I thought this was a missed opportunity for Manchester United. When you looked at the team sheets and saw Arsenal without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had his strongest available line-up, it was a chance to make a statement.
As it happened, better finishing from Arsenal — particularly in the second half — and United could have lost.
After going top of the league and then having that superb FA Cup win last Sunday against Liverpool, this week has been a bit of a reality check for United.
This was a missed opportunity for Manchester United to make a statement against Arsenal
Losing at home to Sheffield United and then drawing against a depleted Arsenal is not what they wanted and might prove the kick up the backside they need ahead of home games to come against Southampton and Everton.
They were growing into the game before half-time at The Emirates and you expected them to take that momentum into the second half. Instead it was Arsenal who came out and turned the tables. Apart from a couple of half chances for Edinson Cavani, United didn’t really threaten.
United have now drawn 0-0 against Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal this season — scorelines that aren’t usually associated with their club.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s had his strongest available team but Arsenal were missing players
I do understand it has been a balance for Solskjaer since he took over. He couldn’t ask United to run before they could walk and there have been times where they’ve needed to be pragmatic against opponents better than them.
United have been involved in some good high-scoring games, usually away from home, so you can’t say they only get results by digging in. But against the Big Six, he still prefers to build a solid platform first.
I could understand that approach going to Anfield or facing Manchester City but against Arsenal, I think there was a case for taking the handbrake off.
Those are the sorts of decisions managers have to make and Solskjaer does like to start these type of games with Fred and Scott McTominay as two holding midfielders. There will come a time when United have to consider themselves title challengers. Then, they will have to adjust and go for it a little bit more in games like this.
It seems at the moment they are a bit tentative as if the target is to stick in there and finish in the top four rather than really go for it.
Solskjaer may point to the fixtures coming up and think United could be top again in a week if they collect six points while City have to go to Liverpool. But I still think they could have been more attack-minded last night.
United have now drawn 0-0 against Chelsea, Man City and the Gunners away from home
United have some wonderful forward players but unless Bruno Fernandes does something special, they aren’t turning the big games. Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani have the quality to do it. Paul Pogba scored great goals recently against Burnley and Fulham — he should replicate that against top opposition.
I can only think by his selections that Solskjaer believes his team is vulnerable at the back if they are too gung-ho. They came back from 2-0 behind to win at Southampton but that’s harder to do at a place like The Emirates.
The flip side is that Mikel Arteta will be very proud of his Arsenal players. It was a really good performance. David Luiz was terrific, Cedric Soares did well on the ‘wrong’ left side, Emile Smith-Rowe didn’t show any fear in a big game.
It was reward for the Arsenal board who stuck by Arteta. The Spaniard will be delighted with how the whole squad is contributing. Willian has not had the best of times since signing from Chelsea but the work he put in after coming on at half-time was important.
FRANK LAMPARD’S SACKING WAS HARSH
I’ve known Frank Lampard and Jody Morris since we were teenagers together in the England youth set-up. I sent them a message of commiseration this week, not only because they are friends but also because I feel their dismissals at Chelsea were extremely harsh.
Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool have all been in the bottom half of the table at different times this season. Despite a little blip in Chelsea’s form and results, there wasn’t a pressing need for Roman Abramovich to press the fire button.
The good news for Frank and Jody is that they’ve done more than enough in their time at both Derby and Chelsea to earn another chance, either in the Premier League or at an ambitious club in The Championship.
Frank Lampard’s sacking by Chelsea was harsh despite the Blues’ recent blip in form
Today’s owners generally like their teams to play attractive football and bring on exciting younger players. It’s something they have shown they are capable of. Mason Mount for example has become one of England’s finest midfield players on their watch.
As for stories that senior pros like Antoni Rudiger, Olivier Giroud and Mateo Kovacic weren’t happy with a lack of game time, you didn’t hear that was a problem when Chelsea were on their long unbeaten run earlier in the season.
Chelsea now have Thomas Tuchel, an experienced manager from the top end of European football, and their model has worked well for 15 years. The board recruit players for the long-term and it’s the managers who are rotated when necessary.
However, past success is no guarantee the plan will carry on working. It depends on the quality of recruitment and I’m not sure we will look back in five years and see Kai Havertz and Timo Werner in the same light as Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben. I find it hard to believe Frank would have chosen to prioritise £70million on Havertz above other areas in the team.
It won’t surprise me to see Frank and Jody go on to reinvent themselves successfully at another club and for Chelsea to one day think: “We should have given them time to do things their way.”
GARETH KEEPS HIS EYE ON JORDAN
Losing three centre-backs to injury is a massive blow but that doesn’t mean Liverpool have to panic in the final stages of the transfer window.
Of course, if they can find a new defender who will serve them well for three or four years, this is the right time to invest.
But they shouldn’t just bring in an extra body for the sake of it. Whoever comes in has to be able to step in and do a better job than Jordan Henderson or Fabinho, and that won’t be easy.
Ideally, Jurgen Klopp wouldn’t want to lose either of those players from his midfield but he is probably the one Premier League manager who could afford to given he’s also got Thiago, Wijnaldum, Milner, Keita, Jones, Shaqiri and Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Gareth Southgate (L) will be keeping an eye on Jordan Henderson’s performances in defence
An interested observer will be Gareth Southgate. Although you’d think he’d want Henderson to play regularly in midfield ahead of Euro 2020. I’m not so sure.
The Liverpool captain has done a job there for so many years, he doesn’t need the “extra practise”. And playing centre-back means less running, something Southgate will be grateful about in this busy season.
There could also be an added bonus in his squad selection. If Henderson is picked as a midfielder but also provide cover at centre-back, the England manager could sacrifice naming a defender in his squad and free up space for an extra attacker like James Maddison or Dominic Calvert-Lewin.