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Disappointment is an understatement. Manchester United entered the Premier League weekend on top of the table and faced a real test away at the Emirates Stadium. After a humbling 90 minutes, the Reds had dropped to third and a real wake-up call was delivered by a resurgent Arsenal side.
United went into the game in relatively good form (at least in terms of results if not performances) but within 20 minutes Louis van Gaal’s men had been blown away. Curious tactics and a makeshift back four contributed to the Gunners scoring 3 times early in the game.
Beyond the immediate shock and disappointment, it’s important to look back at the match in isolation as a very bad day; here are 5 things we learned from a disconcerting defeat to Arsene Wenger’s side.
1) Big Game Naivety?
Louis van Gaal’s record in the so-called ‘bigger’ games so far in his United tenure has been nothing short of excellent. However, Sunday afternoon delivered a wake-up call both tactically on the day, and as a barometer as to the Reds’ potential title ambitions this season.
United set up from the first second with a high line and a high press, with Bastian Schweinsteiger noticeably pressing very high up the field, leaving vast amounts of space in the midfield and exposing a make-shift back line. The decision not to play Schneiderlin has to be questioned, a player brought in to add steel, energy and discipline surely to be utilised in exactly this type of fixture.
There is nothing wrong with going out to win every game. Indeed, that should be the mantra of a club of Manchester United’s stature. But there are ways of doing it and the approach adopted on Sunday was nothing but Naïve.
2) Time to Settle
A huge transition, particularly in terms of playing staff has occurred over the last few years, not least over the past summer. Many new, young faces have come in and a lot of experience and ‘big names’ have departed.
Adapting to the Premier League is proven to be difficult for most new to English football and after promising starts it is perhaps time to take stock and afford some patience for the likes of Memphis and Darmian.
Both have had impressive moments so far but, for both, Sunday proved a real low point. It’s hoped that both will now demonstrate the hunger and desire to improve and bounce back but they will need time. There is no doubting the quality and potential of either player but fans should not expect too much, too soon.
3) A Dearth of Depth?
Despite numerous additions, there is certainly an argument that the playing squad still remains largely unbalanced in certain areas, with a lack of cover tangible against the Gunners.
The unfortunate injury to Luke Shaw has proved a real hammer blow, unsettling a back four that was increasingly impressive with every game together. Playing the likes of Ashley Young & Antonio Valencia out of position is far from ideal and the Blind experiment continues to prove unconvincing against stronger opposition.
Injuries to Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Paddy McNair at varying stages have not helped, but it is not just in defence that the Reds look light. Wayne Rooney played the second half from the left wing and Juan Mata continues to play essentially out of position, albeit to great effect. Perhaps the finishing touches will be added over the next year or so but right now the squad feels short.
4) Worrying Wayne
When it comes to opinion, Wayne Rooney is as divisive as it gets. One thing that cannot be disputed, however, is that right now he is a player out of form and struggling to make a contribution to the side.
United’s captain was anonymous in the first half against Arsenal and looks a shadow of the man usually capable of scoring 15-20 goals a season with all-action displays.
Rooney is clearly trusted by Van Gaal but even for the Dutchmen there must come a cut-off point. It is hoped that the former Everton man can rediscover his form but, if not, a big decision needs to be made and Van Gaal needs to display his characteristic ruthlessness for the good of the side.
5) Patience Not Panic
It’s easy to get carried away after performances like Sunday. The Reds were comprehensively outplayed in the opening exchanges and from then on it was a relatively easy game to manage for the Gunners.
Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Manchester United remain level on points with the North London side and only 2 points a drift of Manchester City at the top of the table.
It’s not been a particularly convincing start in terms of performances this campaign but the Reds are in a strong position in the table and it’s usually a feature of Van Gaal’s sides to improve throughout the season.
Tough fixtures await after the international break and everyone associated with Manchester United will be hoping for a strong response to Sunday’s disappointment.