Zonal Marking: United 1 Arsenal 0

…The word ‘cagey’ is generally used to describe matches that are slow to get going, but this was an interesting contest because it was simultaneously rather defensive, yet also played at a high tempo. With just one shot in the first half hour, neither side were attacking particularly dangerously, but this was partly because both sides were set up more defensively than usual.

(Getty)

(Getty)

The use of Jones in the centre of midfield gave United tenacity and fight, but also a midfielder who positioned himself more intelligently than Tom Cleverley or Marouane Fellaini might have – he cut off Arsenal’s passing angles and protected the back four, demonstrating that he’s not all about running and tackling.

…Arsenal, meanwhile, were also more defensive than Wenger would have liked – he indicated he wouldn’t have played two deep midfielder had Rosicky been available, and the Flamini-Arteta axis provided a good screen in front of Arsenal’s (now) relatively unfamiliar centre-back partnership. Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie rarely combined in open play, and the lack of invention from United’s central midfield zone meant Arsenal were rarely penetrated when they had men behind the ball.

But the defensiveness was expected considering the line-ups. What was more surprising, however, was that United started the game dominating possession, with 67% in the opening ten minutes. Although they did relatively little with the possession (in terms of getting it into the final third and creating chances) it was an impressive start considering many expected Arsenal’s band of passing mid fielders to retain the ball from the outset and put United under continual pressure.

(Note: First 10 minutes: Man U had 73 of 82 succesful passes and Arsenal 31 of 41.)

(Telegraph)

(Telegraph)

…Without the ball, United used a tactic Moyes often favoured against Arsenal as Everton boss (and also an approach he used against a wingerless Tottenham last season) – which was to defend extremely narrow, with the full-backs remaining close to the centre-backs, and the wide players tucking inside into the middle.

Clearly, Moyes was concerned about Arsenal’s midfield dominance, and although it took a while for Arsenal to start playing, the away side did eventually dominate possession with both Ramsey and Santi Cazorla darting inside to overload the centre. United’s narrowness, along with Carrick and Jones’ deepness, prevented Arsenal playing intricate passes through the middle, and with Olivier Giroud’s lack of pace and no direct runs from wide, it was difficult to see how Arsenal were going to penetrate the United defence.

The only goal came from a set-piece: Van Persie’s near post header, from the zone Mertesacker would probably have been defending, judging by Arsenal’s format when defending corners against Liverpool.

Getty

Getty

Two key things happened at the start of the second half. First, Nemanja Vidic went off injured and was replaced by Cleverley, with Jones dropping into centre-back. This caused United problems: Cleverley lacked Jones’ positional sense – almost immediately conceding a free-kick for tripping Giroud, for example – and while Jones is a decent centre-back, he doesn’t have Vidic’s aerial power.

That proved to be particularly crucial because Arsenal realised they needed to exploit the wide open spaces on the flanks, and played a higher proportion of their passes down the wings.

…And while Arsenal didn’t equalise, Wenger deserves credit for the switch – Arsenal quickly showed signs of penetrating the United defence. Wilshere provided a good forward burst to get in behind, and then Ozil’s angled run from the right should have resulted in a fine chance – he seemed to pull out at the last moment.

Sagna dominates

(Caught Offside)

(Caught Offside)

With Arsenal dominating possession and United remaining extremely narrow, the key feature of the final 20 minutes was Bacary Sagna getting space down the right flank, and repeatedly hitting some fantastic balls into the box.

…Meanwhile, Moyes was concerned about Sagna’s freedom so introduced Ryan Giggs in place of Kagawa, with instructions to stop the crosses. Sagna still got plenty of room, however, and this showed the fine line (just one Arsenal player providing a touch on a cross) between Moyes’ strategy being regarded as ‘highly successful’ and ‘naive’.

Source: Zonal Marking

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