Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continued the Manchester United revival with a clinical 3-1 victory at the Emirates. Goals from Lingard, Sanchez and Martial were enough to secure their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup. As a fan who loves this competition, this defeat and the manner in which it was inflicted hurt.
Last week’s victory against Chelsea felt like one of those season defining moments. Sokratis and Koscielny started at centre back in a back four and delivered a solid performance that registered a clean sheet. The truth is it was pivotal for another reason. The loss of Hector Bellerin. Ainsley Maitland-Niles is not a right back or a deputy and the promising young midfielder struggled there. After a decent start to the game our defensive injury misery was compounded when Sokratis hobbled off for Mustafi. I don’t care how good you are, no team can deal with the disruption caused by this volume of injuries. Something is wrong and the club need to address it. It simply can’t be 10 years of bad injury luck.
On 31’ we were punished for disorganised defending when Sanchez coolly slotted Lukaku’s slide rule assist passed Cech. Torreira was ball watching in centre midfield which gave the Belgian time to slip his ball through and the non-existent defensive line played Sanchez onside.
Arsenal 0 – 1 Manchester United
In true Arsenal fashion the capitulation was swift. A simple counter attack with two passes found Jesse Lingard in the box who passed it into the net. Cech might as well have not been there. The goal highlighted how easy it is to get into our box. Luke Shaw travelled 30 yards unchallenged, to find Lukaku exploiting space left by Kolašinac, who then easily passed to Lingard to finish.
Aubameyang managed to pull one back just on half time after fantastic work from Ramsey down the left, but with Rashford and Marital on the bench, we needed to be winning at half time. You can’t be chasing a game against a team with that pace and fire power on the bench.
Half time: Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United
We started the second half well and managed to craft some good openings. Lacazette was busy and ferocious as ever and looked our most likely. Mesut Ozil even managed to make an appearance and showed some of the incisive passing we have missed in recent weeks. However, on 81’ the inevitable happened. Lacazette’s misplaced lay-off was picked up near the half way line by Paul Pogba who managed to sprint to the edge of our box unchallenged and let off a shot. Cech then parried right into the path of Martial who finished the game.
Solskjaer and Phelan outwitted Emery using Fergie’s old playbook.
Full time: Arsenal 1 – 3 Manchester United
The balance between attack and defence
Getting the balance between attack and defence is what defines a top coach. When Arsene Wenger lost Patrick Vieira, Gilberto and Sol Campbell and pivoted to a team focused and technique and possession he struggled to regain that balance. The ensuing decade would see us continue to play exciting attacking football but become painfully vulnerable to route one direct attacks and counter attacks. Watching this FA cup tie against Manchester United felt like Groundhog Day as we were yet again exposed by a team set up to counter. Gary Neville previously called Arsene Wenger “arrogant” for not addressing our defensive fragilities, and it won’t be long before that same accusation is levelled at Emery.
Injury crisis means we need bodies
Before this game I was reluctant for us to enter the transfer window as I would like to see a more considered long-term approach behind transfers. Our squad is patchwork and we can’t make that same mistake, but with injuries totting we need bodies.