Van Gaal’s savvy will exploit Arsenal’s weaknesses

November 14, 2014 Tags: , Reads 7 comments
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Perhaps it is a bit too early to write about the upcoming game against Arsenal. If Manchester United’s recent injury woes are anything to go by, there is good chance that key Reds will not make it to the Emirates after the international break. Still, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal has a distinct style and weaknesses that come with it; a tactician as keen as Louis van Gaal will certain try to exploit them.

This season United has been troubled by constant injuries to defenders, but Arsenal’s threat is one that even the current weakened United defence can cope with. Danny Welbeck is in a poor patch of form, despite scoring six times this season, and Paddy McNair, who handled the stylistically similar Romelu Lukaku well, should match the former United striker.

Alexis Sanchez, who has already scored eight goals this season, is a worry though. Van Gaal’s preference for a high line has left United vulnerable to quick balls over the top and Sanchez has the legs to punish the Reds. Rafael da Silva’s injury has put Antonio Valencia at right back of late and the Ecuadorian’s conservatism should negate at least some of Sanchez’s explosiveness down Arsenal’s left wing.

United’s midfield has not been functioning to its full potential, but it now boasts some quality at least. Perhaps, enough quality to match and exceed Arsenal’s midfield. Still, counter-attacking has always been productive against Arsenal and the pragmatic Van Gaal will probably choose that a similar strategy next weekend.

Arsenal’s standing weakness has been its dogged adherence to the passing game. Many teams have exposed the London side by pressing heavily and United, for the first time in five years or so, has the midfield to challenge Arsenal in the centre of the park. Ander Herrera, should he play, could be key due to his pace and aggression.

Mathieu Flamini, Arsenal’s holding midfielder, is highly similar to Danny Blind in that the Frenchman is slow and relies more on positional awareness than tackling. In this Angel di Maria’s forays into central areas could be influential. Unlike Blind, though, Flamini has a notable weakness in the air – he has attempted less than two headers per game so far – and Maroune Fellaini and/or Wayne Rooney could prove crucial should Van Gaal choose a more direct approach.

Another of the Gunners’ weaknesses is in defence. The summer acquisition, Mathieu Debuchy, has been laid off with an ankle injury, while first choice centre back Laurent Koscielny also set to miss the clash with United next Saturday.

In fact Per Mertesacker is the only Arsenal defender to have played with any regularity this season. It is, however, no coincidence that he is the only Arsenal defender to have played in all of Arsenal’s draws and losses this season. Perhaps due to his lack of pace, the German has only attempted 1.5 tackles per game this season. Mertesacker has also made a meagre 2.6 interceptions per game. Both figures are roughly half of Koscielny’s. This is indicative of a player rooted to the penalty box. With Flamini unlikely to come to rescue, and saddled with an inexperienced partner, Mertesacker will concede a lot of ground to United’s forwards.

It is an observation that Robin van Persie, in particular, should enjoy. Despite scoring three goals, Van Persie has come in for much criticism this season. He has suffered several sub-par games, but the suspicion is that Ramadel Falcao’s presence, or the lack there of, is adding to the weight of criticism. It is evident that Van Persie no longer has the dynamism that Falcao offers and one cannot help but wonder whether di Maria and others are being hindered from the lack of movement United’s lone forward now offers.

Indeed, Van Gaal’s shift to a 4-1-4-1 system has greatly hindered Van Persie, and by extension United, by isolating the Dutchman. Di Maria has been forced wide with little support and the Argentinian’s inherent profligacy has come to the fore.

Manchester UnitedHerrera’s return, with his dynamism, should help but the time is nigh for the diamond to be re-introduced. Arsenal offers little threat from out wide so the narrowness inherent in this formation is not be an issue. Di Maria will always have two strikers to chase his through balls and United will outnumber the Gunners in the middle – always a key area at the Emirates.

Crucially, injuries to defenders may dictate Blind plays as centre back again. Unless van Gaal chooses the brave option by playing Tyler Blackett alongside Mcnair, United will be short of a proper defensive midfielder, with Michael Carrick also injured. Thus deploying four through centre midfield becomes a defensive necessity.

Then there is the fact that Mertesacker is Aresenal’s most prolific passer this season. This is reflective of Arsenal’s tendency to play out from the back. United’s commitment to pressing this season could force a mistake or two in north London. Van Persie is unlikely to be a constant nuisance to Mertesacker, whereas Falcao will be if fit. The Colombian has also created two assists this season by drifting into wide areas and the his lateral movement should stretch an already vulnerable Arsenal defence.

There is, of course, no guarantee that Falcao will be ready the game given his injury problems. There are other options though. Adnan Januzaj has been frequently considered a forward by Van Gaal and the recent Golden Boy nominee could partner Van Persie up top. Another, and possibly more likely, option is James Wilson’s introduction. The academy graduate has already been trusted, albeit as a substitute, in big games.

Van Gaal is too canny a manager not to have held the entire season in mind when he became boss at Old Trafford. The 3-4-1-2 system that started the season quickly became a 4-4-2 diamond, and although the make-up of that midfield shape has changed, the narrow formation persisted. It suggests that van Gaal sees four in midfield as a necessity. It certainly makes sense against Arsenal.

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redzebs - November 15, 2014 Reply

“Di Maria has been forced wide with little support and the Argentinian’s inherent profligacy has come to fore.”

Can you not just say ADM has been shite the past month and we all hope its because he’s been shunted too far out wide ffs……

Ed - November 16, 2014 Reply

Too many words for you?

redzebs - November 20, 2014 Reply

Not at all ed, but hey, why use 1 word when 3 will do.

Ed - November 21, 2014 Reply

The sentence you don’t like has 17 words. The sentence you suggest has 20 (I’m being generous here as ‘ADM’ isn’t a word). Were the words too difficult for you?

KayDee - November 15, 2014 Reply

Indeed there are a number of weakness we can exploit but don’t forget that we are going in pretty weak ourselves (esp with no DDG) … Looking like a game of goals where we’ll have to outscore the opponent.

Di Maria will have to be back at his usual best and we know Wayne will be on his 3rd/4th game back from injury so the real Rooney WILL stand up… Not too sure but I think RVP will be fired up seeing as he’ll be back at his old haunt (as will Welbz with something to prove); I expect he’ll be subbed by Falcao at some point which should cause lots of grief to that Arsenal back four. ..Either way it’ll be a tough game make no mistake. .. But we can nick it.

P.S. Arsenal do offer considerable threat out wide, Walcott, Chamberlain, Gibbs and Sanchez who does drift out wide coming in a fair bit…

redzebs - November 20, 2014 Reply

Rooney was suspended not injured?

the real deal - November 16, 2014 Reply

Should have bought Sanchez instead of Di Maria.
Sanchez is a goal-scoring winger, he scored 21 goals last season.
Should have bought Cavani instead of Falcao.
Cavani, playing as a winger, which is not his position, scored 23 goals last season.
He went to PSG as one of the world’s top strikers but they played him as a right winger
He wants to leave because he wants to play in his striker position.
We cannot continue to buy players that have had serious knee injuries that
required surgery. Should have learned from the Hardgreeves episode.
Falcao, Vidic and Strootman will never be same. Its a waste of time and money
to buy Strootman. He’s been out almost a year since that knee operation.
Should have waited at least to the end of the season, before they sold Wellbeck.
It was a big mistake to sell Wellbeck. He needed more time to play in his striker role.
With the firepower we have, we are having hell to score goals, why is that?
Sorry, but we cannot win at Arsenal. Will be lucky to get a draw.

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