Giroud lets Vidic off the hook and other things we learned from Arsenal 0-0 Man United

Arsenal and Manchester United played out a dreary stalemate in north London and FourFourTwo’s Ben Welch was in the press box to analyse the action with Stats Zone...

Ozil needs receivers running routes

One minute you’re a hero, the next you’re the anti-Christ. Welcome to the English press pack Mesut. After he was chased out of Anfield, the Germany international has been blamed for pretty much everything wrong in the world. Arsenal’s drubbing at Liverpool, famine, poverty, unemployment and war.

Picking apart the reigning champions at the Emirates would have been the perfect retort. But for all his imagination he couldn’t cultivate a decisive moment – it wasn’t for the want of trying, mind. He was the third most productive passer on the pitch, completing 57 of 67 passes. Ozil took responsibility in the attacking third, making more passes in opposition territory than any other player. Even though his success rate was only 79%, he teed up 7 efforts on goal – another peerless statistic. On the 6 occasions he picked up the ball and challenged an opponent to a duel, he skipped away from their challenge 4 times. Only Wayne Rooney was more successful with the sphere at his feet.

You can’t fault the languid creator’s endeavour, but his ability to penetrate a well-manned barricade looked limited. Critics will be waiting with their shovels, eager to dig a grave for the £42 million flop, but they need to look closer to see the real problem. United executed their defensive game plan with admirable discipline. As soon as Arsenal got the ball they retreated to the edge of the 18-yard-old, linked arms and challenged the home side to find an opening. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley did a fine job policing the back four, forcing Ozil to move into wide positions. The further he is away from goal, the less of a threat he poses.

The former Real Madrid player exchanged 31 passes with Santi Cazorla – the most prolific combination on the day. They passed the baton back and forth to one another, but neither could conjure a solution. Ozil, Cazorla and Jack Wilshere specialise in short, sharp, incisive passes in and around the box. Not one of them is known for their desire to make runs in behind – an assault usually led by the injured duo of Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. The Welshman has scored 15 goals in 31 appearances this season and Walcott 7 in 21.

Without players making runs from deep Arsenal have a tendency to bang their head against a brick wall. Time and again the Gunners won the ball in midfield and carried it to the United border with no way of crossing. Without Walcott’s pace there was no urgency, no speed, and no run in behind the full-back. The visitors always had enough time to fall back and get in the trenches. Liverpool’s quicksilver counter-attacks, driven by pace and midfield runners, swept over Arsenal’s defence like a tsunami. The Gunners attack barely brought the tide in.

Mata, Van Persie and Rooney need to triangulate their link-up

David Moyes might want to gather his attacking triumvirate in a huddle, pin name badges to their chests and invite them to open up. “This is a safe place, you can tell each other what you fantasise about,” he might say. “Goals,” Van Persie would declare. “Assists,” would be Mata’s response. “Granny… no. I mean goals and assists,” Rooney would quickly correct himself. “Fabulous!”, Moyes would squeal. “Now go out and do it.”

Right now this £85.2 million trio is not clicking together. Advocates will argue that the four games they’ve played together have yielded three goals from Van Persie and three assists from Mata. This has only helped the team win five points from a possible 12. For all their combined talent, they’re just not linking up. Rooney swapped just 9 passes with the Dutch striker across the 90 minutes, Mata just 3.

In fairness, 2 of these 12 combined exchanges led to 2 efforts on goal. In the first half the Spaniard fed Van Persie, who beat the offside trap, cut inside and hit a shot wildly off target with his right foot. With 11 minutes to play Rooney chipped a perfectly measured cross onto the head of Van Persie, who was denied a goal by a brilliant save from Wojciech Szczesny.

United’s attack is bereft of pace. In previous years the Red Devils’ counter-attack has raced away from a leaden-footed Arsenal defence and inflicted maximum punishment. There was no sign of this. Offensively the visitors were laboured and predictable. There were no gasps of despair in the Arsenal crowd when United broke forward. A collective sense of impending doom was felt when Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides swept forward.

Carrick and Cleverley provide protection

Like a doorman taking abuse from boozed up revellers, Carrick and Cleverley have been getting vitriol in the form of 140 characters on Twitter. Carrick recently tried to engage with fans on the social networking site, but instead of prompting thoughtful questions the hashtag #AskCarrick attracted insults from trolls, with Cleverley bearing the brunt of the stick.

Last night their central midfield partnership kept out Arsenal’s attack like a pair of knights protecting their queen. Using brains not brawn, they out-manoeuvred their invaders, rather than outmuscle. By his own admission Cleverley can’t tackle, shoot or dribble, but his performance at the Emirates demonstrated his football intelligence. His positioning was excellent, enabling him to seize upon 10 loose balls, a figure no other player could better. Carrick wasn’t far behind with 8. United’s No.16 also made 5 interceptions, Cleverley 4 – highlighting their ability to sense danger.

The pair even got their shorts dirty with 5 tackles. Their productivity in possession was less impressive – Carrick was United’s top passer with 46 completions from 57 attempts and Cleverley found the feet of a team-mate 34 times. The latter will come off the pitch knowing he could have done more with the ball. He was dispossessed a number of times in dangerous areas, and that indecision could be attributed to a lack of confidence. It wasn’t a pretty display from either Carrick or Cleverley, but together they were selfless and disciplined, helping their team earn a point away from home.

Safety first for Moyes

Despite having three of the Premier League’s most gifted attackers at his disposal, Moyes strapped a collar around their necks and let them pull at the chain like a rabid dog. Except these dogs played like Moyes had slipped some sedatives into their Pedigree Chum.

You can understand his tactics having witnessed some abysmal defending from his team in recent weeks. He came to the Emirates with one objective in mind – don’t concede. By failing to commit men forward to the attack, United’s advanced players were outnumbered in Arsenal territory – resulting in frequent turnovers of possession. This, combined with some sloppy passing and ball control led to a pass-completion rate of just 59% in the final third. Of their 133 attempts just 79 found their intended target.

Marooned out on the left wing, Mata kept coming infield in search of the ball – an area already occupied by Rooney and Van Persie. In the end the Spaniard was hauled off for Adnan Januzaj. Like a bored factory worker, Antonio Valencia clocked in, did his shift, hugged the touchline, clocked out and went home without anyone noticing he’d been there.

In contrast, when Everton visited the Emirates they had more possession than the hosts and a higher pass-completion rate. They attempted 135 passes at the business end of the pitch and found a blue shirt 91 times. We know what you’re going to say – the result was the same, both United and Everton came away with a point, but you have to wonder what sort of damage a ravenous United would do if they were let off their leash?

Giroud shows weak link Vidic mercy

Seeing Nemanja Vidic get eaten up by Fulham’s Kieran Richardson was like watching a punch drunk boxer take a pasting in a fight he never should have accepted. Once the most feared defender in the Premier League, the United captain is now a liability at the heart of the Red Devils’ defence.

With his physical powers waning, Vidic’s lack of pace and mobility are getting exploited. Olivier Giroud absolutely bossed the Serbian at the Emirates. But dominance counts for nothing if you can’t stick the ball in the back of the net. On 4 separate occasions the French striker outjumped Vidic and directed a header goalwards. Each time he failed to hit the target. When a chance fell to his feet via a Bacary Sagna cross he was unable to make a clinical touch. Outside the penalty box, Giroud’s flick-ons were wasted as Arsenal’s attack lacked the pace to get up in support and gallop beyond the France international. When they played the ball into his feet, he lacked quality – completing just 11 passes in the attacking third.

In terms of aerial duels won, Vidic and Giroud couldn’t be separated – both won 5 of their 11 airborne challenges, but the Arsenal front man will know he overpowered his marker all night and should have made more of his supremacy. Top players deliver on the big occasion. In eight games against teams in the top seven, he has scored just once – and that was against Tottenham on September 1. Given the home side’s inability to breach the United defence on land they should have taken advantage of the visitors’ weakness in the air.

When they couldn’t go through or around they went over – and it worked. The Gunners won 24 of the game’s 35 aerial duels. One of their best efforts came from a Laurent Koscielny header that was cleared off the line by Valencia. Instead, Arsenal persisted with trying to pass their way to goal, and time again they had to resort to long-range shooting. Of their 17 efforts on goal, 9 were from distance, with Cazorla responsible for 4 of these shots. The United defence racked up 8 blocks. On the 2 occasions Cazorla was able to get a clear sight of goal, David de Gea denied him. In conclusion – hoof it Arsene!

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