Sunday Night Takeaway: Arsenal 2-0 United

in Columnists/Match Coverage by

Thoughts from United’s disappointing submission at the Emirates.

Run over

So United’s record unbeaten run is over and what did we learn? Well, Arsenal were the better team on the day. They picked a stronger team and their forward line eventually found a way to expose United’s soft centre. It’s a bit of a red herring in many regards as even the most loyal Wenger-ite is hardly likely to use this as a reason to believe in their manager turning a corner. And, considering the eight changes, United supporters simply got what they expected even if they hoped for a Chelsea-esque display.

It’s nonetheless frustrating, of course. Yet another chance to get into the top four thrown away. In an embarrassingly poor Premier League, Manchester United have somehow found a way to make the worst of every opportunity presented to them. Finishing above a poor Liverpool side would have been nice but what defence can we have when we churn out league performances in this manner?

What did we learn during the unbeaten run? Let’s be generous. Jose Mourinho has shown he can get a poor team to generate a consistent run of results.

Lies, damned lies and statistics

…as for that unbeaten record! Well, that aside, there was a figure floating around social media beforehand about the respective costs of the teams. There are a few big money faux-pas United can’t avoid but it does feel a bit misleading. Wayne Rooney, signed for approx £30m in 2004, has been worth every penny. Ditto Michael Carrick for £18m in 2006. Ditto David De Gea. You could go on, but even in the worst cases, is Chris Smalling a flop for £12m or would you argue United have had their money’s worth? Five of the team who played have been at the club for more than five years and that’s not counting Axel Tuanzebe, Jesse Lingard or Marcus Rashford who have been there just as long.

United’s team may have been more expensive but it included players who have been Premier League winners and Champions League winners at Old Trafford. The price difference has been value for money, even though today’s result was disappointing. If we’re on about misleading statistics, how about this? United fielded four academy products, and Arsenal had just Gibbs. In fact, though Welbeck’s goal sticks in the craw, it reminded us that our academy provided just as many players for Arsenal’s first team as theirs did.

A missed risk

Axel Tuanzebe was very, very good, against a very, very good opponent. It’s a point debated at length on the Gordon Hill show and the UIF podcast, would it be a big risk to play the kids? Do you benefit from it or will you be punished? Perhaps Jose didn’t see too much of Tim Fosu-Mensah last season (though he should have been told), perhaps he was too cautious to throw a kid in until he had no other choice but seeing how good Tuanzebe was today does make you wonder whether or not United would have been better served taking a chance.

The great retirement tour

Jose Mourinho spoke about enjoying individual and collective performances and he even praised Smalling and Jones. At the risk of getting on Smalling’s back, however, this was surely another sign that his time is coming. Danny Welbeck is a tricky player—we’re not going to be those fans who say he’s rubbish—but let’s be right, Alan Shearer he ain’t. To give him the time and space to score a header says more about the defender than it does the attacker at that level.

On a similar note, Wayne Rooney’s long speculative efforts are becoming reminiscent more of Steven Gerrard’s last few games for Liverpool than they are befitting of a Manchester United captain, even if his career is clearly on the wind down. Wind back the clock to Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs and everyone asking when they would know it was too long. Giggs retired at 40 and still, according to some for the following eighteen months, was good enough to play in the first team. Scholes, too, left the fans wanting more after a glorious swansong. Rooney looks as if he is too years too late; it’s clearly not the case for him, as he broke both goalscoring records this season, but some purists would have preferred that he had gone with David Moyes.

All eggs in one basket

Say something long enough and you can make anyone believe it. We’re out of the race for fourth, said the manager, as he continued to rest key players despite the rest of the Premier League giving umpteen opportunities to get back into it. And how embarrassing that has been for United, who should not be relegated to these kind of conversations like Arsenal and Liverpool fans.

Everything now rests on defeating Celta Vigo—not a gimme, considering our form at home—and then overcoming a very good Ajax side (probably) if we get to Stockholm. It’s a risky strategy for a manager still adapting to life at Old Trafford but hopefully someone pulls him aside and tells him that accepting defeat in some games is a slippery slope to get started on.

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