scoring positions, but just failed to convert his chances. However that seemed to change last season. It was famously covered that Pep gave him one very useful tip in changing the way he played. Instead of stopping the ball when receiving it, take a heavy touch and try and beat the opponent with pace. It was so effective, because it just made him so much more unpredictable. Sterling was absolutely fabulous last season. In a record breaking season, he was one of their best players, ending the season with 18 goals and 11 assists. Those are real world class numbers for a wide player. However even after that incredible season, there is still doubt from other fans, especially England fans. Sterling still has that moment of missing chances, and that it was people remember. In the first game at the 2018 World Cup, he had two chances, that he failed to convert near the beginning of the game against Tunisia. Sterling was seen as one of the worst players for England. While I do not think he was great, he was playing a role that he is not used to. He had to play as creator, while also helping create space for Kane, while also trying to give width to the team. It was very difficult for the Manchester City winger, and he ended up sacrificing a lot of his game, for the sake of the team. That cannot be credited more. However his performances were not the main talking point about Sterling. Before the world cup even began, a certain tabloid tried to paint the winger in a negative fashion by highlighting the gun tattoo on his leg. This unnecessary attention towards an aspect of his life that isn’t related to football was wrong in so many ways. It seems like the media in every other country wants to support their team before a huge competition, but not in England. The media is desperate for clicks in any sense that they are willing to put the people against the players. But if you go through all of that certain tabloid’s posts about Sterling, it is more than just the tattoo. They have criticised him for buying his mother a house, going in regular plane travel, driving his car, and even shopping discount shops. While Pogba’s hate was mostly from fans and old fashioned pundits, Sterling’s hate is based mostly on nothing related to his career. If any players gets hate that is completely undeserved, it is Raheem Sterling.

3. Mesut Ozil

Another player I have defended multiple times in the pass. Mesut Ozil is by far my favourite attacking midfielder in Europe. No other playmaker in the top 5 leagues possess his incredible vision and technical ability on the ball. He is by far the best creator in the premier league. While De Bruyne, Hazard and Eriksen are all excellent creators, I think Ozil just edges them. Attacking midfielders are positions that are quite flexible. You have creators, like Ozil, who specialise in helping the attackers in the final third. Goal scorers, like Alli, who are more second strikers, and extra midfielders, like Banega, who are great at dropping into midfield to provide extra numbers. Ozil is the best creator. His creative numbers have been excellent throughout his career. His best season was the 2015/16 season, where he averaged a frankly unbeatable 4.2 key passes per 90. While that number has declined, it has still stayed over 3 since that season. Even at the world cup, where Germany underperformed, Ozil was still very good. Pundits like Martin Keown will say the usual he doesn’t work hard enough, but he still made 5.5 key passes in his two games. He does his job to the best of his ability. However Ozil is a player who has gathered hate from all over the country. A lot of Arsenal fans dislike how he fades in the “big games” (an argument I just don’t understand), and pundits, as previously mentioned, dislike him for his lack of defensive contribution. This has a lot to do with system. Ozil has so far been struggling this season, because of the more defensive approach of Unai Emery. It isn’t a strength of the ex German international. You can criticise him in the way of him not changing his game. But Ozil plays in a way that you have to build around him. Emery in my opinion has to get the best out of him in the same way that Wenger was able to. This summer has seen criticism in another form for Ozil. In the middle of May, Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan, were pictured alongside the Turkish President, a controversial figure in Germany. This resulted in numerous backlash from German fans, including racist and discriminatory insults towards the Arsenal playmaker. The backlash became so bad that it ended with Ozil retiring from the German national team. Ozil was a player in his prime years so retiring this early was a bit of a shock for everyone. Even this decision resulted in backlash however, with international team mate Toni Kroos branding his racist comments “nonsense.” It does seem ignorant from Kroos to deny that racist comments were made, with it being the main reason why Ozil made that decision. Originally this was going to be about 7 players, but the players mentioned receive hate on another level compared to other players I was going to discuss (Henderson being disliked and Morata not being what Chelsea fans wanted were going to be 2 of them). Going into length about these 3 players was needed, to show a more darker side of football, and to show the difficult circumstances that footballers can find themselves in.

How Germany Should Line Up at The 2018 World Cup

The reigning champions go into the tournament as one of the favourite, having experience, yet also containing plenty of young players. Let’s go through the team I believe they will start.

GK: Marc Andre Ter-Stegen

This all depends on whether Neuer is fully fit to travel. Neuer would usually automatically start, since he has been the number one for the past 8 years, but if he isn’t available, then Marc Andre Ter-Stegen will be the first choice. Ter-Stegen has easily been the second best keeper on the planet this year. He is averaging 6 saves per goal, which is absolutely insane. Ter-Stegen for years has been that player who has always looked like he will become a top keeper. He has finally reached that top bracket and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

RB: Joshua Kimmich

While the left back slot is much more difficult to decide, right back picks itself. Kimmich is not only the best right for Germany, but one of the best in Europe. This season he has been one of Bayern’s best players, in a team full of quality footballers, it’s been a young German player who has excelled. This season he’s earned 12 assists for his team, with 3 of those in the group stages of the champions league. He’s averaging 2.2 key passes per game. That’s a midfielders numbers. In fact James Rodriguez, who has been brilliant this season, is averaging 2.5 per game. Kimmich has been outstanding and can’t be questioned when starting in this eleven.

CB: Matts Hummels

A centre back who has continued to flourish even though he is beginning to age, Matts Hummels is a guaranteed starter. He has been one of the most consistent centre halves for Germany and for Bayern Munich for a couple of years now. Hummels is a very talented defender, who is not only able to defend like a top defender, but is also able to distribute the ball like all the defenders who are so sought after. Hummels is a player who is a guaranteed starter in this side, alongside his partner

CB: Jerome Boateng

Boateng is a player who is full of talent, but over the past couple of years has struggled with injury. During Bayern’s last title win, Boateng suffered a terrible injury and has finally recovered from it. Bayern Munich currently have three top centre backs in Hummels and Sule. Boateng has had less pressure to return from injury and has able to return at a steady pace. He is now becoming ready for the world cup, and to prove why he is one of the best defenders around.

LB: Jonas Hector

If we are basing this truly on form, then Philipp Max would be starting automatically, but since Joachim Low has a system and certain players he keeps faith in, he will stick with Jonas Hector. The Koln captain has been a mainstay in the national team setup for a couple of years now, and has performed constitently ever since. The issue with choosing Hector right now is the fact he isn’t even playing at left back. He has been playing throughout the midfield for Koln this season. He is still averaging very good numbers however, getting 2.6 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per game. It is a slight issue, because players like Plattenhardt and Max have been very good this season, playing at left back. Hector however has been a consistent in this side, and will continue to be.

DM: Sami Khedira

Another player for Germany who has been an ever present, Khedira will continue this trend by being the first choice for the holders. While he is beginning to decline, he is still a brilliant footballer. The Juventus midfielder is a bit of a jack of all trades. He can be a very good goal threat, from his 9 goals scored in 26 games for the old lady. He has a very strong pass accuracy with 87%, and he has the experience and know how in a tournament where wisdom can be a very good asset. Low will stick with Khedira, but an honourable mention should go to Leon Goretzka. The Schalke midfielder has been absolutely superb. If we are judging this on this season alone, Goretzka should start. But since Low has a system and wants to stick to it, Khedira will be in the starting XI.

DM: Toni Kroos

One of the best midfielders on the planet. Kroos is the definition of elegance on the ball. He has a frankly ridiculous pass accuracy of 93%. He also averages 1.8 tackles per 90 and a very healthy 2.3 key passes, one more than David Silva. What makes Kroos so brilliant to me is his ability in transitioning play. Any team in the world needs Toni Kroos. He is able to pick a pass, whether short or long, to his teammates. Even though Madrid have had a poor season, Kroos’s numbers have been superb. A player on his level has to start, no debate.

RM: Thomas Muller

While he might be slightly out of position, Thomas Muller has to start. Not only because of his brilliant qualities as a footballer, with his 32 goal contributions this season for the champions. But it’s more than that. Muller has been the center piece of this German dominance for this decade. He could well and truly break Klose’s record, with the form he is on in world cups. Muller is a real leader for the current crop of talented players, and it will help his team when seeing him on that right side.

AM: Mesut Ozil

A player that gets way too much stick for the odd bad performance. Ozil is one of the best creators on the planet. He is averaging a frankly ridiculous 3.6 chances created per 90. That is around as many as the world class Kevin De Bruyne. Germany seem to get the best out of Ozil. He is always allowed to be given the time and space on the pitch to pick out the players in those good pockets of space. He is a genuinely world class player who also gets right into this team.

LM: Leroy Sane

Sane justifiably won the young player of the year, when he even deserved a shout for player of the season. The ex Schalke winger has been absolutely incredible. The way he plays reminds me of a young Ronaldo. The speed in which he carries the ball and strength and power he possesses is simply so unique for a winger in the modern era. Sane was always going to live up to this potential. Last season he showed at moments how good he could be, but overall was very inconsistent. But Pep must have spoken to him before the season, because he has been an absolute monster. He is one of very few players to get over 10 goals and 10 assists this season. What I love about Sane the most is his flexibility in attack. He is able to cut inside and take a shot, or seek out a short pass, or even go very wide to stretch the defense and give players like Silva and Aguero space to run into. He has transformed into a potentially world class player. He might have not shown this quality in a Germany shirt yet, but this might be the tournament he shows the world what he is made of.

ST: Timo Werner

There is only one option here. With the national team struggling with strikers since Gomez began to show his age, Werner arrived at a perfect time to give the Germans a centre forward for the next 10 years. For Leipzig this season, he has scored 22 and assisted 9. What has changed the most for the young German is his shot numbers. Last season everything he hit was going in, now this season he is averaging 3 shots per game, which is a 0.6 increase. His numbers overall have dropped from last season. This could be because of Leipzig themselves dropping off this season compared to last. With the extra competitions Leipzig were playing wouldn’t have helped either. It does take some players time to adjust to playing more than one game a week, and this could be his transition into an elite forward. His energy and brilliant finishing will come in handy for Germany team looking to retain the World Cup