There was so much to like about Arsenal’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford, not least because it was the first one the club had managed since the heady days of 2006.
A combination of tactical discipline and unwavering commitment proved especially effective for Mikel Arteta’s men as they dominated their hosts for much of the 90 minutes, earning a well-deserved and much-needed win.
But, as well as the more obvious facets of Arteta’s approach, there were some elements of the gameplan that passed under the radar which doubtless contributed to the Gunners’ success on the night.
Here are the stats (courtesy of whoscored.com) that caught my eye:
United’s midfield was rendered impotent
From the outset, it was clear that Arsenal’s approach to handling United’s midfield was aggressive and relentless and the statistics speak to its effectiveness.
Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes managed 45 and 38 passes respectively, with one key pass apiece across the 90 minutes. By contrast, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof played 66 and 96 passes, with a single key pass between them. Pogba (40) and Fred (53) were also far less involved on the ball than their centre backs.
For Arsenal, Thomas Partey (60) and Mohammed Elneny (65) saw more of the ball than any of the United midfield, while Ron Holding (57) and Gabriel (49) were much less involved. On his own, Partey dribbled with the ball on four occasions, more than the entire United midfield, which managed one.
This shows the extent to which United’s ball players and distributors were strangled by the Arsenal midfield, with the host’s centre backs having to pick up the ball far more than manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have liked. Alexandre Lacazette’s efforts in dropping in on Fred also meant the Brazilian was unable to progress the ball from the deeper position.
Stopping the runners was key
United trio Mason Greenwood, Paul Pogba, and Marcus Rashford are often at their best with the ball at their feet and with space to run into.
A big part of Arsenal’s strategy, therefore, was to stop the aforementioned triumvirate from capitalising on their strengths by confronting them early and denying them the chance to progress.
Pogba was dispossessed a whopping five times across the 90 minutes, more than any other player, with Rashford and Greenwood robbed of possession on two occasions each.
Only one Arsenal player, Lacazette (2), was dispossessed more than once at Old Trafford. The Gunners’ aggressive approach to the dangermen paid dividends on the night, particularly in the case of Pogba, whose torrid evening ended with the concession of a penalty for the winning goal.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette had relatively quiet nights
Despite winning as much acclaim as their teammates for helping secure a timely win, it remained a pretty low-key affair for Auba and Laca from an offensive perspective.
In fact, the goal notwithstanding, our top two were not much more involved in the passages of play than their Manchester United counterparts, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood.
The Arsenal duo made a combined 54 passes, with three key passes, while Rashford and Greenwood managed 55 passes, with a solitary key pass. Auba and Laca produced two shots between them (with one on target) a haul that was matched by the men wearing red on the night.
Where the two sets of players truly diverged was in their defensive exploits, with Auba and Laca weighing in with an impressive six tackles to the one tackle managed by Rashford and Greenwood.
If nothing else, it speaks to an Arsenal side that has become more focussed on the collective effort over the contribution of the individual. The result on this occasion, were obvious.