Arsenal 0 Manchester United 0: Five things we learnt from the stalemate at the Emirates
Rio's far from finished, a lack of strikers means Arsenal aren't getting best out of Özil and Moyes can count on support of the Old Trafford faithful
Thursday 13 February 2014
1. Not a classic but case for the defence provides optimism
The talk was of how dull the game had been – and it might not have been the greatest of meetings between these two heavyweights. But the outcome was a testament and a credit to both defences and how well they performed.
Both teams had leaked poor goals in their previous games; Arsenal at Liverpool and Manchester United at home to Fulham. But Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker were immaculate in the heart of the Arsenal defence, while Chris Smalling, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were equally impressive for United. With the game more tactical than it's ever been, one mistake can make all the difference between victory or defeat. David Moyes and Arsène Wenger will be very satisfied with how the evening panned out defensively.
2. Rio's far from finished but he needs a licence to roam
There are rumours that Rio Ferdinand might call it a day at the end of this season. I hope for his sake he doesn't, as he proved in the second half he is more than capable of playing at the top level for a while yet. United have suffered in the heart of their defence this season and it's an area where Moyes needs leaders and experience.
Ferdinand, more importantly, gives United a calmness when he's in possession. With most teams now playing just one up front, it leaves one of the two central defenders free – and at liberty to drive out of defence with the ball at his feet. It's what Ferdinand has been good at all his career; that composure on the ball.
3. Lack of strikers means Arsenal aren't getting best out of Özil
There was great excitement, when Arsenal signed Mesut Özil from Real Madrid in the summer, and recently he has faced criticism over his performances, but he is still a big cog in the Arsenal wheel. The way he receives the ball, always taking it offline – as we call it (away from his opponent) – is a joy to watch and a lesson for any youngster playing today.
What was clear on Wednesday is that he misses that centre-forward to link up with, as he had at Real. Countless times, Özil received the ball and looked to play into Oliver Giroud but the big Frenchman was tightly marked, forcing Özil to play square, to the frustration of the Arsenal crowd. At Madrid, he had Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain making forward runs. A new forward for Arsenal would bring more out of Özil.
4. Moyes can count on support of the Old Trafford faithful
I encountered many United fans at Arsenal and one thing Moyes does have on his side is the support of the club's hard-core fans. They're not happy and individually they all express concerns on Juan Mata's best position, Wayne Rooney's willingness to stay, and more. But the vast majority are behind their manager for now. That's a big asset because if fans turn it can be hard to win them back.
5. United have a need for speed to counter-attack effectively
Just under five years ago at the same venue, Ronaldo scored one of the best counter-attacking goals you'll ever see, when in the space of eight seconds and four passes United turned defence into attack and scored a goal that booked a place in the Champions League final. That strike was so good that Uefa uses it today on coaching courses when teaching counter-attacking play.
United have always been well known for the pace of their teams, through Ryan Giggs, Andrei Kanchelskis or Ronaldo, but they lack that player who can genuinely turn defence into attack in the way Eden Hazard does for Chelsea, Jesus Navas can for Manchester City and Gareth Bale did so devastatingly for Tottenham. Rooney is the closest they have to that quality.
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