Despite going down 2-1, it was a much-improved defensive display from the Gunners versus Manchester United.
Arsenal reverted to a more traditional 4-2-3-1 formation pre-match, and the players’ average positioning indicated that they stuck to that formation in game.
Possession and key observations
While in Arsenal’s recent matches, the Gunners have, or been allowed, to dominate possession, that wasn’t the case versus Manchester United, who won the possession battle (59% to 41%).
That said, there were excellent defensive performances from Chambers, Kolasinac and Xhaka, and even the typically porous Bellerin.
And while Xhaka was highly effective at directly and efficiently transitioning the ball from defence to attack, the same couldn’t be said of Maitland Niles. Arsenal’s attacking midfielders also failed to take enough risks with their passing, which starved Aubameyang of high probability goal scoring chances.
GK: Ospina (3/10)
It was a disappointing performance from Ospina, as is weakness at claiming crosses was acutely exposed. From Manchester United’s 3 shots for the match, Ospina was only able to produce the 1 save, and he struggled to deal with Manchester United’s 34 total crosses. Given the sheer volume of crosses from Manchester United, it was evident the Old Trafford outfit were attempting to target the Columbian’s aerial weakness, and while it took a late header from Fellaini, Manchester United ultimately succeeded.
RWB: Bellerin (7/10)
It was a strong defensive performance from Bellerin (3 tackles and 3 interceptions), as he showed improved defensive anticipation and aggressiveness. Despite Bellerin’s strong defensive performance, the Spaniard was unable to contain his opponent, Young, who posed a significant threat down Manchester United’s left flank (8 crosses, 4 of which were accurate, and an assist).
Offensively, while Bellerin’s crossing accuracy was reasonable (1 accurate cross from 2 attempts), his production level in terms of crosses was poor. The Spaniard’s productivity in terms of transitional and attacking dribbles was also poor (1 successful forward dribble).
RCB: Chambers (9/10)
It was a strong defensive performance from Chambers, who, like Bellerin, demonstrated strong defensive anticipation and aggressiveness (3 tackles and 3 interceptions). As a result, his opponent, Sanchez, struggled to influence the game (1 shot, which was on target, and 0 successful forward dribbles). Notably, the Englishman flourished when he simplified his defensive approach and just cleared the ball as it entered Arsenal’s defensive third (9 clearances). Chambers was also solid aerially, ousting Sanchez 3 successful aerial duels to 0.
LCB: Mavropanos (7/10)
It was a mixed defensive performance from debutant Mavropanos. Positively, the Greek demonstrated excellent defensive anticipation (3 interceptions) and, like Chambers, did well when he simplified his defensive approach and focused on clearing his lines (4 clearances). That said, Mavropanos was a bit too passive defensively (1 tackle). Luckily his main opponent, Lukaku, failed to demonstrate sufficient initiative to take advantage of Mavropanos’ reluctance to tackle (1 shot, which was off target, 0 successful dribbles). Aerially, the young Greek wasn’t really challenged by his Belgium opponent (0 successful aerial duels each).
LWB: Kolasinac (6/10)
It was a busy day defensively for Kolasinac, as his opponent Valencia, tested him down Arsenal’s left flank (7 attempted crosses). While his defensive anticipation (1 interception) could have been better, Kolasinac was very aggressive in his defensive approach (5 tackles). Offensively, Kolasinac was very poor, showing no attacking intent with his dribbling (0 successful forward dribbles) or with his crossing (0 crossing attempts for the match).
RCDM: Maitland Niles (5/10)
It was a mixed defensive performance from Maitland Niles, who was aggressive in his defensive approach (3 tackles) but demonstrated a lack of defensive anticipation (0 interceptions). In terms of his defensive positioning, the youngster was a bit too central which exposed Bellerin in the right wingback role.
Offensively, while Maitland Niles passing accuracy (92%) was excellent, his transitional passing (1 accurate long-range pass) and transitional dribbles (2 successful forward dribbles) were insufficient, which was particularly disappointing given the opportunities Arsenal had to counterattack.
LCDM: Xhaka (9/10)
It was an impressive defensive effort from Xhaka, who was very aggressive in his defensive approach (4 tackles), and showed solid anticipatory skills (2 interceptions).
My only criticism of Xhaka’s defensive performance was that, like Maitland Niles, Xhaka’s defensive positioning was too central at times, which isolated and exposed Kolasinac at left wingback.
Offensively, while Xhaka again failed to contribute in terms of forward transitional dribbles, Xhaka’s passing accuracy was excellent (90%) as was his transitional passing (7 accurate long-range passes).
RCAM: Mkhitaryan (7/10)
It was a solid to impressive performance from Mkhitaryan, both in terms of his goal scoring initiative (1 goal from his 3 shots for the match) and forward dribbles (3 successful dribbles). The only component of his performance which let him down was his passing creativity (0 attempted through passes).
CAM: Iwobi (4/10)
It was a poor performance from Iwobi, who failed to produce a shot or attempt a through pass. The only real positive of Iwobi’s performance was that he recorded 2 successful forward dribbles.
LCAM: Nelson (5/10)
It was an underwhelming performance from Nelson, who, while showing some goal scoring initiative (2 shots), failed to consistently provoke Manchester United’s rear-guard via the dribble (1 successful forward dribble) and was too safe with his passing (0 attempted through passes).
ST: Aubameyang (5/10)
Apart from a cross from Bellerin in the first half, which Aubameyang arguably should have done better with, it was another match for Aubameyang in which Arsenal’s attacking midfielders failed to create clear cut goal scoring opportunities for the Gabonese striker. Despite this being a recurring theme for Aubameyang, as it was for Lacazette before him, Wenger continues to employ a tactical set up which fails to play to his mobile forwards’ strengths, depriving them of any regular clear cut goal scoring opportunities. The longer Wenger continues failing to adopt a tactical system that accentuates the Gabonese striker’s strengths and hides his weaknesses, the reduced return of investment Arsenal will receive from their record purchase.
While there were disappointing attacking performances from Bellerin, Kolasinac, Maitland Niles, Iwobi and Nelson, there was much to like about the defensive efforts of Arsenal’s wing backs, Chambers and Xhaka. With Manchester United showing a far greater willingness to attack in numbers than expected, counterattacking opportunities, which Aubameyang craves, were there for the Gunners’ taking. While Xhaka did his best to quickly and accurately transition the ball from defence to attack, to enable Arsenal to take advantage of those counterattacking opportunities, Arsenal’s attacking midfielders were too conservative with their passing and attacking play to capitalise themselves or create high probability goal scoring opportunities for Aubameyang.
This has been symptomatic of Arsenal’s attacking play under Wenger over the past decade, and it is hoped a change in manager at season’s end will bring about more effective attacking play from the Gunners.
The stats referenced in this post are sourced from http://www.whoscored.com.