By the time Mesut Ozil slotted past the hapless David De Gea to put Arsenal 2-0 up, the outcome of the game had an air of inevitability about it with barely seven minutes elapsed. So when the livewire Alexis Sanchez cut in from the left and arrowed past De Gea to make it 3-0 the game was over as a contest inside twenty minutes, with United shot down to smithereens by the Gunners.
In the past Manchester United have recovered from being 3-0 down, most famously against Arsenal’s bitter North London rivals –Tottenham Hotspur, but you couldn’t really see a score line anything remotely close to that, as Arsenal danced around United’s defence and midfield in the first half, playing with pace and penetration.
A smart save from Petr Cech denied United’s only outfield player to come out of the game with any pride and dignity – Anthony Martial on the stroke of half time, which would’ve provided as a false sense of comfort for United had they pulled a goal back going into the break.
The second half heralded changes with Fellaini and Valencia coming on for Memphis and Darmian, and with less than ten minutes to go Mata was replaced by James Wilson. United laboured through the second half with slow patient build up play, which never troubled Arsenal, who were happy to break away on the counter attack.
As United struggled to carve out any opportunities of any significance, it was in fact who Arsenal very nearly scored a fourth through their own substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who clipped the crossbar, as he lobbed the ball past De Gea.
United’s defence were far from a strong unit, with Darmian being caught out of position, and Young struggling at left back in the first half. Even the central defensive partnership of Blind and Smalling look anything but solid against pace.
The decision to start with Schweinsteiger and Carrick raised a few eyebrows, with many having the opinion that Schneirderlin should have started, and I totally agree, as he would have provided a natural protection for the back four. The counter argument is that Schweinsteiger and Carrick performed well together versus Liverpool, but with respect, Arsenal are a much better passing side with extra pace to hurt teams.
On either flank were Memphis and Mata, and it was the young Dutchman who was so ineffective in the first half that he was eventually replace at half time. Whilst Memphis has the obvious talent which he has shown glimpses of, his decision making on the other hand, certainly needs improving as he wasted opportunities with the ball. Mata on the other hand didn’t have much attacking opportunity in the first half, but nor did he provide any real cover for the struggling Darmian.
Which brings us onto the subject of Wayne Rooney – the ‘un-droppable’ captain of the club, and whose first half performance showed no real signs of leadership, and at stages where going 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0 down, you would expect your leader to rally the troops, Rooney failed miserably.
Whilst you don’t always need a fist clenching captain, you certainly expect him make his presence felt in the game, whether it is through a blockbuster of a challenge, a word in the ear of one or two of the players (in particular the young newcomers such as Memphis or Darmian) or show his worth by playing with extra hunger and desire, irrespective of the score line.
The second half Rooney showed a bit more desire, but by then the game had gone, and with it many United fans belief that he should even have a place in the starting line up.
You clearly don’t become a bad player overnight, but so far this season Rooney has struggled, even his first touch has deserted him, and the usual brute force in which he used to bully opposition players has not been seen for some time.
One can only hope that the International break has come just at the right time for Rooney, and some of his colleagues, but it is the captain in particular that really needs to rediscover his form if he is to stay a permanent fixture in the United side.
The only bright spot on an otherwise miserable afternoon in North London was the teenager Anthony Martial, who led the line up front with little service, but felt confident that given better service, he could have got United back into the game.
United’s next game sees them play an Everton side that are always difficult to play against at Goodison Park, as Louis van Gaal will look to rectify the mistakes United made. Extra zest and better link up play is required in midfield, with Ander Herrera hoping that he can be the man to make the difference to the United side.