Why Man Utd have little hope against Arsenal as Odegaard can run riot and the Gunners will exploit Utd’s weak press

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MANCHESTER United have just announced the appointment of Dutchman Erik ten Hag as their new manager next season.

Good news for United fans? Well, that remains to be seen.

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Eddie Nketiah of Arsenal scored twice against Chelsea in midweekCredit: Getty
Phil Jones and Harry Maguire had a night to forget against Liverpool

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Phil Jones and Harry Maguire had a night to forget against LiverpoolCredit: EPA

The real question might be whether it can get any worse at Old Trafford. 

For the time being Ralf Rangnick is still in charge until Ten Hag leaves Ajax and victory last weekend over Norwich papered over the many cracks.

But in truth the excitement over a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick barely glossed over the defensive disaster . 

United then had to travel to Anfield in midweek where they were picked apart by a Liverpool side that barely had to get out of third gear.

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Next up for United is a trip this weekend to the Emirates to face Arsenal.

The problem for United is that there is every chance that the Gunners could be one of the worst possible opponents given the way that the last week has gone for the two sides.

United’s lack of structure

Before the midweek match against Liverpool we saw Rangnick spring something of a surprise in terms of team selection and shape, with a switch for United to a back three system.

Forgotten man Phil Jones was back in the starting line-up between Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof. 

A back three could have worked against the potent Liverpool attack but you need to have a structure and organisation around that in order to protect space and prevent the opposition from being able to comfortably play through you.

And, as we know, two things Liverpool really, really like is space to run into and space to pass the ball through – Thiago, anyone? 

In this case the defensive line was screened by a midfield two of Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba while the wing backs were both actually right-backs in Diogo Dalot and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

This could still have worked had United kept a tight structure and limited the space between the defensive line, midfield line and attacking line.

Instead, however, the spaces were stretched and Liverpool were capable of playing through the thirds and breaking through the poor United press again… and again… and again.

Liverpool play through into the central areas easily and Harry Maguire is sucked forward and out of position. Liverpool can easily play through into the space

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Liverpool play through into the central areas easily and Harry Maguire is sucked forward and out of position. Liverpool can easily play through into the space

As the ball came forward from Liverpool the Man United defenders, and Harry Maguire in particular, became too aggressive in stepping out to press the ball and spaces began to appear that Liverpool could play through at ease.

It is not a great leap to understand Maguire’s desire to step up and try and play the offside – he looks like a player shot in confidence and lacking in the pace to chase Salah back for the umpteenth time in the game.

Arsenal are the kind of team that can play through this lack of press and poor structure at will.

Under Mikel Arteta the North London side have developed a patient and effective style of play and they will look to keep possession to suck United out towards them before breaking through and attacking a defensive line that will not be adequately defended.

With Thiago in possession Liverpool have width and players between the lines that they can access to attack the United backline

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With Thiago in possession Liverpool have width and players between the lines that they can access to attack the United backline
Thiago touched the ball 132 times against Man United

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Thiago touched the ball 132 times against Man United

When Ralf Rangnick first came to United we were promised an aggressive pressing style of football. Rock and roll and not a slow waltz, we were told.

That style of play, however, proved all but impossible to implement properly with the current group of players.

Now, we see the forwards at United, who still look to move high as if they are going to press, being relatively static and easy to play around – even when Ronaldo isn’t playing.

This stretches the entire team out and offers the opposition pockets of space that they can occupy between the lines.

The likes of Martin Odegaard in particular is going to be a huge threat for Arsenal against this United team.

Norwich have played through easily and the United midfield is non-existent. Maguire and Dalot are both ball watching and Norwich can easily play through. United’s midfield is missing

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Norwich have played through easily and the United midfield is non-existent. Maguire and Dalot are both ball watching and Norwich can easily play through. United’s midfield is missing

Even in the match against Norwich, where they played a regular back four with a holding midfielder ahead of them, we saw United struggle defensively in terms of their positioning and lack of organisation.

Norwich were consistently dangerous on the counter attack and they fully deserved the two goals they scored to come back from 2-0 down – and that was Norwich, not a fellow Champions League qualification contender.

Arsenal will, again, be able to take advantage of any of these moments with their movement and interplay around the final third.

Arsenal’s approach

It has probably taken a bit more time than many of us expected but Arsenal have finally created a solid structure under Mikel Arteta with a combination of structured build-up and youthful attacking exuberance. 

With United’s forwards struggling to mount a consistent and effective press we are likely to see Arsenal comfortably find ways to play through and around them.

Even when Chelsea look to press aggressively Arsenal are able to play out. The midfield for Arsenal will drop in to help get the ball past the press and then Arsenal build from there.

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Even when Chelsea look to press aggressively Arsenal are able to play out. The midfield for Arsenal will drop in to help get the ball past the press and then Arsenal build from there.
Martin Odegaard spent most of the game in Chelsea's half

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Martin Odegaard spent most of the game in Chelsea’s half

Typically we have seen Arsenal use a three in the centre of the midfield with the revitalised Granit Xhaka partnering Thomas Partey at the base.

Norwegian star Odegaard has freedom to drift and find space.

Even without Partey, we can expect Arsenal to look to keep Odegaard free to wreak havoc.

Whether United play a midfield two, as they did against Liverpool, or a three as they did against Norwich, their lack of aggression in that area will still see them struggle to effectively block the combination of passing, aggression and skill that the Arsenal midfield can boast.

Even when Chelsea were more aggressive and effective when pressing we still saw Arsenal able to play through. Then the movement of Odegaard attacked the space.

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Even when Chelsea were more aggressive and effective when pressing we still saw Arsenal able to play through. Then the movement of Odegaard attacked the space.

When Arsenal are able to pull the opposition forward and towards the ball as they build patiently they will then look to find runners behind the midfield.

Typically the likes of Martin Odegaard or Bukayo Saka will be the players who make these movements to get on the ball between the midfield and the defence of the opposition. 

These are the key areas in this match.

If Arsenal can break behind the United space into these areas then we will start to see the United defenders get jumpy and make mistakes.

We have already seen in this piece that Harry Maguire especially will be aggressive in stepping out towards the ball and that this is not matched by his defensive partners.

If Arsenal can make the United defenders step out then they have the pace and movement in the wide areas to cause major problems.

One thing that Arsenal will look to do when they are building in a more patient manner into the final third will be to overload one side of the pitch by pushing players into a tight space before playing a quick switch to the other side.

This is one of Arteta’s favourite attacking ploys.

Arsenal switch the play to the right where Saka and Odegaard double up on Aston Villa's Ashley Young

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Arsenal switch the play to the right where Saka and Odegaard double up on Aston Villa’s Ashley Young

This ability to switch the play in the final third creates a real threat for Arsenal as they are then able to double up on a defender who is, at least initially, isolated against the ball.

What do we think is going to happen?

The only caveat to anything other than another humiliating defeat for United is Arsenal’s recently slightly dodgy form – though, that did disappear at Stamford Bridge.

The other consideration is surely, United cannot be that bad under Rangnick yet again?

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But, all the evidence points to Arsenal having got back on the horse by beating Chelsea 4-2 and United having massive potential for being terrible once again.

Therefore, do not be surprised if we are seeing yet another miserable Rangnick post-match presser after the final whistle.

For more tactical analysis, scouting and stunning data visuals head over to Total Football Analysis.





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