In the tactical battle between Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and his Manchester United counterpart Erik Ten Hag, it was the Gunners which came out on top, winning 3-1 at the Emirates. And it was one individual who made all the difference for the hosts.
The first key to mention for Arsenal’s win is Declan Rice, who was superb. He was the key for the Gunners in this game, contributing to all facets of play.
Rice was everywhere in midfield, breaking up play and allowing Arsenal to sustain pressure in the opposition half. The way Rice covers ground when the ball is in the opposition’s half is an elite quality of his, with his ability to shepherd the ball and make it hard for United to play out.
The all important goal from Rice came from a corner, which was won by Arsenal sustaining pressure on the United defence. This then led to Rice scoring, with a well struck half volley (which took a deflection) inside the 18 yard box, towards the near post.
But something else Rice did really well, and this was something Arteta mentioned after the game too, was the way he helped Arsenal weather the storm, in periods of the game where they weren’t on top. Rice protected central areas expertly for Arsenal, not allowing United to break through the middle and forcing them to go wide. When he did win the ball back, Rice would control the tempo, and slow the game down for Arsenal in these periods that it was needed.
For me, the performance of Rice was pivotal for Arsenal in both the defensive and attacking phases of play, and of course he scored the goal to give them the lead in the 96th minute.
WIDE ISOLATION (MARTINELLI):
Something we have grown accustomed to seeing with Arsenal, is their desire to isolate one of their wide men, and create 1v1 scenarios with the fullback.
However today, we saw an even heavier usage of this strategy, which saw Arsenal heavily tilt their play towards the right hand side, to set up for Gabriel Martinelli in 1v1 scenarios on the left against Aaron Wan Bissaka.
Something we haven’t seen too often, is Arsenal taking the right sided tilt as far as having Oleks Zinchenko drift over to the right side of midfield too. We often see Zinchenko inverted into midfield for Arsenal during build up, however today it was evident that Arteta wanted Zinchenko and Rice to tilt towards the SAME side (the right), leaving Martinelli as the only player outside of the tilt frame.
This saw a much more restricted version of Bukayo Saka, as his purpose was to draw players with him, and make the United defenders account for him in the right half spaces. However it did see Martinelli with plenty of opportunity to attack his fullback and create 1v1 situations.
Martinelli attempted 9 dribbles and completed 5 of them, made 14 crosses, 1 key pass and of course made the assist for Martin Odegaard’s goal. This performance helped Arsenal in key moments of the game, and was much more like the Martinelli we were seeing last season.
UNITED PLAN FAILED?
I want to start off by saying, I don’t think United played that bad in this game, and I think they were unfortunate in the end.
However, the game plan was clearly to lure the Arsenal press in, as we saw United building up incredibly slowly in the first phase, using Andre Onana as an extra man, splitting the two central defenders, and having one of Casemiro or Eriksen come in to form a diamond in the first phase.
They wanted to lure Arsenal into a high press, so they could play around the initial front line, and then look to hit the front players such as Marcus Rashford, in as few actions as possible. We saw this on a few occasions, where Onana waited for the pressure, before playing the ball into Casemiro, which then went directly to Rashford in a wide area on the left.
The problem with this was Arsenal cottoned on quite quickly, and they would start to trigger the long balls with a half press. This caused United to initiate their direct passes, but Arsenal were now in position to recover those direct routes. Once this happened, United struggled to re-adjust to Arsenal’s press.
The main positive to take away from this game was the performance of new summer signing, Rasmus Hojlund.
The second Hojlund came on, it gave Arsenal something different to think about. He instantly went to pin the centre backs, and be physical with them, giving United a focal point upfront.
Everytime the ball came up to him directly, he protected it well, held up the play and allowed runners to go beyond him, such as Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Antony and Alejandro Garnacho when he came on.
United had a goal disallowed, which would have seen them take a 2-1 lead, and that goal was largely down to the centre forward play of Hojlund. The Danish forward dragged William Saliba into the centre of the pitch with him, and cleverly flicked the ball into Casemiro, this now left a massive gap in behind, where Saliba had followed Hojlund and Garnacho made the run into this space. If it wasn’t for the tight offside call on Garnacho, United would’ve taken a 2-1 lead.
In conclusion, the individual quality of Declan Rice was the difference maker for Arsenal, scoring the goal and allowing Arsenal to sustain pressure against United late in the game.
However United were not as poor as some are making out, and on another day, could have easily taken 3 points at the Emirates.