Manchester United vs. Arsenal: Gunners draw 1-1 to stay 3rd as Giroud, Sanchez show limits

Arsenal salvaged a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday to stay two points clear of Manchester United in the Premier League. I guess the race for second place is over since Manchester City has a five-point lead over the Gunners, which still have a game in hand. Basically, we just need a point from our two remaining league matches to secure third place and avoid the Champions League playoff games.

Manchester United vs. Arsenal

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Wenger made no change to the side that lost 1-0 to Swansea a week ago. I thought Sunday’s match showed the limits of Giroud and Sanchez and the necessity to hire a world-class striker this summer. Sanchez has bailed us out numerous times this season but his decision-making was poor at Old Trafford. The Chile forward had a shooting opportunity with his left foot when Giroud fed him in the fourth minute. However, Sanchez preferred to cut inside and lost possession. A minute later, Sanchez attempted to dribble past Falcao on the edge of the Arsenal box. That was a foolish initiative from Sanchez but the Red Devils didn’t capitalize on his turnover.

Sanchez also wasted three good situations because of his selfishness. He was too slow to play Giroud in, allowing Young to win the ball back in the 13th. The Frenchman then flicked the ball on for Sanchez, who fired a half-volley over the bar in the 51st while Mertesacker and Ramsey were waiting for a cross. In the closing minutes, Sanchez attempted a curling shot from a tight angle while a left-footed cross was the better option.

Ozil adjusting to Giroud

Giroud has good movement inside the box but his lack of pace becomes a liability when his teammates want to play him in with through balls. The Gunners wasted a chance because of a misunderstanding between Giroud and Ozil in the 33rd. Ozil expected Giroud to run into free space and therefore slipped a through ball. But a static Giroud read the play differently, expecting to receive the ball to his feet. Ozil’s body language spoke volumes about his frustration with Giroud.

You definitely feel that Ozil would thrive more with a different type of centerforward. However, Ozil is a smart player. So he adjusted to Giroud’s set of skills in the second half. Leading a counterattack in the 63rd, Ozil played the ball behind Giroud, who managed to get hold of the ball while wrestling with Rojo. Unfortunately, De Gea saved Giroud’s sliding effort with his left foot. Ozil did again the running in the 84th, combining with Sanchez before cutting the ball back for Giroud, whose first-time effort went into the side-netting.

The Reds Devils were the better team in the first half with 62 percent of ball possession and eight goal attempts to none for Arsenal. Van Gaal’s tactical setup was perfect with an intensive pressing game and some tight marking that allowed Manchester United to win the midfield battle. I also thought the hosts showed more desire while the Gunners were surprisingly shy. In fact, our defending was so terrible that the Red Devils could have reached halftime with a bigger lead.

Marking mistakes

Focus was definitely an issue with blatant marking mistakes. An unmarked Mata took a pass from Herrera to feed Falcao in the ninth minute. The Colombia striker beat the offside trap but Koscielny reacted quickly enough to block his close-range shot. I thought Coquelin was a bit late in closing down Mata. From the following corner, Rojo diverted the ball toward an unmarked Smalling, whose goal attempt was blocked by Bellerin. The Gunners again poorly executed the offside trap in the 39th, but Falcao was flagged for shoving Koscielny to connect with a cross from Mata.

Van Gaal often uses Fellaini as a second striker to create confusion in the final third. That ploy worked on Sunday as the Belgian midfielder opened up space with his runs. Fellaini is the one distracting Monreal when Herrera scores in the 30th. For some reason, Bellerin ended up marking Fellaini in the 49th, which means that Young was free on our right flank. Young had plenty of time and space but could only muster a tame cross-shot that Ospina easily saved.

Fellaini was also used as the main target quite a few times. Valencia outpaced Monreal in the 46th to cross the ball for Fellaini, who outjumped Mertesacker for an off-target header. The Red Devils could have won the match in the closing minutes as Fellaini headed Valencia’s cross into the path of Van Persie, who fired over from 12 yards. We lost three duels on that play with Monreal and Koscielny failing to close down Valencia, then Fellaini outjumping Coquelin, and finally Van Persie beating Mertesacker to the second ball.

A smear campaign?

Coquelin has received plenty of plaudits in the past couple of months for protecting our back four. However, the French midfielder lost some key duels on Sunday. He gave away a set piece with a late challenge on Mata in the 14th. Ospina saved Mata’s subsequent dipping free kick. On the stroke of halftime, the referee harshly penalized Coquelin for what looked like a slip from Fellaini. The Arsenal defense suffered a lapse of concentration as an unmarked Blind was able to connect with Mata’s free kick but had his 16-yard effort diverted out by Smalling.

Manchester United took advantage of mistakes from Bellerin and Monreal to open the scoring. Young got the better of Bellerin to cross the ball for Herrera, unmarked at the far post. The goal was a bit similar to the goal scored by Swansea a week ago. Bellerin failed to stop a dangerous cross while Monreal failed to spot Herrera’s run inside the box. Koscielny was marking Fellaini, so it was clearly Monreal’s job to keep an eye at the far post. I thought Ospina’s positional play was decent. Ospina did not go as far as against Swansea to protect his near post when Young crossed the ball.

Some Szczesny fans blamed Ospina for the goal but good luck trying to stop a 10-yard volley into the bottom corner. My only criticism is that Ospina had a better chance to stop Herrera’s volley with his foot than with his hand. But again, 90 percent of the professional goalkeepers prefer to go with their hands instead of their feet in that kind of situation. If you don’t believe me, you can go and check Wiltord’s equalizer in the Euro 2000 final.

I really don’t think it’s worth it to start a smear campaign against Ospina because of that goal. Szczesny has conceded far worse goals in his five years at the club. So why can’t we show more patience with Ospina who has only played 21 games for Arsenal?

Bellerin’s fear

Bellerin nearly earned a second yellow card the last time he faced Young in the FA Cup. I was disappointed by the young Spaniard on Sunday because he showed fear. Bellerin was so scared of fouling Young that he lacked aggression and contributed very little offensively. If you’re dealing with a fearsome opponent, you have the right to be cautious but that’s no reason for not playing your game. To Bellerin’s credit, he made a crucial tackle in the 65th. Hitting Arsenal on the fast break, Young was bearing down on goal and was about to face Ospina when Bellerin ran across the width of the field to knock the ball away.

The only positive from Sunday’s match came from Ramsey. With Cazorla performing poorly and Ozil struggling to impact our passing game, Ramsey was the one who made things happen. Ramsey often drifted inside to play almost like a second striker. Sanchez found Ramsey in the 64th but Rojo made a sliding clearance before the Wales midfielder could pull the trigger. The new understanding between Sanchez and Ramsey showed again in the 70th as Ramsey chased a long ball from Sanchez to chip De Gea, but Rojo covered his goalkeeper to clear the danger.

Ramsey’s influence in midfield

Wenger felt Arsenal started getting the upper hand and replaced Bellerin and Cazorla with Wilshere and Walcott in the 73rd. Coquelin shifted to the rightback position while Ramsey played in central midfield with Wilshere. It didn’t take long to see Ramsey’s influence in midfield. Walcott controlled a long ball from Ramsey in the 82nd and had his cross diverted by Blackett into his own net for the equalizer. Three minutes later, Ramsey sent a ball over the top for Giroud who lost possession with his second touch instead of attempting a difficult volley.

I think Blackett’s own goal summarized what Arsenal missed in the first 70 minutes: Ramsey’s impact in midfield and Walcott’s directness on the right wing. The manager could have started both Ramsey and Walcott but it would have meant less experience in midfield and less defensive work on the right flank.

Wenger will probably rotate a bit for the game against Sunderland on Wednesday, mostly to avoid injuries but also to help some players get sharp for the FA Cup final in 11 days. We will need more attacking options off the bench than what we currently have.