Arsenal’s visit to Old Trafford on Monday night was an overall disappointing affair. The first half was rather dour with very few chances and a visible lack of quality from both sides. The second half while much more entertaining still lacked the quality of football you would expect from two of English football’s premier clubs. Arsenal are in the top four after playing three of their fellow big six teams already so not the worst start to the season but the performance was definitely more disappointing than encouraging.
Taking a point from Old Trafford is by no means a disaster or a bad result but it definitely must be viewed as a missed opportunity. As currently constructed, this is probably the weakest Manchester United team of the Premier League era so Arsenal should go into games such as Monday with the confidence to take the game to them. This is not what we saw on Monday night. There were still some positives to take from the game despite the overall disappointing nature of the performance. Let’s take a look at the main positives and negatives from Monday night’s game.
Bukayo Saka: Saka was one of the few outstanding performers for Unai Emery’s side at Old Trafford. As well as registering an assist for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s equaliser, Saka impressed throughout. He gave Ashley Young problems for the entirety of the game and showed complete fearlessness to try things and attempt to create chances. He was definitely the biggest threat Arsenal had throughout the game and for only his second Premier League start, this was incredibly impressive.
Saka has taken to the first team like a duck to water since his introduction into the side and big things can be expected of the teenager moving forward. His left back experience showed as well as his defensive discipline was outstanding to prevent Ashley Young from creating anything from right back on top of providing excellent cover for Saed Kolasinac.
Matteo Guendouzi: Guendouzi being a Man of the Match candidate should come as no surprise for Arsenal fans this season. Aside from Aubameyang, Guendouzi has probably been Arsenal’s Player of the Year so far. His passion and work rate are plain to see in every game and he has the quality to go along with it.
Guendouzi can bring to this Arsenal side what Jordan Henderson brings to Liverpool in terms of work rate and ground covered but I believe he is a far superior footballer to Henderson who can offer more in the final third. The Frenchman has been the biggest leader on the pitch for Arsenal this season which for a 20-year old who is relatively inexperienced is fantastic to see.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: This is an obvious one but could not go unmentioned. Aubameyang continued his amazing form this season by expertly finishing the only real chance he had in the game. He is incredibly sharp in and around the box and this is what lead to his goal on Monday.
He was alive to capitalise on Tuenzebe’s error and the outcome was never in doubt when the chance came his way. Aubameyang’s goals account for all 12 of Arsenal’s Premier League points so far this season which is frankly astonishing. That some sections of rival fans try to belittle him by saying “he only scores tap-ins” is laughable and all Arsenal fans should be grateful that he plays for our club.
Emery’s Tactical Approach: Having seen West Ham take the game to Man United last weekend at the London Stadium and get a comfortable win, there really is no excuse for the way Unai Emery set up his team. United are a wounded animal at the moment and for Arsenal not to take the game to them really makes no sense at all. With no Ozil in the squad and Dani Ceballos and Joe Willock on the bench, Arsenal really gave the front-three no support.
Sitting off this United team and allowing them to have comfortable possession and gain confidence in the game was a far too negative approach to take. Emery continues to get his tactics wrong and not give his most talented players the best chance to succeed. Monday night showed the hole in the side left by Aaron Ramsey leaving better than any other match to this season. Willock, Ceballos or Ozil have to play to fill this gap in the side. None is a direct replacement but any of the three would offer more creativity and support to the attacking players than the midfield three selected at Old Trafford.
Granit Xhaka: No, this has nothing to do with Xhaka “ducking” for McTominay’s opener. That criticism being levelled at him is pretty strange considering it is entirely based on a still image of a shot moving at about 80km/h. I felt over the 90 minutes Xhaka was rather anonymous.
Particularly in the first half, Xhaka did not get on the ball and dictate the way he needs to in order for Arsenal to dominate the game. After the backlash last week following Xhaka being named club captain, I was hoping for a big performance from the Swiss midfielder to silence some of his critics. Unfortunately, we did not see this at Old Trafford.
Nicolas Pepe: It is still very early in Pepe’s Arsenal career so I don’t feel that there is any need to hit the panic button just yet. He has shown flashes of his quality but overall, it has been a disappointing start to the season for the Ivorian. I don’t think he is helped by the way Arsenal set up but his contribution against Man United left a lot to be desired.
I have full belief that Pepe will come good but we cannot ignore that his early season form has been disappointing considering the expectations that come with a record signing.