Man U 3-1 Arsenal: the agony of defeat

I don’t normally write after the match but I wanted to give a few observations.

First, Zinchenko looked about 80% from the start. Just his speed and focus seemed off. Tierney was available so I would have to guess that Arteta figured an 80% Zinchenko was better than what Tierney would have offered. I will say that Manchester United’s first goal was largely his fault.

Second, Arteta after the match said that the players were at fault for giving the ball away in “bad positions” and some fans are blaming Lokonga’s pass to Jesus for the second MU goal. This seems batshit crazy to me. It was an entry pass, which was slightly off, Jesus was pushed away from the ball and neither Jesus nor Martinelli applied any pressure to Dalot. Martinelli was walking. Maybe he was bushed but he was walking. Ødegaar was totally switched off to the threat that Eriksen represented and sprinted over too late, and once again Zinchenko failed to close down on Bruno. Sorry but a giveaway to a fullback on the edge of his box with a full compliment of players around him is not the midfielder’s fault. Dalot had 10 minutes to pick out a completely left alone Eriksen who found a wide open Bruno who made an easy pass that Saliba misread leaving Ben White to clean up. And to his credit White did get a boot on the shot and it still went in:

And let’s be completely honest here, the third goal was entirely on Mikel Arteta. He made a three player substitution and had to lecture the three men on his new formation for 5 minutes before the change. No one seemed to know where they were supposed to be on that play. That was an own goal by Arteta. Everyone, and I mean everyone, saw that we were the better team up to that point. I get that he really wanted to go for it – and hey I accept that when you’re really going for it you’re going to be left open at times – but man oh man there’s “going for it” and there’s “holy shirt, all 10 men are above the half-way line!” It was a substitution which looked a bit like Arteta was trying to be too “smart”. When people complain about Arteta learning on the job, this is what we mean.

I also don’t like that he blamed the players after the game. He used the term “brave” once again and said that we weren’t brave enough. That really gets on my nerves when a coach does that. I’ve seen it a lot from Mourinho, Tuchel, and Lampard. But so long as the players don’t mind/respond well to it, I guess it’s the right tactic.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that I honestly feel like we should have won that match.

First, we were denied a goal that probably shouldn’t have been denied. Martinelli made an excellent run and Saka found him with an excellent pass and Martinelli scored. But VAR looked at a soft foul by Øde on Eriksen and told Bald Tierney to go look at the monitors. Look, just last week Arsenal were denied a clear penalty for Mings throwing Saka to the ground. We were told at the time that it was a “soft” foul. Okey dokey. And in the same game, Arsenal’s keeper was held and blocked off and once again, it was too soft a foul to be a “clearandobvious” foul. Okey dokey again. And yet here we are in this match, Bald Tierney looks right at the play, lets the foul go, and VAR thought he made a clear and obvious error? It looks to me like every pundit, including former Manchester United player Gary Neville, are saying “that’s a bad call.” So, once again, Arsenal got the sharp end of the weirdest possible call by the officials.

Look, I don’t think that there’s a conspiracy but I’d like to know what kind of implicit bias training these officials are getting. Implicit bias exists, especially racial bias. And with every single official in the league being a white male, I want to know what racial bias training they are getting. William Saliba was given the first yellow card in this match, for his first foul. It also happened in the Merseyside Derby that a black player received the first yellow. There were PLENTY of other fouls in both of these matches which could have been yellow cards well before the referee decided that the black player was the one who had transgressed. I would love to see an independent commission study the officiating in the Premier League. Go watch the Tim Donaghy (former NBA referee) special on Netflix. Donaghy says that what he was able to do was use the personalities of the referees, the fact that he knew which new things the referees were looking for in games (for example, palming the ball, which is never called), and which players were given preferential treatment to help his compatriots make picks. Are we to believe that the Premier League doesn’t have these exact same problems (that some refs don’t like certain managers, that refs are told to look for certain types of fouls – like foul throws by Hector Bellerin – and that certain players aren’t given special treatment)? It seems obvious to me that of course that stuff’s happening. In fact, they TELL US that they are “looking for certain things” in matches and they have told us that they profile certain players and look for certain behaviour. So, we know for a fact that there are biases – what we don’t know is whether there’s a racial bias or some other types of biases that are not being addressed.

Back to the positivity: I think Arsenal dominated MU. We were almost always in position, we consistently beat their last defender, and Arsenal created a ton of attacking threat. The problem was that Arsenal weren’t able to capitalize on that threat. Scott Willis tallied our expected threat at 2.7 goals but our expected goals were just 1.3. That matches exactly what I saw on the field and the notes I took on the game. I really believe that we should have won that game. I don’t blame Bald Tierney for that. I don’t blame Arteta for that (in fact, huge credit to him), I have to say that that was just down to the players not quite finding the right final ball (maybe this is what he meant by being “brave” above). Our decision-making was just off for this match and it was frustrating to watch, honestly.

And apparently Emile Smith Rowe indicated a hamstring injury during the warm down after the match. We’ll have to see how things play out but we now have two matches a week for the remainder of time. And we have a ton of players out injured and can’t seem to catch a break, which is also frustrating.

I guess that’s the conclusion: frustrating.

However, to end on a high note: Arsenal are still top of the league! So, let’s just leave it there until next week.



  1. It’s bad luck if ESR is off injured (again).
    It was a bonkers substitution – the equivalent of “all on red” – but FV, Eddie and Emile all posed threats in their time on and Emile’s last minute effort underlined his knack of always being in the right spot to get a shot away.
    The Martinelli decision capped a weekend of absurd VAR decisions.
    But onwards and upwards – WA(still)TOTL!

  2. EPL refs have this weird self-righteousness about them.

    One example is “letting the game flow”… it’s a man’s game, contact sport, blah blah blah. So teams kick other teams and ref lets the play go on. Then, on the basis of a 50/50, 60/40 or even a 70/30 in the middle of the field; they invalidate a goal in a game.

    Goals are rare occurrences in football… 2.8 per game on average last season. Annulling a goal should be set at a really high bar. The adjacent ref deemed the tackle fine. VAR had no business getting involved in that. They may as well adjudicate 20 such comings-together a game. That’s not what VAR is for. Let the United fandom moan all the want after the game.

    Who knows what the trajectory is thereafter with us a goal up?

    If youre being fair, you have to say that Marcus Rashford was terrific. His dump off to Antony after Zinchenko’s rush of blood was perfect. Better than his 2 goals, imo. It was the awareness, and timing of the pass. He seems to play well against us. Look again at Zinch on the play, and you will not find a better example of fatal ball-watching. The vid would be titled “How to lose your man in 10 seconds”. Let’s get something straight… Zinch is still a fantastic pick up from us, and a terrific football player. But he did what he did today, it was a big moment, and it’s worth pointing out. It isn’t defining.

    And Arteta’s team has been here before in a big game. When Chelsea beat us early last season, we were giving Reece James acres down our left. Tierney was our LB that day. He resolved that problem by having Xhaka tuck in when the LB is upfield, but Xhaka now has offensive responsibilities, and cant do so as much as before. It leaves Martinelli was a lot of out of possession responsibilities.

    You mention Martinelli walking. He did that on the first goal too. When Zinch tucked in/got sucked in, he was jogging up the middle of the field. In fact, United executed their counters very, very well, and at speed. Tactically, their counter-attack planning was spot on.

    Something deeper as well. We have lost our heads in recent big games when we go behind or concede an important goal. We were bossing a tired City in December, but found a way to lose the game. I wonder how much on-field leadership has to do with that.

    Still, gooners, we looked the better side for large parts of the game; and United paid us the compliment by setting up to soak up and counter — at home no less — as if we were the bigger side. The cancellation of the goal was probably trajectory-altering.

    On the plus side, Martinelli is growing before our eyes. What a gem of an attacking player the young man is.

    But we soldier on. No Arsenal supporter of more than 10 years should be surprised by this result. United ALWAYS get up for us. 32 games to go, and I’m going to channel Tim’s positivity. 15 points after 6 games is bloody awesome. If youd offered me that in July, I’d have taken it. But if ever gooners needed a check on hubris, today provided one.

  3. ManU were there for the taking but we felt a bit off from the start. I was constantly expecting them to catch us out way before any of the highlights happened. I’m not a tactics guy but it’s what I felt, and especially that Antony would score. Maybe I gathered Zinchenko was off the pace?

    It was one of those games that could have gone either way. It’s a shame how it worked out, but yeah, that triple sub.. I was watching with my dad and we were both wondering if the players can really absorb what’s being said in that manner.. my guess is we were right and they cannot.

    As for the referee, somehow Arsenal fans had decided after the VAR controversy/fiasco yesterday that we were going to get screwed. I mean, I don’t not believe in conspiracy. But even I’ve never gone into a match having already decided that’s how it was going to be.

    Btw, Sambi was a bit lucky to get away with a tackle too. Not a red, but if the ref was out to screw us, it could have been given. On the Martinell ‘goal’, I didn’t even celebrate when it went in because I felt it was a foul before. So I don’t feel aggrieved on that account.

    I don’t think we dominated the game though. We had more confidence. But ManU were always in that game. I don’t think we were ever in full control regardless of what any stats might suggest. Arteta was also pretty bullish about this not denting confidence. We’ll see, but I would rather we build ourselves up again rather than go out with ‘bravery’ (bravado)

    1. Mikel has a history of playing partially fit players. He needs to trust his bench more. Especially the guy, who only months ago, was being talked about as our captain-in-waiting.

      1. Yeah, even Sambi could’ve done with more minutes since last season. Squad rotation is a big problem area with Arteta. It’s probably an offshoot of trying to account for and control every variable. I said last season he needs to embrace the chaos. It doesn’t just mean attacking more (though I’m really glad we’re doing that)

        Did you read what Cesc Fabregas had to say on Guardiola type systems and how we are losing some genius in players because of it?

        1. I see a lot of articles with Cesc saying things, he seems to have hated Conte’s system much more than Guardiola’s: which one are you thinking of?

          1. “I saw a video the other day of Guardiola about why he doesn’t give freedom to players. He says when you give too much freedom to players it becomes chaos and you can lose. That’s why he needs to be tactically strong for players to know every movement. All the coaches now talk about the pattern of play. I’m not against it at all, some players will understand it in one second, others in months.

            “But special talent is dying because of it. From a very young age boys are being told what to do and they are teaching plans for the game. Before there were positions but you could move more. If I’m a six and going forward, the number eight will be smart enough to cover me. These things are being lost because coaches prefer this proper strategy instead of players using their own intuition.”


          2. Huh.. he says that Conte was even worse: demanding players make exactly the pass he wanted, exactly the tackle, exacting every move.

  4. We were clearly the better team, and this was acknowledged by ManUre players and pundits post-match. But we did not make the most of the chances we created. I feel the team (and the manager) got sucked in emotionally, trying too hard to make the superiority count, and in the process provided opportunities which they ruthlessly took.

    I must say Lokonga’s play before their second goal had me worried, his movement seemed to vacate a huge space crying out to be exploited. And so it happened.

    The triple substitution was baffling. Even at 2-1 I felt we could rescue a draw. After that we were not as dominant. An emotional reaction by our young coach? Perhaps.

    I hope the team (and the manager) take the right lessons from this match. Focus on this season’s target of a top 4 finish, and this result is not a disaster, we are on track. But get sucked into believing that we could win the league and that the next match is a “must win” could upset the psychology of the team.

    1. That Lokonga movement was required though, he was being harassed by Ronaldo and couldn’t pass back because everyone was covered. This team does this a lot and usually they cover for each other, this time they literally didn’t.

      1. He was clearly given more license in the second half. I thought to myself, are the training wheels already off?? He did ok for the most part. The next 10% will be competing a little harder in duels but without fouling (Martinelli, Odegaard and Jesus especially are so good at this) and getting better at reading the game and making quick decisions. I certainly don’t think he was at fault for any of the goals.

        I have a hard time blaming Martinelli for not covering Antony as well. The winger’s man was Dalot and he was covered. It’s not like he failed to track his man. That goal doesn’t happen if Gabriel doesn’t gamble on intercepting the pass in to Fernandes or if Zinchenko stays home on Antony. Easy fix.

        1. I dont think that anyone blamed Martinelli for the goal. The knock on him is that he seemed totally unaware of the gathering danger. He was behind the pace of United’s play, and he was in midfield, not on the left flank. So when Zinch vacated his station, Martinelli was nowhere near the left patch. Plus he was walking. He’s not to blame for the goal, but he needed to contribute better to team defence. Sure, Gabriel and Zinch were more culpable, but he still had a help out job to do.

          GM is a fantastic, two footed talent on offence, but while Antony wasnt his man, hes has to be able to overload defensively in a breakdown.

          Normally Gabi a very good defensive forward. The speed of Eriksen’s wonderful pass caught everyone out.

          United went from slow slow slow patient to bang! Speed. Thats what unhinged Gabriel 6.

  5. Let’s hear it for Christian Eriksen, who came close to death on a football pitch. Very good today. Respect even being on the pitch at Old Trafford.

    1. +1

      Can’t hate a man who has a defibrillator. Can hate him even less if he also manages to be a professional footballer. And a damn fine one too. They are not winning that game without him.

      1. Years of him playing in a counter attacking Spurs side have paid off and now he’s great in a counter attacking Man U side.

  6. Agree with everything you say Tim.

    I also did a double take when I heard “triple change.” He’s never done that this season and I can’t remember him doing it in a meaningful match last season. Usually it’s just Nketiah, and against Fulham he dropped Saka to LB until we equalized. I do think he was so so amped and desperate to show the world what his team can do and he over did it. For such a methodical, hyper rational guy, his Achilles heel seems to be that he tends to get sucked in to the emotions of big away fixtures. Anfield last season was another example where he should have kept a cooler head.

    Another positive: FV cameo. I thought he looked like he belonged physically, tactically and especially technically, and that the moment wasn’t too big for him. This is a young team and they will take a lot from this. The coach, too.

    I expect us to shellack Everton. Let’s go baby.

  7. As per our recent past, we didn’t rise to the occasion. Goals win matches, we didn’t put goals away…creating the the plays is not enough.

  8. I can relate to all the pain. But I have only 3 things to say… Arsenal lacks a goal scorer on that pitch. Our midfielders are kicking in with goals but our forwards are not. Don’t get me wrong what we need is a player who is just good at striking the ball into the net from deep. People will never understand how Xhaka is killing us and if this was to be Arsene team no how Emile will be sitting on the bench. Jesus is busy doing a lot of uplifting for the team but there are no goal scorers in there. One of Martinelli, Saka or Xhaka should be benched for ESR or any other midfielder good at getting in the box for a goal.

    Point 2… While last season I clamoured for Arteta out but changed my mind after my analysis that he bought defenders and bettered our defenders and therefore should be given a chance to buy his attackers and let’s see what he does I think his biggest flaws are how he handles in match situation just like his maestro in city. I also think that our players are also not developing individually. Team play might have improved but player development is really lacking. Saka’s talent I hate to admit it has remained stagnant. There is nothing new to his game. Same goes for Lokonga. I say this because with players like Wenger I have watched players like Walcott, Coquelin, Song who weren’t that good develop into something awesome. I don’t think any player is developing individually in this team. But hey team play has improved but much work with decision making inbox especially btwn Odegaard and Saka.

    Point 3… Xhaka. I will continue to say this, I don’t think we can we win any title with Xhaka as a first teamer. Xhaka as a player cannot dominate the midfield, does not score goals from his position, so error prone in midfield and is not as brave people think. We need more but hey if y’all okay with the man no shit. But may I remind you all in 2016, we needed desperately a Striker… but Wenger kept faith with Giroud. Giroud just like Xhaka is very functional player but unless every single person around him is close to world class good, no way will we win that PL with solely him. This is same with Xhaka. Have you ever watched a match where we did not look like it but it was Xhaka who stepped up and orchestrated our win, maybe like Carzola against Man City or Partey against United. I wouldn’t need to name the years of the particular game date but you already know. Xhaka have never and may never have that outstanding match for us. Come to think has he ever picked motm for us?

    I rest my case. I believe aside from our midfield we are strong enough and have enough tactical players to go far. I would like to see odeg and Vieira okay together.

    1. Gabriel Martinelli is as lethal as they come. Did you see that finish for the disallowed goal? Wow! He’s doing Auba’s old LW striker role 5x better than Auba because he can beat his man 1 v 1, create for others, score with any part of his body and put in a ridiculous shift defensively too. So maybe just 4x better. No wait he also shows up on time. I don’t have anything against Auba but those were all shortcomings in his game especially after 2019.

      Check out this graphic. It plots expected threat per 90 for PL forwards last season. The farther the player is to the right, the more threat he has carrying the ball. The farther he is up, the more threat he has passing it. The circles are bigger depending on how often the player crosses the ball and the colors represent age.

      All 3 of our current front 3 are outliers. Martinelli was #1 overall for expected threat carrying the ball and it’s not close, while still above average on the pass. Saka and Jesus were both outliers with xT passing it and still above average on the carry. ESR was above average on the carry but still much less threatening than Gabi and way below average on the pass. That’s why Martinelli is starting over him.

  9. Arteta needs to learn how to be pragmatic away from home at big not crazy about Mourinho ways but at 1 all or loosing 2v1 we didn’t need to go so high.there are times a draw is good enough.spurs away last season and United this season.sometimes get a point and move on.its not always about being the better team but being smarter.

  10. I completely agree that Arteta made a few mistakes in this match.

    For me Tierney is a better defender compared to Zinchenko. He should have started given the fact that United have a very fast/ skillfull attacking lineup.

    Also, our first choice and second choice pivots are out. That calls for Arteta to move back to a double pivot. A manager cannot expect a lesser/different player to perfrom the same role as the best player in your team.

    We should have simply set up the team a lot more defensive from the start. This does not mean we were playing for a draw. It would have made United do a lot more for their goals than just to catch us out of position. We gave this game away. The players were impacted by the atomosphere in the first 7-8 minutes. After that I believe it was the setup that let us down.

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