Manchester United laboured to a goalless draw at Arsenal in a dreadful game.
The early indications were that United were still feeling a little bit sorry for themselves after what happened in the week, coupled with Manchester City winning earlier. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be looking at the reaction of his players come what may towards the end of the season knowing that it is a crucial mentality test for some.
It was a passive start; Arsenal were missing Saka, Tierney and Aubameyang, and looked vulnerable, but United looked as though they were playing with ten men – and they effectively were, with Scott McTominay a passenger as he was obviously too unwell to have started.
Fred brought a save out of Leno, and then Shaw sent a cross in which Wan-Bissaka headed wide. Fernandes then shot wide.
McTominay was brought off with eight minutes of the first half left, with Martial brought into the game – the Frenchman one of those with the biggest question marks over him. Pogba moved to the middle to accommodate his compatriot and United looked to have some territorial advantage as the half closed.
With two minutes to go until half-time, Rashford was presented with a fantastic opening and a clean shot at goal. A generous observation would be that he couldn’t get the ball out of his feet quickly enough; a more critical assessment might suggest that he had plenty of time to get that side of it right in anticipation of the cross coming. He didn’t, and Arsenal dealt with the clearest opening so far with much more comfort than they should have.
The United boss could only have concluded from the passage that there is a lack of killer instinct in this team – for as much quality as they have, and show, it is this clinical edge which counts against this forward line.
Arsenal started the second half in menacing fashion – Willian and Pepe having goal-bound efforts blocked by Wan-Bissaka and Maguire respectively.
United’s good moments continued to be brief rather than sustained, and though there were only two in the second half, they were arguably the best openings – Edinson Cavani received a cross from Shaw in the 58th minute but fired wide, and then in the last minute another came in from Wan-Bissaka but similarly went off target.
The visitors didn’t do enough to win or lose – the same could be said for Arsenal, although on territorial possession, they enjoyed the much greater control – Lacazette hit the bar with a free-kick in the 65th minute, and Smith-Rowe fired at De Gea in the next attack, but it was comfortable. That flurry aside, Arsenal offered little threat, and United could not say they offered any more.
This is the worst Arsenal side in Premier League history and they were missing three of their best players – this was a very poor performance and result from United, particularly in response to the last disappointment.
Solskjaer will be going through the rest of the season with this squad and aside from the obvious areas where United are struggling – centre-half, centre-midfield and right-wing – there are worrying indications of the positive notes of recent weeks and months subsiding. Marcus Rashford was desperately poor, Anthony Martial’s idea to play himself out of his funk seems to be the same idea as the unsuccessful past, and Bruno Fernandes continues to look lost when what is in front of him and behind him is so dysfunctional.
With a tough fixture list coming up in a few weeks, United need to accumulate points at a quick speed in order to safeguard their place in the top four and regenerate the momentum they had.
Perhaps the only benefit from the midweek horror was the fact that some of the players had been rested with this weekend in mind. The boldest call was Cavani in for Martial, and the French forward could have few complaints after his dreadful outing against Sheffield United.
But this was generally as strong as Solskjaer could have picked – you could grumble Bailly should have played for Lindelof, but it didn’t seem as though that one would have really made a difference. The lack of options on the right has two impacts – the first is the issue, and the second is that in putting Rashford there, you miss what he brings from the left, which is a much better and more natural fit for him.
Sometimes you have to say it was as strong a team as should have been picked – though perhaps Solskjaer might have brought off Rashford earlier – and they again should have done better. On Wednesday they failed a test against a compact and deep defence. Here they failed a test against a team more open. Neither defence will be winning any awards, and so it has to go down as a week where United’s attack really looked weak.
De Gea 6