Arsenal vs. Manchester United: 5 Things We Learned
Boos rang out at the Emirates Stadium from Arsenal fans as Manchester United produced a superb defensive performance that completely frustrated and negated the Gunners during the 0-0 draw between the two giants.
In truth, the draw will do neither side any real favors, but there is little doubt that the Red Devils will be the happier side.
Going into the match both teams were under increasing pressure. Arsene Wenger had called upon his team to respond in kind after they were demolished 5-1 by Liverpool last time out. David Moyes was looking for his team to respond in a similar way, having drawn 2-2 with lowly Fulham.
To say that Moyes is under pressure during his first tumultuous season at Manchester United would be one of the understatements of the season. United have lost eight of 26 games this term and look cut adrift in the chase to finish in the top four.
United put in an excellent defensive display with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand standing out and David De Gea brushed his recent troubles aside to make a number of top saves.
Arsenal looked bedraggled in midfield and found it next to impossible to breach United's well-marshalled defense.
Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverly played deep in midfield and guarded the space in front of the defense jealously. With Ferdinand back in the team, United defended deeply and Arsenal found it extremely difficult to create anything of note.
Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Mesut Ozil, in particular, were desperately poor in possession and could not find a way past Carrick and Cleverly. With United playing so deeply and with Arsenal bereft of pace in the wide positions, the Gunners were forced to resort to long balls from the full-backs as Olivier Giroud lived on scraps.
As the game wore on, Arsenal lacked real leadership and looked rudderless while Manchester United will be quietly happy with a gritty and determined performance.
Both teams, however, should be worried by their current form and by the momentum that Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur appear to be building as the season turns towards the final straight.
Here, Bleacher Report offers five things we learned from Arsenal vs. Manchester United...
A Team Could Pick Up a Top-Class Defense for Free in the Summer
If Arsenal and Manchester United do not negotiate new contracts with Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic respectively, all four will be available for free this summer according to Transfermarkt. (Click on player name to see contract profile on Transfermarkt)
Vidic has already confirmed he will leave Old Trafford when his contract runs out, as per the Independent.
When push comes to shove, each player is top class, Ferdinand can reach great heights if managed properly, and will have no shortage of admirers come June.
According to statistical website Who Scored, Vidic at 32, Evra also at 32 and Sagna, 31 on St. Valentine's day, are three of the most effective defenders in the Premier League.
United will definitely be on the lookout for a right-back and Sagna fits the bill easily. Arsenal could do with a player with the same levels of grit and determination as Vidic. Evra could be the man left out, but as a top-drawer left-back, he would be attractive to any team.
Tonight, Ferdinand and Vidic were head-and-shoulders the best players on the park. They marshalled United's defense superbly and when combined with Evra and Chris Smalling at right-back, they looked as good as any Premier League defense this season.
David Moyes and Arsene Wenger could do worse than arranging a swap.
Mesut Ozil Needs a Rest, but Arsenal's Games Are Too Important
Mesut Ozil set the Premier League alight when he joined Arsenal from Real Madrid at the end of the summer transfer window.
According to the Who Scored, the German international contributed eight assists and four goals in his first 14 games for the Gunners. He played the full 90 minutes 10 times and was substituted just four times.
Since the beginning of December, Ozil has been substituted four times in 11 matches and has been dropped from two complete games. He also has not scored and has contributed just two assists in 11 games.
The drop-off in output is there for all to see and as Arsenal's season turns towards the home straight, the 25-year-old is beginning to look like a spent force.
The Premier League is notoriously hard for imports during their first season. Olivier Giroud struggled terribly in his first term at the Emirates last season. This season, however, he has been one of Arsenal's best players. Giroud spoke to Arsenal's official website to explain the difficulties faced for new players in the Premier League.
The change came after he worked on the physical side of his game over the summer. Ozil is now in the same place the Frenchman was last year. He will need to toughen up and build up his stamina during next summer.
That, however, will be easier said than done, considering it is a World Cup year.
Arsene Wenger should have rested Ozil far more during the first part of the season. At one stage he was only substituted once in a run of 11 straight games. Now he is paying the price as his batteries look like they have run down.
Unfortunately for Wenger, Ozil is now such an important player and Arsenal's run of fixtures over the coming weeks is so tough, he can barely afford to drop his star signing.
The upcoming cup games against Liverpool and Bayern Munich are the ideal time to drop Ozil; it remains to be seen if Wenger will, however.
Has David Moyes Fallen on His Strongest Defense?
Rio Ferdinand has suffered a number of niggling injuries this season, but, in truth, Moyes has cast him aside. The veteran defender began the season well and played in every minute of United's first six games. Since then he has only played once.
Rafael's second-half injury gave Ferdinand the chance to return to the team. Chris Smalling was pushed into the right-back position as Rio moved inside to partner Nemanja Vidic. The move, not a tactical one, turned out to be hugely influential. United became, all of a sudden, difficult to breach and they looked tighter as a defensive unit.
The change forced Arsenal to change their approach and their only response was to go long from the full-back positions. United, understandably and quite comfortably, dealt with this easily.
Ferdinand will not have the stamina to play in every single match toward the end of the season. If Moyes, however, looks at how Sir Alex Ferguson managed the veteran, he could find he has an excellent defender who is still as good as any other Premier League centre-back on his day.
When Rafael went off with concussion, Moyes lucked out by ending up with his most solid defensive display of the season.
That moment could turn out to be the most important in United's season.
Arsenal Miss Aaron Ramsey's Energy More Than His Goals
Aaron Ramsey has scored 15 goals in 31 games across all competitions this season, according to Soccerbase.
Before his injury, the Welshman was being touted as a contender for the player of the season award. He was electric. His eight goals and six assists in the Premier League in just 18 games marked him out as one of the most dangerous midfielders in the league.
To the uninitiated, however, it also just marked Ramsey out as a goalscoring midfielder. It showed nothing of his overall importance to Arsenal.
Ramsey is one of the few complete midfielders left in the English game. He covers every blade of grass, supports defense and attack in equal measure and wins the ball back before initiating attacks. He can do it all.
His overall importance can be seen is statistics from Who Scored. Ramsey contributed 3.7 tackles per game during his 18 games. This is still the highest rate at Arsenal and is the fifth highest in the Premier League. He also contributed 2.2 shots per game, 1.4 key passes per game, made over 70 passes per game and had a pass success rate of over 84 percent.
These statistics show that Ramsey makes key contributions all over the pitch. Against United, Arsenal looked a tired force in central midfield. Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere are not as mobile as Ramsey and found it difficult to close United down. They also found it impossible to create anything of note and as a result, Arsenal were forced to go wide.
When they did go wide, neither Arteta nor Wilshere possessed the stamina to support. In short, the Gunners looked labored without the Welshman,
Ramsey could have done all these things and his March 1 return date, as per PhysioRoom.com, cannot come quick enough.
Juan Mata Is Being Wasted out Wide
Playing Juan Mata in a wide-left position is akin to giving a caveman a smart phone: It's a waste.
When the Spaniard signed from Chelsea, everyone wondered where he would play. Would Wayne Rooney be forced to play in a different position? Would David Moyes change United's formation? Keen football observers looked at the situation with microscopic interest.
Against Arsenal, Mata was deployed out on the left as United fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation. Rooney, as expected, played through the centre.
United set out with a defensive philosophy that Arsenal found next to impossible to penetrate. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were excellent in particular.
Mata, however, like Mesut Ozil, played on the fringes of the game. He only made 48 touches during his 75 minutes on the pitch according to Who Scored. The 25-year-old contributed nothing from an attacking or defensive point of view and looked out of sorts before he was substituted for Adnan Januzaj.
Given that an on-form Rooney must play through the centre, Mata becomes a viable option on the right where he is more comfortable.
If United are to get the best out of the World Cup-bound Spaniard, he must play in the centre.
The question then becomes: Will David Moyes play Rooney and Robin van Persie together?