Manchester United's Attacking Talent Misfires Against Arsenal

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Manchester United's Attacking Talent Misfires Against Arsenal
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Manchester United's wonderful array of attacking talent did not manage to add up to much as David Moyes' side failed to score against Arsenal.

Almost any positives that could be drawn from United's performance were defensive. David De Gea made a couple of excellent saves. Antonio Valencia did an excellent job of standing in the right place to make a goal-line clearance. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic played a half of football together without doing anything that made you yearn for their youth. 

Up front, however, things were not so rosy.

Robin van Persie began his second return to the Emirates with a golden opportunity to set United on their way. An early goal could have been an enormous blow to an Arsenal side still putting bandages on the wounds inflicted on them at Anfield in the first 20 minutes of last Saturday's game.

Van Persie's distinctly lacklustre finish set the tone for his performance. Not until deep into the second half, when a bullet header forced a fine save from Wojciech Szczesny, did last season's goal machine seriously threaten his former club.

It is not particularly scientific, but something looked “not right” with Van Persie this evening. He certainly wanted for service, with United's creative talents mustering four key passes all night (two from crosses and two from a narrower position, according to Squawka.com).

However, when he did receive service, he was wasteful. His early shot was weak by his own exalted standards, and his other notable shot went fairly spectacularly wide.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images
"But, Sir Alex said he was staying!"

This has been a difficult season for Van Persie, and rumours (such as those found here in the Daily Express) have suggested that he and Moyes have not enjoyed the smoothest of relationships. Given that, it is perhaps understandable that the Dutchman found a return to the Emirates tough.

Footballers are expected to remain unaffected by their personal lives once they are on the pitch, but it is not an enormous leap of armchair psychology to suggest that there may have been factors more subtle than form and fitness which influenced Van Persie's performance at his old home.

This is, of course, a matter of speculation. What is not, is that the rest of United's attacking ensemble were no more effective than Van Persie.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press
Rooney was preoccupied with defensive duties

Wayne Rooney made not one single attempt on goal. As his Squawka heat map shows, he barely ventured into the box, and he spent much of his time dropping deep into midfield when Arsenal had possession.

United's one truly dangerous moment came from a wonderful piece of interplay between Van Persie and Rooney, but rarely did the shape of the side allow them to combine.

According to the FourFourTwo Stats Zone app, they exchanged passes nine times in 90 minutes, creating one attempt on goal. Hardly Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole in 1999.

Juan Mata did a fine job in the Shinji Kagawa roleout of position on the left wing in a 4-4-1-1 formation ill suited to his abilities.

Antonio Valencia made little impact on United's attacking play. Perhaps surprisingly, given the outrageous number of crosses put in by United at the weekend, their one recognised winger only attempted one cross at the Emirates tonight. Perhaps less surprisingly, it did not find its intended target.

As Squawka pointed out on twitter, the pattern of play differed greatly from United's last run out. 

 

 

Michael Regan/Getty Images
The best is yet to come

The overall impression given by United's attacking quartet was one of safety first. Moyes chose to replace Mata with Adnan Januzaj, denying fans excited about seeing what United's two most creative players can achieve if they are on the pitch together the opportunity. Hopefully this lies ahead for United.

In a post-match interview with Jonathan Pearce for BBC Sport, David Moyes said:

I'm pleased. I wanted three points, because I know the players are capable, we've got a good team, but, you know, Arsenal are rightly near the top of the league just now, and they've had a great season, so it wasn't a bad draw for us, but as I say, I'd like to have taken all three.

It is not the stuff of blood and thunder, and it does not do much to discredit the notion that Moyes was happy to play for a draw.

Michael Regan/Getty Images
"Can you explain to me how Carrick's not hit that into the box?!"

The counter point to that idea comes from a moment where, with around 10 seconds remaining in injury time, with three Manchester United players on their way into the box, Michael Carrick knocked a pass backward to Tom Cleverley. Moyes was clearly seen going apoplectic on the touch line. Whilst he may be happy enough with a draw, he had not given up playing for the win entirely.

It may behove him to use a more progressive approach in the future. United have enormous talent up front. Moyes has to find a way to use it.

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