Tactically Speaking: How United blitzed Arsenal

Posted on August 29, 2011


Arsenal had last conceded 7 goals in a game in 1927. Today they went one worse. Manchester United absolutely blitzed their opponents winning 8-2, inflicting their worst ever defeat in 115 years. Arsenal apologists might point to the fact that Wenger had a bunch of people out through injury and suspension including the influential Vermaelen. Wenger also handed young Frenchman Francis Cocquelin his debut in the midfield anchorman role.

The Line-up

United were unchanged from their victory over Tottenham on Monday. That meant bench duties for the fit-again Rio Ferdinand. Arsenal lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with Arshavin and Walcott supporting Robin van Persie. In reality, Arsenal functioned as a 4-2-3-1 as Arshavin drifted constantly towards the centre and Rosicky playing a far more advanced role, just behind van Persie. United played a wide 4-4-2 again with Ashley Young and Nani hugging the lines well.

The Wing Play 

Arsenal’s supposed wide-men Walcott and Arshavin played more towards the centre allowing their full-backs Jenkinson and Traore to move up the flanks. This is where United out-gunned the Gunners (pardon the pun here) Young and Nani played wider tonight compared to the game against Tottenham, in which they constantly cut inside. But since Arsenal had only their full-backs on the flanks, United exploited that weakness as Evra, Young and Rooney combined on the left and Nani and Smalling combined on the right as Arsenal were often left to chase the ball back.

case in point: Ashley Young’s passes in the game against Tottenham and Arsenal. Note how many positions, he takes towards the center in the game against the Spurs while tonight he remains out wide.

Ashley Young against a) Arsenal b) Tottenham

Arsenal’s insanely high defensive line

For some really ill-advised reason, Arsenal’s back four opted to play a very high defensive line. This allowed United to exploit the gaps in the Arsenal defense at will. Another blunder was the back 4 not moving together as a unit. This led to Carl Jenkinson chasing the ball and getting carded and ultimately sent off. Compare the passing charts of Manchester United’s central defensive duo of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans with that of Arsenal pairing of Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny. I know it’s weird comparing the pass charts of defenders but one look at the charts will tell us how high Djourou and Koscielny were. The Arsenal defense lacked basic positional awareness and paid supremely.

  Pass charts of Phil Jones & Jonny Evans (Deeper positioning)Pass charts of Djourou & Koscielny (Higher Positioning)

Also, when you compare this with the tackles made by both Manchester United and Arsenal, you could notice that in the home third Arsenal made only 17% of their tackles, whereas United made 35% of theirs in the home third. Obviously this meant trouble and trouble it was.

Withdrawal of Coquelin

In the 62nd minute, Wenger made his first substitution by withdrawing the debutante Coquelin for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. At that time the score was 3-1 and Arsenal were trying desperately for the second goal which would have made things interesting. Coquelin had had a good game eventhough he was given the unenviable task of marking Rooney. But his withdrawal absolutely opened the flood gates as Arsenal were short of a deep midfielder  and ultimately lost shape. The rest is history as they shipped 5 goals in the last 25 minutes.

Lack of good defenders

By now the running joke that Arsenal needs good central defenders has ceased to be funny. Wenger has tried to unearth a good defender on the cheap for quite sometime now but has been failing spectacularly. Maybe its high time he left behind his stinginess and splashed the cash on Gary Cahill and/ or Scott Dann. Arsenal were abysmal tonight winning only 19 of the 42 tackles they attempted – a mere 45%. United on the other hand snapped into tackles and won 34 of the attempted 53 – 64%. When a team completes 20% more tackles, they are bound to win the game.


Manchester United had 25 shots on goal, yes 25. Arsenal too had around 18 shots on goal. But it was the quality of finishing that made all the difference. Arsenal shot often wide and they also were forced to shoot from distance by United’s effective defense. Robin van Persie would be thinking what could have been if he had converted the penalty with the score being 1-0

United’s shots on goal


Lack of personnel due to injuries and suspension, inexperienced replacements and a generally misguided tactical formations were the basis of Arsenal’s de-pantsing tonight. United’s front four of Rooney, Nani, Welbeck and Young looked mighty dangerous with Rooney and Welbeck spreading to the wings and falling back enabling Young and Nani to cut in at will. United’s young guard have set them up on a fantastic start to the season, whereas Arsenal who have been traditionally known for nurturing the young are yet to win a game and are currently in uncharted waters. Wenger has a crucial 3 days left before the close of the transfer window. Earlier today, Manchester City issued a gauntlet thrashing Tottenham and Manchester United responded by absolutely smashing the other team from North London.