Manchester United vs Arsenal: A Tactical Analysis

Marouane Fellaini headed in an injury time winner to give Manchester United a 2-1 win in Arsene Wenger’s last Premier League match at Old Trafford as manager of Arsenal. Paul Pogba opened the scoring for the Reds, before United alum Henrikh Mkhitaryan equalized for the visitors.

Although the team sheet suggested 4-3-3, the Red Devils actually lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Matic in the holding midfield role.

United used this formation to play a possession based game playing out from the back and moving the ball through the midfield. Playing across the back four and in their own half it was clear United set up this way to frustrate and tire Arsenal who are typically a possession based team.

When defending, the Red Devils would drop into a 4-5-1 with the three central midfielders going man to man with their opposite numbers pressing when their man received the ball.

As Arsenal began to read what United were doing they began to press harder when the United defenders had possession (especially the full backs). The wide attacking midfielder would press the defender on his side whilst Iwobi and Aubameyang would cut off the passing options to force the United defender to play long balls.

As Arsenal began to press higher and take more risks they got caught on the wrong side of the ball when it was turned over. This left United 3 vs 4 and Pogba scored the leading goal.

As Xhaka began to gain more and more influence on the game, Matic was forced to start pulling out of the flat midfield and getting tighter forcing Xhaka to move the ball faster and with less control. In a tight game the dangers of losing the ball in defensive areas showed themselves again and Mkhitaryan scored for 1-1.

At 1-1 it was clear that Arsenal were happy with the single point but the Red Devils still wanted all three. So, they continued pushing their full backs on creating width and exploiting the space left by the narrow Arsenal defence.

With Lukaku being withdrawn through injury early in the second half United lacked a target in the box for when they got the ball in wide positions.

The introduction of Fellaini was a key moment in the game for one simple reason, it gave United a target man in the box again and meant that the focus was now to get the ball in the box at every opportunity. Fellaini once again showed that he is probably the best plan B in the world, and his goal helped Manchester United secure their place at Top 4.

Another chapter of Premier League history comes to a close. As manager of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger played 44 games against Manchester United with 12 wins, 12 draws and 20 losses.


Written by Rijad Abaza

Follow Rijad on Twitter @RijadAbaza

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