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Manchester United 3-2 Arsenal: Where to now for the Gunners?

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

By Allan Riley

Arsenal’s loss to Manchester United was bad. Real bad.

After controversially taking a deserved lead through Emile Smith Rowe, a goal from Bruno Fernandes, as well as a double from Cristiano Ronaldo meant that Michael Carrick’s time as the interim manager ended in winning ways.

The game was a must-win for Arsenal. A game to make a proper statement. They had the chance to haul themselves into the top four with a win over the Red Devils, but the defeat drags them back into the race for what looks to be the last available Champions League spot.

Like every loss, excuses will be trotted out to justify what was a mediocre performance and substandard result for the Gunners. However, the result was indicative of several key problems for Mikel Arteta’s side.

The first and most blatant was a lack of leadership. Arteta spoke after the loss about the need for the senior players to “lead from the front” and how the younger players should follow their example. Right now, it’s the other way around.

Arsenal’s best players on the day – Benjamin White, Emile Smith Rowe, and Gabriel Martinelli – all fall under the “young players” category. However, right now, they are leading this Arsenal side, with Martinelli being Arsenal’s man of the match on the day thanks to his explosiveness and desire to bomb forward.

Arsenal’s “leaders” against United were anonymous. Martin Odegaard, captain of his national team, did score and was relatively impressive throughout, but gave away what can only be described as a ridiculously stupid penalty that led to United’s winner. Thomas Partey gave up possession in midfield several times, something that has almost become a regular occurrence for him recently.

What is incredibly concerning are the performances of captain Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. The captain is the player who should be leading everyone from the front, yet in the last four games, Auba has been relatively anonymous and missed multiple sitters. This was the case against Newcastle and Watford and he should have scored against United with his chance in the second half, even if the goal would have been chalked off regardless.

Arteta needs to stop shoehorning Aubameyang into his starting eleven just because the striker is captain. He’s currently hindering the team more than he’s helping it and should we want to take another step forward next season, a new frontman is required.

Another problem was Arsenal’s willingness to drop deep and defend their 1-0 lead. As much as NoNewThing will try and convince you otherwise, that’s exactly what Arteta’s side did against United. It’s all well and good playing conservative football and defending a lead, Mourinho style against Liverpool or Chelsea, but this is becoming too much of a regular thing for us.

This style of play has its limits, and that limit has been reached. United were there for the taking after the game, and Arsenal – instead of killing the game – showed far too much respect to what is in all honesty, a very poor Manchester United team.

As Tim Stillman put it after the game, Arsenal didn’t play the Manchester United team, but the Manchester United badge. Arteta tried to overcomplicate things, almost like he had an inferiority complex against Michael Carrick.

This is the worst Manchester United team embarking on their worst run of form in Premier League history, and Arteta treated them as if United were still managed by Sir Alex. He overthought the game and showed his opponents too much respect, which backfired horribly.

At some point, Arteta needs to lose this inferiority complex he seemingly develops against the big teams and start taking more risks if he wants Arsenal to progress. This is his second full year in charge of the team – and this style of football against good teams should be long gone.

As with any loss, excuses will be made for the defeat against United. However, if you look at our results against the other members of the big six, it makes for dire viewing. Aside from a win over Nuno’s Tottenham, Arsenal have lost all their games against traditional big six opposition by a combined score of 14-2.

While games against lesser opposition normally define seasons, games against other big six teams are chances to make statements and progress as a football team.

Arteta’s contract runs out in 2023, meaning that, for better or worse, renewal talks must take place this season. A new contract should beckon the next phase of Arteta’s much debated “process” – the part where abstractions become something real, and, let’s face it, the phase where improvements must arrive.

For those improvements to take place, Arteta and Arsenal need to stop hiding behind all these excuses conjured up by themselves and the fans. They need to start taking responsibility for these sub-par performances and stop using the “young squad” or “they spend more than us” cliches to avoid scrutiny.

In a way, this is also on the fans as well. Saying “oh, it’s Old Trafford, so this game is a free hit” as a way of dodging criticism shouldn’t be accepted anymore.

At some point, the excuses need to end and the buck needs to stop with the team – and Arteta.

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