We have to be more adventurous.
I think most fans would agree that last night’s result was a disappointing one. Usually, a draw at Old Trafford would be seen as one point gained, especially when you consider that we came back from one goal down. However, given the awful state that Manchester United currently find themselves in, yesterday was a fantastic opportunity to make a statement, whilst also ending our appalling record at The Theatre Of Dreams. Unfortunately, it’s quite evident that we failed to do either of these.
The tactics were negative, numerous players didn’t look up for the game & we looked content to play for the draw. The only period where we showed any urgency was whilst we were trailing. As soon as we got back on level terms, we seemed to go back into our shells and see out the remaining 32 minutes as if we were clinging onto a lead at Anfield or The Etihad. This was very frustrating, as it was clear to see that United were there for the taking. For the 15 minute period that we found ourselves behind, we looked impressive. We retained the ball much quicker, created numerous chances and subsequently went on to score the equaliser. If we had continued in this manner, I believe we would have won the game. If we maintained it for the full ninety minutes, it could have been an onslaught.
Possibly the clearest examples of this negative attitude were visible prior to kickoff and in the final minute. Firstly, starting with three defensive-minded midfielders and no creative spark seems over-excessive. It’s a system which we’ve attempted to utilize in various games so far this season, and our defence still looks very shaky. It also leaves our front three starved of service and living off scraps. I’d personally much prefer to see one of Mesut Özil, Dani Ceballos or Joe Willock given a place in the side, alongside two of last night’s midfield starters.
The second instance where this negative attitude could be seen was when we earned a free-kick in the 95th minute. It was the final attack of the game, and Sokratis Papastathopoulos began to venture up for the set piece. However, Emery called over to him and told him to remain in a defensive position. For me, this is a clear indication that last night was viewed as a ‘must not lose game’, rather than a ‘must win’. This is incredibly frustrating because, as I’ve previously mentioned, Manchester United are in the midst of an awful run of form. For example, League One Rochdale held them to a 1-1 draw in the League Cup last week, only to be defeated on penalties. If we had performed well, but United looked fantastic, a draw would have felt like a decent result. However, the manner with which the draw was earned is far from ideal.
Guendouzi held his own.
Mattéo Guendouzi’s season appears to be going from strength to strength. Despite the team struggling at times, he hasn’t been affected. In the past, the view portrayed of Arsenal was that we are a team that play beautiful football when you expect us to. We win the so-called lesser games but collapse when we’re up against it. However, it appears that the polar opposite applies in the case of Mattéo.
For a 20-year old, his ability is clear to see. For me, what’s more impressive is his mentality. There are numerous technically gifted youngsters who never make it at the top level due to their attitude. When the going gets tough, they can be bullied and prove to be ineffective. In Guendouzi’s case, he seems to thrive in this sort of environment. This is incredibly rare for someone so young and really makes me believe that he has all of the qualities necessary to develop into one of the best midfielders in world football.
Last night, he ran the midfield. Albeit there was a lack of quality overall, he was one of the few players for either side that could leave the pitch really feeling like he gave a good account of himself. Following some mind-games from Solskjær, Paul Pogba completed 90 minutes, but our French youngster did a great job in nullifying his influence on the game. He also used the ball very effectively and won us numerous set-pieces when the ball was in potentially dangerous areas.
This is the latest addition to the ever-growing list of big games where Guendouzi has impressed. Other notable mentions include the most recent North London derby and last season’s trips to Stamford Bridge and The Etihad. Are there areas where he needs to learn? Yes. Is there a possibility that his form could intermittently dip? Yes. Will we need to be patient if this occurs? Yes. However, almost all young players face a dip in form at some stage or another, so we shouldn’t worry if this does occur in Mattéo’s case. One thing is clear to see, he has the potential to reach the very top.
Saka looked very dangerous.
Following an injury to Alexandre Lacazette and his man of the match display in Germany against Eintracht Frankfurt, Bukayo Saka has been given some opportunities to prove himself by head coach, Unai Emery. He was bright against Aston Villa on his Premier League debut but was withdrawn at half-time due to a reshuffle as a result of the dismissal of Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Following this, he replaced Emile Smith-Rowe towards the back end of our League Cup third round against Nottingham Forest. He looked very impressive yet again and earned himself a spot in the starting eleven for our game at Old Trafford.
Performing at home to a lower league side is one thing, but going to the home of one of your biggest rivals is another, regardless of their recent fortunes. Nonetheless, Saka didn’t just hold his own, he was arguably our best player. Not everything came off for him, but he looked a constant threat. He was absolutely fearless in possession, forcing the Manchester United defenders into making fouls or doubling upon him in an attempt to nullify his threat.
He went on to provide the assist for our equaliser and was replaced by Joe Willock in the 80th minute. Overall, the 18-year old should be immensely proud of his display. For years, we’ve turned up at Old Trafford and key offensive-minded players have struggled to get involved or have a meaningful impact on the game, but he didn’t look fazed at all.
From what we’ve seen, he is an incredible prospect. Last night’s assist brings his total output up to one goal and three assists so far this campaign. Hopefully, he will be able to continue this form and cement his place in the XI. Based on last night’s display, it would be incredibly harsh to drop him, regardless of the potentially imminent return of Alexandre Lacazette. Similarly to Mattéo Guendouzi, the sky really is the limit.
Özil is being unfairly treated.
Admittedly, I’m slightly biased in this debate. Mesut Özil is my favourite footballer, so that undeniable plays a part in my view of the situation. However, I think that many fans have reached the same conclusion as me. Regardless of whether or not Mesut is in the long-term plans of Unai Emery or not, he is being unfairly treated.
So far this season, he’s featured for just 142 minutes across all competitions. Admittedly, this was initially down to safety concerns and fitness issues, but thankfully both of those appear to be things of the past. On both occasions that he has featured, he was relatively impressive. He was one of a very small group of players who gave a decent account of himself against Watford. When we began to capitulate in the second half, he was one of the only players who remained composed and utilised the ball effectively, rather than losing it almost immediately and putting his teammates under pressure.
He then found himself not in the matchday squad for our trip to Germany to play Eintracht Frankfurt. When questioned about his omission, Emery claimed that he was ‘being rested’. While this would have been a valid excuse if Mesut completed 90 minutes against Aston Villa in the following game, Unai’s words seemed insincere when the German didn’t even manage to make a substitute appearance in our 3-2 win at The Emirates.
He was reintroduced to the side against Nottingham Forest and created six chances, the most on the pitch, before being replaced. He was visibly frustrated with his manager’s decision, and it’s not hard to see why. Following this, he was excluded from the matchday squad for our trip to Old Trafford. There was no real explanation given, so presumably it was a tactical depiction.
Whilst I admit that Özil’s performances have dropped since his new deal was signed in early 2018, there is no excuse for this treatment. He shouldn’t be starting every week based on the options that we have available to us, but to suggest that he’s not even worthy of a place on the bench is ridiculous. He is given next to no opportunities to prove himself, which makes it hard for him to find rhythm. Despite this, he’s been quite impressive when we’ve seen him, but he then finds himself dropped for the foreseeable future, while numerous members are given chance after chance to prove themselves, despite consistently underperforming.
If Mesut isn’t in Unai’s plans, fine. Sell him in January. However, to leave him out in the meantime isn’t benefitting anyone. It presumably causes unrest in the dressing-room for one of the five captains to not even make the matchday squad on a weekly basis. Also, there is a clear lack of creativity in his absence, as I’ve already mentioned. For me, this treatment is unjustified and undeserved. I hope that a conclusion can be reached imminently.
Pépé’s adjustment will take time.
Nicolas Pépé was sub-par at Old Trafford. Unfortunately, there is no other way to look at it. Personally, I believe that he has settled better than many fans would like to admit, but he has been missing the end product. However, this wasn’t the case last night. Nothing that he tried came off, and he was outperformed by Bukayo Saka.
However, to see fans giving up on our record signing after just five starts is disappointing. Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp had slow starts at the club, and now they’re largely recognized as the two best players in our history. To suggest that he needs to up his game is absolutely fair, but to write him off so soon seems both unjustified and premature.
The Ivorian has admitted that he has struggled to settle, and that his level of performance must improve. He finished the interview by indicating that he isn’t overly worried though and that he will adjust properly very soon. That will remain to be seen, but we must stick with him in the meantime. There is no denying his quality. We saw it at Lille last season and it’s been visible in glimpses so far since his arrival in England. There is undeniably a top, top player in there. What’s most important for us now, as a fanbase, is to get behind him. If we want him to reach his potential, he needs us alongside him. Constructive criticism is fine. Slander isn’t.
Hopefully we will be able to look back at this period in years to come and laugh. Alexandre Lacazette also took a few months to adjust to the English game, and look at him now. The Frenchman was voted Arsenal’s player of the year for the 2018/19 campaign and had a positive start to this season prior to his injury. Rival fans have taken to social media to undermine Nico’s ability, but remember, those who laugh last, laugh longest. Keep the faith.