It had to happen at some point, didn’t it? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first domestic defeat as Manchester United manager has proved again that tactically he’s not up to the standard of his Premier League rivals.
Of course, it’s only early on in his managerial career and he’s only held the United job since Christmas, but if he’s being mentioned as the man to get the job permanently, he should be held to the same standards as other bosses. He had to change his system from the get-go on Sunday, and that shows he got his preparation wrong.
The players will have been preparing to face Arsenal in a certain way and will have been confident in their system, but Emery outsmarted him and his coaching staff leaving the Norwegian to scrap his plan A. Sometimes that’s acceptable, if you win, but he didn’t and so the manager must take reasonability for the loss.
Yes, Marcus Rashford missed good opportunities and there was a controversial penalty thrown in there too, but sometimes it seems like Solskjaer’s only tactic is to win the ball and attack quickly. Without the ball, when they’re defending a fast attack themselves, it still seems the defence isn’t protected enough, despite both Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera both being capable of that role.
That’s all been well and good so far against teams who would let them attack and dominate, but Paris Saint-Germain at home and this Arsenal game were clear indicators of structural inadequacies behind the attacking midfielder. It’s true United need significant investment at the back, Jose Mourinho knew that in summer, so that is probably a major factor too.
However, there’s now a top four race on and United are looking in trouble again. Arsenal are ahead and Chelsea are one point behind with a game in hand. It’s important they continue to entertain their fans, but they must also grind out results against big teams when it’s required, and they didn’t do that against Arsenal.
The Red Devils must react well next weekend against in-form Wolves in the FA Cup to regain momentum ahead of what will be a fascinating race for third and four spot.
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