Man united vs. Arsenal
Arsenal played their usual slow passing game which was reliant on their creative players trying to pass through the opposition. Their style of play resulted in them dominating possession for the entirety of the match. They had with 60% of the possession in the first half and ended up having the ball 56% of the time.
While Arsenal stuck to their typical game plan Manchester united did a complete 180 fielding 7 defenders and switching to a counter attacking style. This shouldn’t be a surprise though, this isn’t the first match against arsenal that Fergie has switched to a more counter attacking style
Arsenals wing dilemma-
When Arsenal attacked they would normally keep 3 at the back to deal with Hernandez, and Rooney, and to adequately cover the space across their defensive line. Sagna was the one player who regularly left the back 4 to support the attack while Gibbs generally stayed back.
This was great when Arsenal attacked down the right as Sagna’s runs forward were useful, as they provided width and good crosses; but when it came to attacking the flank they were generally less effective. Arshavin likes to cut inside but he generally had no one on the outside which allowed Man united to be narrow and compact.
Although Sagna’s forward runs helped arsenal attack they were detrimental when Arsenal had to defend against a Manchester united counter attack. Sagna failure to track back allowed Hernandez a free header in the box in the 27th minute. Normally 3 v2 on a counter attack would be advantageous, but with Fabio and Rafael getting forward to support so quickly the situation could easily become 3v3, 3v4, or 4v4 which is not so advantageous for arsenals defense.
Arsenal Lack DM- The first goal could have easily been prevented if arsenal used Wilshire and Denilson as DM’s instead of CM’s. On the first goal the ball was allowed to move from midfield to arsenals back line unchallenged. The main reason why teams keep their lines tight or stagger the space between midfield and defense is to prevent balls like this. Arsenals CMs rush to get back into position but they can’t adjust quickly enough to put pressure on Rooney. As a result Rooney is given space and time to pick out Hernandez and the rest is history. If anything this should serve as a reminder as why you don’t give world-class players space and time.
From Kick and Rush to Pass and Pray-
The English have long been accused of playing kick and rush football. Arsenals have flipped the stereotype on its head. They seem to come into every match with the same game plan. They play their best passing players regardless if they fit in the system. For example Arsenal generally lacked width down the left flank; this was especially the case in the second half when Gibbs didn’t get forward as much. Instead of using Arshavin Wenger could have used Gibbs as a wide left midfielder and Clichy as the left fullback. At least Arsenal would be able to generate some width and stretch United’s defense.
Operation Blitzkrieg Break down- key players-
Manchester United’s game plan resembled the Germany’s World War 2 Blitzkrieg. United were direct, quick in attack, they attacked in numbers, and they killed the match early.
Manchester United’s defensive organization-
Ferguson fielded 7 recognized defenders in his side which turned out to be a very astute move. For Manchester united to have success today they needed a solid defense as they created few chances. They kept their back 4 really narrow. Evra and brown would tuck in and occasionally Rafael and Fabio would drop next to them to help deal with any wide play from Arsenal. Back 4 really narrow
Man united Shield backline-
O’Shea and Gibson operated as DMs who shielded man United’s back 4 from runs from deep. They were generally effective and they protected Man United’s defense well. When O Shea became a lone DM with 2 central midfielders the shield looked less effective. Wilshire was able to find more space and generally looked more threatening as a result of it.
The shield also had another feature. It protected United from being counter attacked. Man united was able to form quick blocks of 6 and cover their defensive space well. This stalled Arsenals attack as they weren’t able to penetrate Man United’s 6 block and Man united were able to get there men back.
They got up and down the flanks very well and were integral to man United’s counter attacks during the first half. Their pace allowed them to join the Man united attack quickly. Also they got into good positions in attack and defensive phases of the game.
Hernandez leads line well-
Hernandez was often the farthest player forward and he never left Arsenals back line. He kept Djourou and Koscielny on their toes by getting into good positions in attack. Finally he was responsible for around a third of Manchester United’s shots. (4/11)
Operation Blitzkrieg Break down-
Arsenals were allowed to have the ball with minimal pressure up to Manchester United’s 18. This lured arsenals midfield deep into their half so when United counter attack they would only have to deal with as few Arsenal players as possible. Furthermore Ferguson chose the perfect cast of players to support Hernandez. The Manchester united supporting players were quick and mobile (Rafael, Fabio, and Rooney)who could easily got forward to support Hernandez .Manchester united moved the ball quickly and often left Arsenal’s Backline exposed and without cover from midfield.
Second Goal (Game Over)-
The second goal was just the result of genuinely poor defending from Arsenal. In this situation it was Denilson job to apply initial pressure. Gibbs couldn’t close down Valencia right away because he didn’t have support and if he did he’d leave too much space near man United’s back line. Denilson’s Failure to press Valencia allowed him to run with the ball without being pressured. When Denilson finally applied pressure it was weak and not only did Denilson not win the ball he also left space in the middle for Rafael to exploit. And the rest is history.
2nd half changes-
Manchester united didn’t make any major changes. They moved to a 4-1-4-1 but it didn’t have a major effect on the match. Men united were less direct and more possession orientated in the second half. They still continued to counter attack Arsenal but not as much as in the first half. If anything the introduction of Scholes and Giggs symbolizes there switch to a more possession oriented approach in the second half. Manchester United’s possession stats rose from 40% to 46% shows they did change their approach but it wasn’t anything major. Then again Ferguson didn’t need to change much up he was up 2 nil and his team was doing a reasonable job of containing Arsenal.
Arsenal attack better but to no avail-
The introduction of Marouane Chamakh gave Arsenal more of an aerial presence. It also gave Sagna’s crossing more purpose because now he had a target who could challenge in the air. When he was presented with a great opportunity he spurned just like arsenal missed their chances. (See pic below) Arsenal created more chances in the second half but this was due to tired legs, and they had more attacking intent opposed to any great tactical change. (http://soccernet.espn.go.com/gamecast?id=314700&cc=5901 click on first half shots and then second half shots big difference)
Conclusion- The match came down to which team would executed their plan the best. That was Manchester United they surprised Arsenal with their clever counter attacks, while Arsenal were predictable as ever.