Manchester United drew 1-1 with Arsenal at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon. Juan Mata scored what seemed to be the winning goal in the 68th minute of the match, finding the back of the net with a stunning striker. Arsenal, who had been playing poorly for the majority of the match with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil being almost invisible for the majority of the game, managed to find the equaliser in the final two minutes of the match with what was their only shot on target in the entire match. Arsenal had not won a match at Old Trafford in a decade in the Premier League, seemingly won this one, despite it being a draw. The result leaves United a precarious position in the league, sitting in sixth place, still six points behind Arsenal, which could have been reduced to three points. United need to ensure that they take their chances in matches, aim to score more than one goal, which was the difference today.
I touched on this on Thursday. Manchester United have a makeshift defence at this moment in time. Both Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw are out of the starting XI, Eric Bailly is injured and could be back in less than a month, before he is absent for much of January playing for his country in the African Cup of Nations. United have Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind as their only fit central defenders and Blind is seen by Jose Mourinho more as a left-back, meaning United just have the other two. January needs to see United either use the market for other defensive options, as an other injury could be devastating for the club, or recruit from the U23’s or even the Academy, providing there are players that could do the business on the pitch. Axel Tuanzebe is a player Mourinho rates, but being ready is something that is not really known about with the youngster. I get the impression that both Smalling and Shaw are not trusted by the manager, based on his previous comments, so that is something that needs to change, with both players proving their worth to the manager, or new players will come in that will be trusted by the manager.
Midfield controlled by Michael Carrick
Michael Carrick is a player that has been used sparingly by Jose Mourinho this season, but when he has been used, his qualities ring true. Carrick is a great player and in Mourinho’s own words, it is a shame he is not ten years younger. It will be a problem to replace Carrick when he does hang up his boots, but for now, United need to use him as much as he is comfortable to use utilised, when he is on the pitch, United do play better with the control he can bring to the game, but that will not work all the time. Especially against the dominant midfield teams such as Chelsea and even Manchester City to an extent. Carrick is underrated, even more so now. His age is really nothing to do with his playing ability, but you cannot help wonder whether he will all of a sudden lose momentum, which would be devastating if United relied on him, like they do, so bringing someone in to learn from Carrick, and carry his skills on may be an option, but who?
Paul Pogba finding his feet
Paul Pogba has been subjected to constant criticism by the media and opposition fans, even United fans have moaned about him as for the money spent, he should adapt instantly and be pulling the strings and scoring all the goal by himself. Which is clueless to say that! Pogba is a playmaker, he is not the finished article. He did well in Italy, but in the Premier League, it will be a challenge for him to find his feet and show his ability, which he is starting to do. Against Arsenal, Pogba had one shot on goal, the same amount as Arsenal in the 90 minutes, maintained his passing at 83%, creates two chances, won 57% of his aerial duels, made one key interception and one block. He might still have a way to go before he meets the level of expectation everyone had of him, but these were positive signs, especially against a team like Arsenal, who have only lost one Premier League match on the road in the whole of 2016, that was against United back in February. Pogba is showing his worth now, criticism will still be thrown at him by those jealous enough not to have him, or the media trying to find yet another bullshit story in order to add to their anti-United agenda. Manchester United are hated, adored, which leads to them never being ignored.
Juan Mata showing more and more quality
Juan Mata started the summer as the player who was most likely to be sold after Jose Mourinho replaced Louis van Gaal as Manchester United’s manager. Now he is the player who is most likely to have the team built around him, along with Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera, who have all played well together. United have not lost any of the eight league matches Mata has started this season, five of them wins and three of them draws, which along with the record Carrick carries, suggests that both should play as often as they can. Mata’s goal against Arsenal was sublime, well received and really got the match started after over an hour of trying to get the better of the piss poor Arsenal side which turned up at Old Trafford. The visitors seemed to be happy to play for the draw, which makes them feel like they have won the game, after all, this is down to the small club mentality they are. Never lifted a European Cup. Not won the league for twelve, going on 13 years. I must say Liverpool have more of a chance to lift the league title, and I would not want that to happen either. Mata is a player that needs to be played week in week out in order to get United playing on the attack, which is something I am sure Jose Mourinho is instructing. This is a process and patience is still very much needed.
Manchester United had a total of twelve shots on goal against Arsenal, five of those were on target; one being scored, five were off target and two were blocked. United need to be taking their chances. Just on other being converted into a goal today would have given United three points, three points which were needed in order to keep chase in the league this season. Three points which could now see United slip further in the league, which will give them more of a challenge to earn a top four finish this season. United face Feyenoord in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, a match they need to win to have a hope in hells chance of making the knockout stages of the competition, which many had previous suggested they did not care about, but ultimately would should United get knocked out at the group stage. Then United face West Ham United in the Premier League at Old Trafford next Sunday, a match they need to win, before facing the same side at home again in the EFL Cup the following Wednesday, which will end November and put United into a busy December where they will play seven matches, two of those, plus one the day after New Years Day, will be played in seven days, before an FA Cup match only days after the third match. United have stepped up their game, but it is the scoring of goals which needs to be stepped up a little more.