After maintaining their spell of dominance in Europe, thrashing football hipster’s favourite RB Leipzig 5-0 following an astute away win at PSG, Manchester United’s form flips to the other side of the coin, as they also uphold their previous Premier League form, with another home loss, this time to Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal.
Tactical flexibility vs. tactical astuteness:
During his spell at Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjær has demonstrated both of the qualities listed above, even doing so in the last two European games against PSG and Leipzig. He tactically outmaneuvered two of the most promising managers to come out of Germany recently, nullifying the individual talents of Neymar and Mbappe against PSG with the 3/5 at the back, and allowing Manchester United to always have an option open to avoid Leipzig’s high-intensity press by playing a diamond in midfield.
His systems deviated from the Norwegian’s preferred 4231 shape, highlighting Ole’s willingness to change and be flexible with his tactics. Both of which were effective in nullifying the opposition's strengths, and boosting Manchester United’s, demonstrating good tactical astuteness.
However, against Arsenal, he remained flexible by abandoning the seemingly default 4231 and using the diamond in midfield. Yet this is where the difference between tactical flexibility and tactical astuteness must be defined, as though Solskjær was flexible, he was not astute this game with his tactics.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side figured Manchester United out quickly, not giving a player in red a moment to breathe during the first half. Constant pressure from an exceptionally high and intense press, lead to Manchester United requiring most of the first half before getting any semblance of a foothold in the game, as United had no options out wide to try and advance the ball up the pitch and get around the press with.
Arsenal’s press also resulted in Manchester United being particularly bad on the ball, constantly misplacing passes under the fear of getting bulldozed by an Arsenal player without them receiving repercussions via the referee, meaning United struggled to truly create any chances of real quality.
Whilst you can only commend Ole for trying to tinker tactically, aiming to get the best out of the players each night, tonight he got it wrong.
Sloppiness in possession:
Whilst the previously mentioned Arsenal press did mean the Manchester United midfield had to take riskier passes, due to the lack of time they were allowed on the ball, there was also plenty of incidents where the Red Devils were simply not good enough with their passing. Losing it in key areas as attacks were building, even when we weren’t under pressure, prevented Manchester United from taking advantage of Arsenal’s high line, ultimately killing any momentum that could’ve been built in this game.
Despite Ole’s tactics tonight arguably not helping the players in this situation, the players do have to take some level of responsibility as well in tonight’s defeat.