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Tactical insight: Versatile United victorious again

Going into the game at the Emirates some serious pressure was put on United, with City getting a late 3-2 win over Spurs less than an hour before kick off. 3 points were a necessity. The 8-2 demolition in August was still fresh in the minds for both sets of fans, with Arsenal craving revenge and United hoping to prove that they still are have the upper hand on their North London rivals. The game went by and United collected yet another three points away from home, making it a total of 26 points out of 33 on their travels this season, which is an improvement to the whole of last season’s total. In the first half United totally dominated, and could had more than just their one goal advantage, but a change in tactics by Arsenal put them back in the game and in the end the 2-1 loss felt harsh to them.

United seemed comfortable during the whole game, but yet again they let the oppositions back in it after dominating. What happened to United?

It has been a long time since defence was one of Arsenal’s strong points. Despite going into the game with an injury list almost as long as United’s, they have never looked comfortable when the opposition takes the game to them. And United did exactly that in the first half. With players such as Nani, Rooney and Valencia in the team you would expect them to make the difference offensively, but at the Emirates there was an old Welshman who made the team tick and did the damage to Arsenal. It is weird watching Ryan Giggs play in midfield, having seen him skin full backs time and time again for nearly two decades. But after performances like the ones at Craven Cottage and now the Emirates, it really begs the question: Is he really playing in midfield? It does not look that way to be honest, with him operating more like a second winger on both flanks when United attack. He created the goal for Valencia swinging the ball in following a run outside of Nani, but it was not the first time in the game that we saw him there. Every time United managed to build up an attack on the flank he was seen close to the winger, always in space to get the ball in dangerous areas. Whether on the left or on the right, he was there, and it came as little surprise that it was his cross that would lead to a goal.

Most of United’s attack in the game came from the left, with the Reds doubling up the flanks each time they attacked. If it was not Giggs who supported Nani, it would be Evra, with Giggs getting down to cover the left back position. Obviously the pace of Theo Walcott is a major threat to every team Arsenal face, and because of that offensive danger he does not need to track back too often. Djorou found himself one against two each time United attacked, needing the help of Song to rescue him once in a while, but with the midfielder getting(surprisingly) attacking duties in the first half the Swiss defender had a shocker and was rightfully substituted at half time. Having being taken on a run more than once for the first 45, he was struggling to catch his breath and get out to pressure Giggs for United’s goal. United punished Arsenal were they were at their weakest, and in the end they got their reward.

Valencia found it difficult on the right hand side though, with Rafael staying back more often than not. Chamberlain proved a threat to United the whole game, and with Giggsy moving to the left flank for most of the game Valencia found himself one on one against Vermaelen most of the time. Of course, Valencia’s strength and pace is a difficulty for all defenders to handle, but being the most solid monument in the Arsenal backline the Belgian would always be tough to get past. Most of Valencia’s first half contributions were chips for Welbeck to chase behind the Arsenal defence, but more often than not Koscielny would got their first using his experience and pace. Rafael was wise not to get forward more often than he did, as in the end one of his runs led to the Arsenal goal. Finding himself totally out of position inside Arsenal’s own box, they countered down his flank with Chamberlain and Van Persie finding enough space to squeeze the ball in despite Valencia’s and Evans’ best efforts to keep the Gunners at bay.

Other than his goal, Robin Van Persie had a quiet game with Smalling and Evans deploying the sort of meet-and-cover tactic that has made the Rio-Vidic partnership so solid during the years. Evans marked the Dutchman out of the game, with Smalling using his pace to cover his defensive partner whenever the striker got past him. Van Persie was at best invisible in the first half, with Arsenal being too slow and deploying a too central tactic to get past United’s midfield. Rooney helped out Carrick and Giggs to close down every possible room Arsenal’s midfield could exploit, and with Valencia and Nani getting central they managed to push Arsenal wide, something they seemed reluctant to take advantage of. Despite Chamberlain’s best efforts to create something out of nothing, Arsenal simply had to play through the middle and it never paid off. The Gunners did not find room in the middle, and until they did the ball went backwards. No chances for them in the first half, and no wonder.

Credit must go to Wenger for making a tactical change at half time, putting on Yennaris for Djorou at right back. The young Englishman gave the Gunners some pace in that position, and Nani found it difficult to get past him. As well as that, Ramsey got close to Giggs and marked him out of the game, giving United few chances to get attack down their left flank. Arsenal played wider, forcing United inside and getting to more crosses themselves. Welbeck got more space to exploit, and together with Rooney they single-handedly created United’s best chances in the second half. Welbeck could have had himself a hat-trick but for a poor touch and a marvellous clearance from Mertesacker, but his goal was to come eventually. Arsenal left their midfield wide open, putting total focus on stopping United on the wings, and taking off Nani for Scholes was exactly what United needed.

It was the veteran’s pass to Valencia that started off United’s attack, and the Ecuadorian(now finding himself at right back) took advantage of some poor Arsenal defending to create the goal for young Danny to convert. Wenger has gotten a lot of stick for putting on Arshavin for Chamberlain, but unlike the young Englishman at least Arshavin was willing to track back. He found himself in a position Chamberlain had not done for the whole game, covering for his full back, and had it not been for some brilliant play by Park and Valencia the goal may never have come. Park forced Vermaelen centrally, and one against one with Arshavin Valencia would always fancy his chances. Despite having an otherwise quiet game, the Ecuadorian ended up with a goal and an assist, continuing his rich vein of form following his early season injury.

Arsenal got to a lot of chances in the second half, but never really threatened United’s backline until Mertesacker went forward. Cross after cross was swung in, but Van Persie would never find himself victorious in aerial duels with Evans and Smalling who, again, were marvellous. Rooney did his best to stop Arsenal getting through the midfield, and despite reports suggesting he had a poor performance he did his duties marvellously. He could have had himself an assist or two had Welbeck been more clinical, he was in the perfect position for a rebound whenever United got the ball in the Arsenal box, and defensively he stopped everything Arsenal through at him. Some balls were too sloppy when trying to put others through, but all in all he was marvellous and used his brain to great effect.

Despite a marvellous showing, United conceded yet another goal from a counter attack. There are worrying signs indeed, as we have now seen too many teams expose United’s weakness when going forward. For a team who pride themselves on solid defending, a too attacking approach has been punished too often this season, and in the end you could see that United were happy just clear the ball instead of trying to keep possession in the final minutes. United look solid whenever they are in control, and despite having an awful lot of defenders injured oppositions have found them difficult to break down. Only Wolves, Chelsea and Newcastle have scored goals against United this season that have not come from counter attacks, a set play, or an individual mistake. That would seem to be a good thing, but with the amount of goals United actually have conceded this season it is not. Improvement is necessary.

RedDevilEddy (@Eddy93Ram)



  1. Mike

    23 January 2012 at 23:29

    A world clock on your website that shows London but not Manchester. It says it all really.

    • Ian

      24 January 2012 at 09:00

      I’m not with you, explain please?

  2. colver

    23 January 2012 at 23:48

    Solid write up. It was funny really that Rafael was the one who was caught in possession high up the pitch. Usually that is Jones’ job!

    I always thought our most defensively solid period was back in the days when Brown would stay back and defend, slotting in centrally where needed while Evra was free to maraud forward. Of course that tactic was helped by the fact that Ronaldo never needed any support.

    But our habit of letting our full backs (and when Jones is playing centre backs) maraud forward makes us very vulnerable on the counter. especially when we have slow midfielders like Carrick, Scholes and Giggs.

    I didn’t think we were very impressive going forward. Rooney worked hard but was totally lacking in creativity. Nani and Valencia never really had much joy. Our best chances were when we released Welbeck through the middle.

    Problem is that for all Welbeck’s pace his touch and finishing often lets him down. He could have had a hat trick.

    Still it was an important victory and we never really sweated

    • RedDevilEddy

      24 January 2012 at 00:42

      @colver: Funny thing is that, even when Robin Van Persie scored I never really saw us draw or lose the game. We seemed so comfortable I was sure we would win! Arsenal got to some crosses and long shots, and their only other real chance came when Smalling slipped. Mertesacker couldn’t handle Welbeck, was a joy to watch really!

    • Moscow is my heaven

      24 January 2012 at 00:53

      @colver: I never want to see Rooney playing in midfield again like he did on Sunday. He thinks he’s Zidane, but he really isn’t. His attributes are wasted in the hole, which should be occupied by a far more technical magician, like a David Silva, a Juan Mata or a Mario Goetze. Rooney used to shoot a lot more when he was lone striker, and that part of his game has really suffered with the change in position. Stick to what you’re good at Wayne.

      I accept that our team is not good enough to play anything more complex than a 4-4-2. However, in the summer, I hope that our team transforms into a 4-3-3, with Fergie recruiting a modern holding midfielder and an attacking midfielder of the HIGHEST CALIBRE. Rooney should spearhead the attack, flanked by Nani and Valencia.

      Welbeck’s profligacy would have been punished by teams far less forgiving than Arsenal, so Danny boy needs some shooting practice on the training ground!

      • RedDevilEddy

        24 January 2012 at 12:25

        @Moscow is my heaven: To be fair to Danny he’s still only 21, which is very young for a striker. When Rooney was 21 he was one of the most inconsistent players in our side, struggling to get beyond 20 goals. What surprises me is that, at the start of the season he didn’t get to many chances but still scored on the ones he got, whereas now he gets 3 or 4 each game but only manages to hit the target once! It’s good to see that he’s getting to more chances, I think that deserves some recognition. Goals will come, he’ll just need a more calm head.

  3. Ian

    23 January 2012 at 23:56

    Astute as always Colver, astute as always.


  4. richy 1971

    24 January 2012 at 00:16

    Most of this post would seem quite accurate bar a couple of points, Van persie had a great chance before the one put away though he did not get much else down to a good utd display and poor service from his team mates. Oxlaide chamberlain robbed Jones in his own half and made most of his stops in that middle third of the field therefore did not always have to track back. secondly when he made a challenge he got the ball away even if only temporarily. Arshavin lacks the ability to make a solid tackle he is either too wishy washy and players go through his challenge or he fouls them rarely does he make a contribution defensively. However oxlaide chamberlain is young and can learn to be more defensively alert in his duties you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Wenger should also have taken djorou off after 25 minutes when it was obvious he was not up to the task, bringing chamberlain off was probably the right thing to do but you had benayoun on the bench who can actually do a more defensive job as well as provide incisive balls

    • RedDevilEddy

      24 January 2012 at 12:15

      @richy 1971: I didn’t count Robin Van Persie’s earlier miss as it’s a tactical insight, and his chance arrived after a Smalling slip. No build up, just pure luck and could have been a robbery!

  5. colver

    24 January 2012 at 11:56

    Thank you Ian! 🙂

    Moscow, I don’t think Rooney gels that well with Welbeck. Welbeck can also play quite deep which pushes Rooney further back. I always feel Rooney plays better with Hernandez who plays on the shoulder of the last man freeing up space for Rooney in the hole. But then Hernandez does not have Welbeck’s height, physicality and trickiness.
    So it is difficult.

    I agree with you that long term a 4-3-3 would be best with a mobile front three of Nani Rooney and Welbeck (who I believe with his movement and pace would be perfect as a wide forward pulling defenders with him). Valencia is a great winger but wasted in a front three.

    Like JayWire I would be quite interested to see Welbeck and Berbatov combine.

    • RedDevilEddy

      24 January 2012 at 12:16

      @colver: I’d love to see Nani, Götze and Cleverley combine with Welbeck, now that would be something!!

      • Ian

        24 January 2012 at 16:55

        Gotze is out injured for 6-8 weeks with a swollen pubic mound or something! sounds almost as wierd as the kid from Blackburn who ruptured a testicle!

        • [OPTI]Madschester United

          24 January 2012 at 19:11

          @Ian: Penis enlargement?

  6. [OPTI]Madschester United

    24 January 2012 at 16:42

    With all due respect, I don’t think you can blame Rafael (directly) for the goal. It was all due to Rooney wastefulness:
    1. Rafael strips Arsenal from ball outside the box, leaving Arsenal exposed
    2. Rafael storms forward with ball and passes to Rooney
    3. Rafael is bombing forward on right (and all open) while Welbeck is on left. Rooney waits 😯
    4. Rafael is slowing down to avoid off-side and then Rooney passes.
    5. Rafael is given a poor/risky pass with no chance for run on goal and right in front of Arsenal defender
    6. Rafael loses ball and counter ensues.

    The failure of this play is ALL down to Rooney’s decision making in step (3).

    I don’t think Rooney played very well. In fact, I thought he was one of our Bottom 2 players that night.

    • Ian

      24 January 2012 at 16:54

      Bottom line is mate….he tries to be too clever.

      The best players simplify the simple things and get them right 100% of the time, Rooney does the opposite except when he’s finishing/shooting.

      I’m trying to think of the game earlier in the season where he did exactly the same thing at OT facing the K-Stand….

      He was through with the ball and I *think* it was Welbeck who surged past him on his left, it was a simple pass to put him in but he hesitated/stalled call it what you will, I call it made a mistake and held on to it far too long and the opportunity was gone. Much the same way I criticise van Velzen in the youth team, only he’s 19 and paid about a grand a month…..big difference.

      I think the game was a Champions league game. I know it wasn’t just me who saw it because a few of us commented on it I’m sure….anyone?

      • [OPTI]Madschester United

        24 January 2012 at 19:09

        @Ian: I can’t tell if you’re:
        1) Agreeing with me
        2) Lecturing me
        3) Disagreeing with me

        Wonders of the web 😆 😆 😆 😆

        In short, yes, Rooney needs to simplify his game: K.I.S.S. [Keep it simple, stupid!]

        • Ian

          24 January 2012 at 20:23

          Never lecturing that’s for sure. I’m completely agreeing with you mate. Rooney (when he drops back into his showboat role that he isn’t good enough to showboat in) completely over plays the ‘look at me, I’m Paul Scholes’ card.

          Wayne….you’re not Scholes. You never will be. You’re an attacker, a centre forward, a goal scorer who works hard. You are not an attacking midfielder.

          Can you remember the incident I’m on about where Welbeck overlaps Rooney and he fluffs the pass because he delayed too long?

        • [OPTI]Madschester United

          24 January 2012 at 20:51

          @Ian: Sounds familiar, but I think it’s happened on more than two occasions. I’d actually prefer if Rooney would just shoot from 35 yards out like he used to (watchout bleachers!)… at least it may lead to a rebound or even a goal (ha!).

        • RedDevilEddy

          25 January 2012 at 01:09

          @Ian: Was away to Villa mate! 😀 Would have made it 2-0 for us then.

        • Ian

          25 January 2012 at 06:46


          I was convinced it was a CL match at OT. Can you find the clip?

        • RedDevilEddy

          25 January 2012 at 08:09

          @Ian: I’m not sure where I can find a highlight of it but if it’s the one you’re talking about I’m pretty sure it’s Villa away. We we cruising despite only scoring once, then Danny came on and looked dangerous. We countered, Danny made a move from the inside left position, only for Rooney to delay his pass for too long, leading to Danny’s goal being ruled out for offside despite a brilliant and neat finish into the far post.

          I think that’s the one you’re talking about, at least it adds to your point!

  7. Jay wire

    25 January 2012 at 07:13


    Nothing wrong with what he did. Maybe now ppl can see exactly why we need a holding midfielder. Dani Alves, Marcelo,Lahm,Lekoto etc, are all key elements in the attacking system of their respective teams. Everytime there’s an attack, they’re always involved. And they’re all fullbacks. We keep blasting Evra for poor performances, but it’s not his fault. If he stops attacking, our left wing becomes a non-entity. And since our whole set up is based on wide play, we become totally impotent. If Carrick had been screening the defence instead of playing as a playmaker,as Rafael attacked, he would drop back between Smalling and Evans. Smalling would cover the right back quadrant and Evans the left back zone, with Carrick central. If something goes wrong, at least we already have a back 3 to protect the GK. So whilst it’s good to have a tactical analysis, a lot of noise should also be made to denounce the sovereignty of United’s coaching department, for such basic and elementary irregularities.

    • RedDevilEddy

      25 January 2012 at 08:06

      @Jay wire: He’s done it for most of the season really, we’ve only conceded 7 goals when he’s been in midfield this season, and 3 of them came against Newcastle! He played with a hamstring on Sunday as well, which may be a reason why he wasn’t back to defend for their goal…

  8. RedDevilEddy

    25 January 2012 at 08:12

    Am I the only one who is starting to find it easier setting the Twins apart these days? Rafael really looks buffed, he seems to have added some serious muscle to his body, whereas Fabio still is the quickest yet slightly slimmer one.

    Or is it just me? 😆

  9. Onkar

    25 January 2012 at 11:07

    I just cant get this whole Welback gung ho tbh. I mean, I agree that he makes united look better sometime, but then it is more down to his suitability with the team and how we then what some people make him look like. I have to if some person who has not seen Welback play comes on this place and read the stuff written about him by Pro Welback people e.g. Eddy then that person may get an impression that Welback is none other than Second Coming Ronaldo (Brazilian) i his prime which he certainly not. Not at this point for sure.
    One thing that I would like to add on this whole Welback thing is if he is one who is going to lead the line for united in longer term then he needs to be more prolific in front of the goal. See its simple Goals win you matches and the striker who leads the line on top needs to be finishing chances, unlike Welback who seems to me is too TIMID for liking when he gets in front of the goal. Specially when he is on through one on one with Goal Keeper I never see any confidence in body language and that is the whole point.
    I always feel like defending the Finishing is more down to instinct than skills. And skills can be bettered by practice but instinct are natural. Either you have it or you dont. So no matter how good the other factors are Welback can never be the prolific finisher in my books.

    • [OPTI]Madschester United

      25 January 2012 at 15:24

      @Onkar: That’s why Chicharito is ahead of Welbz in my book. His finishing is on another planet, despite his obvious shortcomings (pass, first touch, and now caught offside easily).

      My Best XI:

      —– Chicharito——–
      Nani– Rooney–Vally

      Where Carrick is holding and Cleverly goes forward. Rooney is in the pocket between CM and CB [like Messi?]. Nani and Vally play wide but cut in too to feed Chicharito.

      XXX = {Ferdinand, Smalling, Evans}. Jones play RB or CM as sub.

  10. tonymontanna4united

    25 January 2012 at 19:42

    Anyone read comments from pique regarding the difference between fergie and guardiola.

    “Ferguson is a manager and he often doesn’t come down to the training pitch. He stays in his office and does a lot of different tasks at the club”.

    I think that to me, stresses the importance of having a top class coach, and points out just how badly we have lacked that since quieroz’s departure, because sorry but i have absolutely no faith in phelan and what he has to offer.
    Imagining him, taking training sessions, practising drills and tactics. No wonder weve seen such a startling decline in that department last few years.
    Fergies words of motivation alone obviously have such an effect on the team, its amazing to think how much better we could be if only we had a competent coach alongside him.

  11. Moscow is my heaven

    25 January 2012 at 23:06

    I don’t know if anyone watched tonight’s El Clasico but Real Madrid dominated Barca at the Nou Camp. What a performance. Astonishing.


    • RedDevilEddy

      25 January 2012 at 23:45

      @Moscow is my heaven: Please stop sounding like a City fan…

      • Moscow is my heaven

        26 January 2012 at 00:38

        @RedDevilEddy: Call me a Jose fan, but a bitter blue? Worst insult imaginable 🙁

        • RedDevilEddy

          26 January 2012 at 00:58

          @Moscow is my heaven: Sorry mate, you know I don’t want to but it really sounded like a “Moral Cup” winning parade you were doing there! 😆 Real were knocked out of the cup, nothing Jose could do about it… If only Higuain had finished off some of those chances! 😯

          I watched the game, fair play to Real who actually performed well. But temperament and defending was poor again, the first goal was incredibly soft and not one you expect to see at this level. And even though Barca perform their theatrics to great effect, Real don’t really show any patience with it. They fall for it too easily, despite the ref having a shocker it’s happend too oten in these clashes where they do get sucked in and let Barca get in their heads. Mind games is one of Jose’s strengths, at least it used to be, but everyone accosiated with Real get too easily affected by Barca who do nothing but whine. Shouldn’t be happening really, these games remind me more of a battlefield that football lately…

        • Craig Mc

          26 January 2012 at 03:10

          @RedDevilEddy: Barca are fookin moronic cheats and theatrics is not the word. The Barca team are CON ARTISTS of the highest level, and the way refs cow tow to them against Real M – I would have to wonder if MONEY wasn’t changing hands! Like you say it happens far far too often!

        • RMJ

          26 January 2012 at 17:35

          @RedDevilEddy: they are too overloaded with atatcking quality and not enough at the back. Ramos was playing left center back..really? a club of reals stature is stuck with a right back playing at left center back.

          This is what happens when you have club politics interfere with team progression and i thank God that we were spared on that issue with the glazers

  12. Jay wire

    26 January 2012 at 12:33


    I really am not sure we’ve been watching the same matches. Carrick last played the holding role a million years ago. In fact, this season he’s done that once. At Bolton. If he was playing this role all this time, noone would have noticed him this season. Yet, everyone is saying “Michael Carrick was class today.” and he’s even scoring Kaka-like goals. Back in 2009, he wouldn’t have even dared cross the halfway line. He’d just be keeping Ferdinand etc company,just trying to recover and retain possession. A lot of analysts have been bemoaning the lack of a HM. It’s not a debate really. It’s actually the topic of why this has been done.

    • RMJ

      26 January 2012 at 17:31

      @Jay wire: I agree mate..its just that because Carrick isn’t your conventional holding midfielder, he gets slated for being too passive. Our system calls for more thoroughbred central midfielders than those who specialize in a role but those are rare these days. Our system itself is a throw back to the 80s and 90s which is another point of contention amongst fans. But for me the simple answer is that it is easier to build squads around a 442 than most modern day formations especially in a physically demanding league like ours.

  13. Jay wire

    26 January 2012 at 12:50


    I posted those statements a couple of years ago, whilst I was being attacked for simply stating what I thought was obvious. Ferguson is not a coach and our poor performances are down to that. Grognard and company came out with shotguns immediately. I posted this as some of the evidence to support this, but it was rejected. It wasn’t an attack on Ferguson, just pointing out that we hadn’t replaced CQ and we’re paying for it. We will continue to pay for it for the years to come, obviously and we should all come to terms with the fact that we’re not going to be anything significant in Europe, until we actually sort out our tech issues. My estimation and this one is very optimistic, is that,we will begin to bounce back around 2015, when Ferguson goes. This will possibly open the door for the hiring of a world class coach/manager, hopefully not Mourinho or Pep. But until then, I fully expect things to deteriorate rapidly.

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