Tactical analysis – Arsenal and United
Cometh the hour, cometh the Man United.
For a lot of this season I’ve subscribed to the notion that Manchester United are a comparitively average side. While individually they may not have an outstanding player who wins games for them on their own – although Wayne Rooney does that at times – I realised today that as a team they’re very, very good.
My rose-tinted glasses were the only thing stopping me from doing so. Only now that they’ve effectively sealed the title can I look at things from a more realistic standing point, as I’m a very optimistic supporter in the long term. It also helped me to open my eyes to Man United’s collective effectiveness by watching Arsenal and Manchester United back-to-back. The performances were from completely different ends of the football spectrum.
While we played a slow, even dull passing game which failed to break Stoke down, United were dynamic and powerful in attack, exchanging quick-fire passes and sprinting up the pitch. As much as it pained me to say it, their style of play reminding me of that of the Invincibles. Not obsessed with keeping possession like we are, but patient. They don’t force the opposition back with pressing and a high defensive line, making it difficult to break down the other team’s defence. They play a deep defensive line, making attacks easier to deal with and defences easier to break down.
The way that we set out our stall is just asking teams to sit back and defend – if they don’t, it’s pretty much suicide, as Blackpool have found out. Arguably our biggest problem is of our own doing. One of the only teams to not sit back due to our high pressing has been Tottenham at White Hart Lane. They were able to do so because they managed to match us in attack – not because they’re on the same level as us going forward, but more because of the fact that it was a derby, and anything can happen in derbies. West Brom also succeeded in playing attacking football against us, exposing our poor defence with excellent counter attacks, just like Man United do to us and other teams regularly.
Our high defensive line and the knock-on effects of it are what make beating us usually so easy for them to beat us. It also explains why so many of their goals against us are on the counter attack – we press so high up the pitch that when they get the ball, they find it so easy to break against us due to our limited numbers in defence.
We try to emulate Barcelona with our high line and so on, seeing as they’ve had a lot of success in La Liga and the Champions League, but they’re completely different competitions to the Premier League. Barcelona also have far superior attackers to us, not to mention the incompetence of oppositions in La Liga. Their Champions League success is more about the former.
I really feel that Theo Walcott is wasted at Arsenal in our current system. As a right winger, he struggles to use his main asset, his pace, because to beat his man he needs to go to the right and run – usually this would mean he went over the touchline and gave away a throw. Furthermore, he would absolutely thrive in Hernandez’s role at Man United, in my opinion. Hernandez’s goal against Chelsea was an absolute carbon copy of Theo’s against Tottenham, and I think he could do it far more often if played centrally like Hernandez, with Man United’s tactics.
The reason he managed to do it against Tottenham was because, like I said, they tried to match us in attack stride for stride, instead of focussing on defending, like most teams sensibly do due to their attacking strengths/weaknesses. Theo will probably only thrive in our current system against sides who play attacking football – Blackpool, Tottenham, Barcelona etc. That’s why I think we should play like United. In my opinion, that would make Walcott so much more effective.
Chants from Stoke fans accused us of being boring, and if I said I was entertained by the football we played I’d be lying. It was slow, indirect and dull. We lacked a change of pace, another problem created perhaps by our tactics, but also the personnel. I can’t blame Stoke fans for calling us boring – sometimes I find Barcelona boring. When it’s not your team in possession, it gets seriously boring when it’s pass after pass with no directness. Even when it is your team, it can get boring, especially when you’re used to it or need a goal, two things that applied today.
Returning to the topic of Manchester United, Alex Ferguson has been excellent for them this year in particular. His tactical calls, like using Park instead of Nani for the big games, and signings, namely Hernandez, have been masterstrokes. As much as we’d like it to be Arsene, the manager of the decade has to be Ferguson. I’d nominate him for manager of the year too, despite how well Holloway has done, or Hodgson and Dalglish in the second half of the season. He’s got every last drop that he could possibly get out of this Manchester United team, and no matter what you say about them, they’re a pretty effective machine.