AFTER four straight wins in all competitions, Manchester United missed out on the chance to return to the Premier League summit after being blitzed by Arsenal in the first half. Adam Higgins picks out three things we learnt about the Reds from the 3-0 loss in north London…
Ashley Young cannot be used in defence in big matches
The continuous dilemma of who will step into Luke Shaw’s shoes was brought into sharp focus again at the Emirates after a dismal display from the former England winger as a makeshift left-back.
It was only the second time in his four starts this season that Young had occupied the position – the other being the Capital One Cup win over Ipswich – but he looked completely out of his depth against the pace of Arsenal’s athletic Spaniard Hector Bellerin.
Booked for a cynical foul on Aaron Ramsey and exposed on numerous occasions, the 30-year-old was driven down avenues he looked uncomfortable in and pulled apart by Arsenal’s scintillating movement.
The experiment may work in the so-called lesser games but Young’s lack of knowledge of his defensive responsibilities was apparent and, in such a specialised area, someone with greater experience of the role was required against a technically gifted and free-flowing Arsenal.
Although he was more attack-minded and convincing in the second half, the former Aston Villa man was a huge contributing factor in their woeful start but was assured earlier this week by Louis van Gaal that he is still ‘very important’ to the team despite being mainly used as a substitute so far this term.
Ashley young get off this pitch!! Running around in no mans land
— Jake Quickenden (@JakeQuickenden) October 4, 2015
— jiten bhagat (@jitenb) October 4, 2015
Wayne Rooney is short of confidence
The Manchester United skipper has been the subject of scrutiny for some time for an underwhelming run of form, which position he is most effective in and whether the burden of captaincy is affecting his performances in any way.
One thing that is certain is that Rooney – so often the source of all danger to the Gunners in classic encounters down the years – has lost the edge and aggressive streak with which he is associated. He barely even moans at referees these days – even when booked – or fights for lost causes as we have seen so often before.
The striker seldom influenced the game with the exception of one shot in the second half which Petr Cech comfortably kept out and remains without a Premier League away goal since netting in the 2-1 win at the Emirates almost a year ago.
Graeme Souness said he would like to see the Rooney of old which sat out three or four games a season through suspension but was an integral provider of goals and assists – and, undoubtedly, so would United supporters.
Having handed penalty responsibilities to Juan Mata against Wolfsburg, it is evident to see that Rooney – who turns 30 later this month – is no longer the fearful figure he once was and needs to regain the attributes that have made him England’s leading marksman.
Rooney obviously untouchable… Another shite performance from him. A passenger on the team once again. Badly need an enforcer in the middle
— Gazzman (@Garysull) October 4, 2015
We need a captain who leads by example and exerts influence over the pitch like Bastian Schweinsteiger. Rooney missing when needed.
— It's CALLYMATIC (@CallyMax) October 4, 2015
United cannot afford to be outplayed in midfield
Even by former captain Gary Neville’s admission, the Red Devils were ‘battered’ and ‘destroyed’ in central midfield by their top-four counterparts – particularly in the first half when the game got away from them.
Van Gaal opted for the experienced duo of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger over the energy of Morgan Schneiderlin in a deep-lying midfield two – and it was a move that largely backfired as Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil ran the show in the opening 45 minutes.
Cazorla was arguably the best player on the park but was afforded too much room to manoeuvre between the lines as United’s pedestrian midfield gave the Gunners a free ride and barely laid a glove in the hosts as they went 3-0 down inside the first 20 minutes of a Premier League game for the first time ever.
The usually responsible Carrick had no answers and Schweinsteiger was too far forward at times as they struggled to force Arsenal into mistakes. Although they tightened up in the second period, the damage had been done and it will leave van Gaal worried about the ease his team were undone and lost a key battle.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) October 4, 2015
United's midfield has been battered. No legs in there. Schneiderlein was bought for games like this why is he not playing ?
— Luke Byrne (@LukeByrne93) October 4, 2015