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United Would Do Well to Learn from Arsenal

Morning lads. I know. Even I am reeling from yesterday’s defeat. This won’t be a match report per se. If it’s match reports you want, then you have the papers. I would post match reports as and when I feel like it, but at the moment I’d like to dwell a little more on the lessons we can take from the game.

First of all, let’s be honest here and give credit where it is due. Hats off to Reading. It may seem cowardly to many, but under the circumstances – first game of the season at OT – their performance was a display of supreme discipline. Steve Coppell deserves praise for his tactical nous. To over simplify, all he might have asked of his players, prior to the game, would have been to park themselves in front of their box. But what he might not have expected was the form of his defence, particularly, his ‘keeper Hahnemann – who had a blinder of a game.

So what went wrong for us? Well, to start off, a couple of our players didn’t show up on the day. Evra, who was started on the left wing, and Scholes, who played in his customary position, were completely ineffectual. A similar word may also be said of Giggs who faded. While Rooney’s absence in the second half may have been the popular excuse, I thought we could have wrapped up the game in the first half itself.

Rooney Surrounded by Reading Players

For all the possession we had, we showed very little imagination going forward. It is one thing to send wave after wave of attacks with close to 70% of possession. But the inability of making full use of this possession counts for nothing at the end of the day. And while our rivals go two points clear, we are left doing the job of catching up. When Coppell decided to park his players in front of their goal he was taking several leaves out of Big Sam’s ‘Bolton book’ – which worked to a great deal against Arsenal. Arsenal, especially last season, ended up being too one dimensional because they lacked a genuine finisher; someone who could convert all the pretty passing to a concrete result. It might reek of hindsight on my part, but with the absence of Rooney, now surely out for over a month, we seem a little short of genuine strikers.

Saha is our best bet, but he’s just returned to training, which means he should be back for the second game – of next season, that is. Solksjaer is still injured. Tevez’s return is not until derby day but with the situation he might be hastened back into the team. But that wouldn’t necessarily translate to a solution to our problem as he needs to bed into our system.

Now don’t get me wrong. I genuinely support the current system employed by the boss. The 4-2-3-1 is certainly something I’d love to watch our team play in. But it is our planning that worries me. Our signings (and sales) of attacking players have been with the assumption that our first team, more importantly Ronaldo and Rooney, lead a relatively injury free season. That is why we were so confident of off-loading Rossi. But one would imagine that someone of the predatory instincts of Saha/Rossi might have done the job yesterday. Regular readers might remember my sadness at seeing Rossi leave. Thankfully we have Tevez. Otherwise all hell would have broken loose in the dressing room.

So what do we have ahead of us? A tricky trip to Fratton Park, of all places – where we don’t have a particularly good record in recent years. Then we have something of an unknown quantity – a trip to the ‘Massive’ City of Manchester stadium. While our derby games have been well contested with plenty of recent bitter memories (Ronaldo’s red card in a 3-1 loss and Michael Ball’s stamp on Ronaldo last season), this one is sure to be a much more serious affair with an apparently rejuvenated City under Sven Goran Eriksson – who by the way, was taking notes at the game. Following this, we have Spurs. So honestly, we have to put this behind us and get our act together, otherwise our season would be blown to bits even before we face Chelsea in September.

Anyway, after yesterday’s game here are certain things that I felt were worth noting:

  • Silvestre is looking more and more unconvincing in left back as a footballer. This may come as late breaking news, but he is completely shite. Evra should be put back to his LB position with a genuine winger in left wing. Suddenly we seem out of depth in that department, with Evans as our only other option. (Assuming Heinze is frozen out.)
  • The absence of a target man/striker was glaringly felt. We had no one to call upon after Rooney’s departure. So much for our wide array of attackers. Saha’s return (hopefully), and that of Tevez should alleviate the problem somewhat.
  • Tevez’s return must help address one more department of our game that’s been missing ever since Beckham’s departure – consistent free kick takers. Ronaldo’s free kicks have been appalling for most part, Giggs would do better with indirect ones and he’s not getting any younger.
  • Carrick has been impressive going forward, but mere willingness won’t do. He needs to make those passes and shots at goal count. And he needs to be a bit more forceful going forward. To be fair to him, I thought he was among the better players yesterday, who presented our ‘forwards’ with genuine chances.
  • While I really do not want to write off Scholes – yesterday may have been an off day, plus he was coming back from injury anyway – but we need the bite of Hargreaves in midfield sooner or later.
  • I know what you are thinking. I agree – these post match notes might have sounded entirely different had we snatched a win.

Despite all this, to be honest, it’s not everyday your team goes out with 25 plus shots on goals with close to 70% of possession, and yet contrives to draw the game. Well, not with Manchester United at least. But such things have happened. Ask any Arsenal fan. We know that had Reading been a little more adventurous, we might have actually got a result. But now that they have succeeded, we need to be prepared – more mentally than tactically – for the likes of Blackburn, Bolton, Everton, who might do something similar to Reading. If there was a chink in our armoury, it was witnessed today. And if these teams succeed, we would be looking at a season where we end our title defence without putting up a semblance of a fight.

They say great teams get results even when they are not playing well. Last year we did it. Arsenal conjured up a win in the dying seconds earlier yesterday after a mostly underwhelming second half. (In their defence, they did have quite a few good chances.)

So if we need to prove something to the rest of the league, we need to rise up to the challenge in midweek and the weekend after with some rousing performances. Or else… oh well! You know what!