In a return to club football following the international break, Manchester United take on Arsenal at Old Trafford, in what is Jose Mourinho’s first meeting with bitter rival Arsene Wenger since taking over at United. Despite missing some key players, United still managed to put on a strong starting XI, with Marcus Rashford finally getting his chance up front, with Anthony Martial starting a game, with much fan anticipation.
United were dominant from the off, yet even though they were on the front foot for the vast majority of the first half, neither they nor Arsenal could create any meaningful chances for most of it. Not until Martial forced some decent saves from Petr Cech was either goalkeeper was tested. The same was the case for the start of the second half. United’s dominance was finally rewarded after Ander Herrera picked out an unmarked Juan Mata, who finished with aplomb. United dropped off and focused on defending after the goal, and worked up until the end of normal time, when Arsenal substitutes Alex Oxlade-Chamberlan and Olivier Giroud combined to equalise.
The key to United dominance throughout most of the game was their midfield. Both Herrera and Paul Pogba performed very well against a depleted Arsenal midfield. Pogba showed off his amazing skill set, effectively helping attacks bringing the ball forward, distributing possession well, as well as stopping some Arsenal attacks before they start, while Herrera showed off his more creative side, linking up with attacking players, especially Mata, who was also one of the team’s top performers.
But while the midfield was where much of the battle was fought and won, United’s best player wasn’t a midfielder. Instead it was right back Antonio Valencia, who has gone from strength to strength this season, and continued his strong run of form in today’s match. For much of the game he kept Arsenal left back Nacho Monreal on his toes, as he was United’s primary attacking threat down the right. His direct running might be predictable, but it wasn’t in any way ineffective.
And he was also impressive in defence. Admittedly, he did come up against Aaron Ramsey out of position, but Valencia also made sure that he was out of the game. United keeper David De Gea had nothing to do for most of the game, and Valencia’s solid defending contributed to that. Even when Alexis Sanchez, who started as striker, drifted wide to help, Valencia wasn’t troubled.
United’s performance wasn’t perfect, as shown by the final scoreline, but they were by far the best side collectively. and while no one really had a special game, Valencia was solid and unflappable throughout the game, and he continues his immense run of form this season by being today’s Man of the Match.