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Personally, I don’t think I’ve witnessed such a poor performance from Arsenal against United. If there was any confirmation of the gulf in class between the two teams, it was confirmed on Saturday. With Manchester United barely getting out of second gear and Arsenal’s limp display, it made for a disappointing spectacle. For a good number of Arsenal fans, we’re still their rivals. However, seven years without a trophy and seemingly accepting a fourth finish as a major achievement shows anything but that. Ever since the likes of Chelsea and City have come into the mix, Arsenal has been blown out the water. They’ve had good performances this season, but you have to wonder whether it will be enough to even finish in the top four.
For United, this was yet another tease of how good this team can actually become. Even in second gear, we tore Arsenal apart and save our clinical touch, it could have been a rout. When a team does well, praise is usually transferred to the players, but we must praise Ferguson for his tactics which worked a treat on Saturday. Knowing that Arsenal were set to congest midfield, Sir Alex made sure defensively, Carrick, Cleverley and Rooney worked as a midfield 3. Rooney dropped on Arteta while Carrick and Cleverley plugged up the holes in midfield. As poor as Arsenal were, the two in midfield for United made sure they held their shape and ensured Arsenal’s midfield didn’t enjoy much time on the ball. As Rio mentioned in his post-match comments, it was the best shape he’s seen from United all season. The fact it took Arsenal late into the second half to register their first shot on target is a testament to our defensive shape. Credit to Tom Cleverley, who is displaying with every game his hunger to learn in accordance with improving his defensive discipline and positioning. It was the correct decision to take him off on a yellow as was proved with Wilshire getting his second. Carrick did well too, but his lack of effective contribution to our attacks was slightly worrying. There were moments where Cleverley was visibly frustrated with his midfield partner as Carrick failed to show for the ball, played some slack passes and was slow to move play along.
Offensively, United were good in certain stages of the game but as highlighted by Sir Alex, United were far too casual. Arsenal’s goal came out of nothing and our lack of concentration showed as Cazorla curled his shot to provide Arsenal a late consolation with consummate ease. We should have been out of sight within the first 60 minutes, but we simply refused to make the most of our chances. You can only get away with complacency for so long and if not for Evra’s goal, it would have been an embarrassing result.
As an aside, I think Rafael deserves some attention for being our most consistent player so far this season. You could definitely argue the same for Van Persie but his class is already known. Rafael is 22 and showing phenomenal progress. Fergie described him as a “beast” in training and it shows on the pitch. Few teams get joy down our right side and it’s largely down to the Brazilian’s defensive nous. Criticized for being rash and overly aggressive, Rafael has added much needed maturity to his game as he looks to have nailed down the right back spot. Hopefully, when Smalling and Jones come back into the fold, Rafael will only be replaced due to rest and not because the other two need games. Rafael is benefitting from these run of games and if he maintains this level of performance, he may go on to be the best right-back in the league. I’m confident within a few years, he will be lauded as one of the best right-backs in the world. The boy is that good.
It’s quite clear complacency is within our squad and Sir Alex is hoping to snuff it out. We can’t afford to rest on our laurels thinking we’ve sealed the match when time is still left on the clock, and the opposition still has a chance of getting something. To think the number of games where we’ve took the lead is smaller compared to the games we’ve gone behind is surprising. Thankfully, our attack has bailed us out but it simply has not been good enough. Our general tempo on Saturday was comfortable and even though Arsenal weren’t giving us much of a match, we need to be more ruthless. I would accuse this team of being too nice because once we get a lead, we seem content to sit on it even if the opposition is there for the taking. From that point of view, I think we should keep the pressure up and really punish the opposition. In football, if you don’t take your chances, more often than not, it’s going to cost you. Arsenal shouldn’t have even had the thought of having a chance Saturday, but we allowed it and it’s something that needs to end. I know this comes across as being overly critical, but it’s important we don’t fall into a false sense of comfort. It cost us in the title race last season, and there’s little reason for us to be doing it now. The schedule is only going to get busier and as the season rolls on, matches will be decided by finer margins. There’s going to be less room for error, so the sooner we get that clinical mindset embedded into our team, the better off we’ll be when it comes to the business end of the season.
To end on a positive note, United are top of the table and looking back to how we started the season, I’d say we are doing pretty well. It’s now time to match these great results with great performances. It’s time we kick complacency out the door and show the real Manchester United and put fear back into our opponents. We have a squad capable of developing into a dominant force and with these next run of fixtures, it’s time to do just that.