Manchester United vs Arsenal: Rating United's Players After Impressive Win
In today's early kickoff, title hopefuls Manchester City laid down their marker as potential title favourites as they travelled to White Hart Lane and inflicted a footballing lesson on their hosts, Tottenham Hotspur, romping to a 5-1 victory which, in truth, did not fully reflect their dominance.
With Edin Dzeko grabbing four goals and Sergio "Kun" Aguero continuing his impressive start to life in England by notching the other, City looked phenomenal in attack. Aided masterfully by an inspired Samir Nasri, who was making his City debut, and the mercurial David Silva, City's front pairing look like they will be a handful for any defence charged with the task of stopping them this season.
At approximately 4:00 p.m. GMT, a whistle blew at Old Trafford, and Premier League Champions walked up to City's marker, paused momentarily to examine it, picked it up and cast aside as they put on a breathtaking display of attacking football to punish a severely understrength Arsenal side with an astounding 8-2 victory.
With their performance and the subsequent result, United made it clear to not only their wealthy neighbours, but also to fellow title hopefuls Chelsea and Liverpool, that they are not prepared to just hand over their title this season and that anyone with intentions on taking it from them are in for a hell of a fight.
It would be remiss of me not to point out that the team they faced today was, for all intents and purposes, the Arsenal reserves, and that while the result was hugely impressive, it's not something to put too much stock into.
This Arsenal team would have struggled against any team in the league, and manager Arsene Wenger must be racking his brain trying to remember when exactly he broke the mirror that cursed his team and led to the injury crisis that has taken hold of his club. Add to that the suspensions to Alex Song, Gervinho and Manu Frimpong, and it was never going to be a good day to be an Arsenal fan.
What was impressive, though, was the style in which United inflicted the result on them. There was a ruthlessness about United today that will make teams sit up and take notice. At 3-1 up entering the second half, United could very well have taken their foot off the accelerator and been content to add one or maybe two more goals to their tally.
That wasn't the case, though, as United smelled blood and went for the jugular. They moved effortlessly through the gears as they displayed a fast-paced attacking style based around excellent movement, quick passes and incisive running. A United team in this type of form will threaten any defence, no matter how good they are.
There were some black marks against the United performance, though, such as a shaky defensive display, seemingly as a result of Jonny Evans just not being at the same level as the rest of his teammates. Sir Alex Ferguson should, in my opinion, return Chris Smalling to his natural position in the centre of defence until Nemanja Vidic returns from injury.
The biggest question mark for Manchester United, though, remains David De Gea, who once again conceded a goal that he really should have saved. It wasn't a big deal today as his teammates ensured that no matter how many they conceded, they were going to score far more. De Gea did make a couple of good saves today, including stopping a penalty from Robin Van Persie, although in truth, it was far more a case of a really poor penalty than a good save.
Either way, it will help boost his confidence, although his manager will surely be concerned about his propensity for conceding soft goals as United will face much tougher tests than they faced today.
So with all of that being said, on to the player ratings. Now originally, I was planning to give my ratings for each player on both sides today, but given the game itself and the subsequent scoreline, I felt it was best to simply focus on the 14 men who did battle for the Champions and not inflict further pain, suffering or humiliation of Arsenal or their fans.
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David De Gea
A bit of a mixed bag from De Gea today, as he continues to struggle to justify a lot of the hype that surrounded his arrival, or the price tag that enabled that arrival. As I mentioned on the opening page, he did make a couple of good saves and managed to keep out Robin Van Persie's penalty.
Although to be fair, he will face gusts of wind with more power behind them than RVP's spot-kick had. His kicking is a big strength, and as always, that was very good today, and his handling of the highball seemed assured when he's not under pressure. He blotted his copybook with his failure to save Walcott's goal and spilled a harmless shot from Arshavin which could have gifted a goal to Van Persie, but to his credit, he did well to block the Dutchman's follow up.
He will need to improve if he is to retain the faith of Alex Ferguson, who has been known to drop the axe of goalkeepers who continue to concede poor goals, but there is certainly a lot of talent in that big frame, and he does have the potential to become a very good goalkeeper if he can cut out the silly errors and learn to hold on to low shots from distance.
Those are the two weaknesses most frequently displayed during his time at Atletico Madrid, and they have both been very evident so far at United. He's also suspect under the high ball when pressured, so that could become an issue against teams like Bolton and Stoke.
All in all, he can be pretty happy with his performance today, but as I said, he will need to cut out the errors if he is going to succeed United greats Peter Schmeichel and Edwin Van Der Sar as a long-term fixture between the United posts.
The other thing he really is going to have to start doing is talking to his defence. The two United legends I mentioned were masters at talking their defence through a game, and most of United's defenders will be used to have their goalkeeper communicating with them on a regular basis and may have issues positionally without that advice coming from behind them. De Gea needs to learn English and start using it. Quickly.
At the Back
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Right Back: Chris Smalling
Another solid showing from Smalling at right back. He looked at ease defensively, as Arsenal rarely threatened down his flank. He did have a make a couple of errors in terms of his positional play today, but that's to be expected as he makes the adjustments to a new position.
He made a number of strong runs forward in support of the attack and seemed to link well with Nani and Wayne Rooney throughout the game. He's definitely a better central defender than he is a right back, and I would like to see him restored to the middle in place of Jonny Evans next time United take the field.
Central Defender: Phil Jones
"Paging Rio Ferdinand, Mr. Ferdinand, please be advised that your time as a regular starter at Manchester United is coming to an abrupt end; please report to the United bench and be prepared for a long spell there."
For those who didn't know, Phil Jones is the real deal. He really does have everything it takes to become a world class central defender. He needs to work on his concentration levels, as he did switch off once or twice today and really should have been picking up Robin Van Persie when the Dutchman scored Arsenal's second goal.
But aside from that, he put on a clinic of central defensive play. The potential of his partnership with Vidic is immense, and United fans must be ruing the fact that Vidic is not five years young so that the two could have a much longer spell together. Definitely the next United captain.
Central Defender: Jonny Evans
The weak link in this United team and the one most likely to be replaced when any of the absent defenders makes their returns. Evans simply isn't up to the task of being a first string Manchester United player, and that was evident again today.
He's too careless and too clumsy with his tackles, and it was clear that even a depleted Arsenal was capable of taking advantage of his weakness today.
Left Back: Patrice Evra
Patrice Evra gave a typical Patrice Evra performance today. He defended well, he supported the attack well and he did it all with a minimal amount of fuss.
Despite his great pace, he has had problems with ultra quick right wingers like Walcott in the past, but today, he was solid and gave little away. His overlapping runs on the outside of Young looked dangerous, and a late surge into the box earned United a penalty when he was fouled by Theo Walcott. All in all, a typical days work for the Frenchman.
Overall Conclusion: If there is anything that will concern United boss Alex Ferguson about today's performance it will be the lapses in defence. That a below-strength Arsenal were able to score two goals, win a penalty and miss at least three good chances is a sign that there is still work to be done at the back.
It won't require much, though. Nemanja Vidic will likely only miss one or two more league games before he returns, and he should slot in perfectly next to Phil Jones. United need Vidic back because there seemed to be a lack of conversation between the back four today, and De Gea never seems to talk to his defence, which can lead to some confusion at times.
Personally I'd like to see Ferguson use a natural right back instead of Smalling but can understand why he's picking him there due to his height and athleticism. Plus, he probably doesn't want to waste Smalling's potential by having him on the bench for the next three or four years while Jones and Vidic are central.
Smalling probably realizes that possibility, and I'm sure he's more than happy to play on the right. Given time, he will adjust fully and the position will become more natural to him.
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Right Wing: Nani: Nani had one of his quieter games today and didn't impact the game the way a lot of his teammates did, but he still played his part very well and scored a very good goal with an excellent finish. He's clearly far more comfortable on the right hand side of midfield, where he excelled last season, than he is on the left, and with Young in the team, it means that Nani is in a straight fight with Antonio Valencia for the right wing spot on a regular basis. Valencia is a more direct winger, but Nani has a bit more to his game and his probably the one that will continue to get the call if he maintains his form. Rating: 7
Central Midfield: Tom Cleverly: Could someone please explain to me why Manchester United fans have been calling for Alex Ferguson to buy Wesley Sneijder to replace Paul Scholes when United already have Tom Cleverly? Now, don't get me wrong, Cleverly is not at the level of Inter Milan's Dutch master (yet), but he is far more suited to the Scholes position and more importantly, this style of play, than Sneijder would be.
Cleverly continued his excellent early season form today, and his partnership in central midfield with Anderson has been one of the biggest pluses for United in their early season games. If he continues to develop in this role and can build on the form he's displayed not just so far this season, but also while on loan at Wigan last season, then he will become a very important player for United, and England, for years to come.
Central Midfield: Anderson: On current form, is there a better central midfielder in England at the minute? If there is, then that player must be having a fantastic season. Anderson has really grown into this role at Manchester United and looks set to cement it as his own for a long time to come. His dynamic play is really the launchpad for a lot of United's best attacks. His powerful running and sensible passing were a big part of United's dominance today. He's really starting to look worthy of the large fee Alex Ferguson paid to secure his signing from Porto in 2007.
Left Wing: Ashley Young: The signing of the summer? Based on his performances thus far this season, he's certainly in the conversation. Young has settled in beautifully at Old Trafford and seems to have grown as a player already in his short spell at United. His arrival at the club also seems to have boosted Wayne Rooney, and the two have built an immediate understanding of each's movements, strengths and habits on the pitch and that can only be a good thing for both United and England.
Young was brilliant today and would have been my man of the match had Rooney not scored a hat-trick. His two goals were wonderful, and his all-around play was key to how United performed today. His pace, quick thinking, inventive passing and ability to use both feet add a new dimension to the United midfield and attack. He also gives United a balance that they haven't had since Ryan Giggs played regularly on the left wing.
Overall conclusion: United's midfield won them the game today; they combined fantastically well, and all four seem to already built a great understanding, not just with each other, but also with their strikers and their overlapping fullbacks. This midfield will provide a tough task for any that they go up against from an attacking point of view.
There are question marks defensively, though. Arsenal were able to pass their way through the United midfield on a number of occasions, and that's something they will have to address, as they are going to face much tougher tests in the coming months. The question allows remains as to how they will handle play against a physical central midfield such as that of Manchester City. It might be that for fixtures like that, and against sides like Liverpool and Chelsea, Alex Ferguson will consider bringing Darren Fletcher into the midfield to add some steel.
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Striker - Danny Wellbeck: You have to feel sorry for Danny Wellbeck. Last season, while on loan at Sunderland, he impressed a lot of people with his performances. The most important amongst them was Sir Alex Ferguson.
Back at United this season, Wellbeck was given his opportunity by Ferguson and grasped it with two hands. Impressive displays in the Community Shield and against Tottenham Hotspur last Monday meant his continued selection alongside Wayne Rooney for today's fixture. Wellbeck took full advantage of his manager's faith, as he opened the scoring for United with a well placed header from Anderson's beautifully weighted lob over the Arsenal defence. He seemed in top form and hungry for more goals, as he combined dynamically with Rooney, Nani and Young to pull the Arsenal defence about when disaster struck and he stopped dead in his tracks while chasing a through-ball and clasped his hamstring with an agonized look on his face. He was immediately replaced, and it's currently unknown what the extent of the injury is, or how long he'll be out for.
You never like to see a player get injured, and it's even worse when it's a young player looking to establish himself at a major club, and seemingly on the verge of making his first start for his country. If Rooney and Hernandez click the way they did last season, it's hard to see how Wellbeck can force his way back into the team for United, which just adds to his bad luck.
Rating: 8, an extra point for sympathy
Striker: Wayne Rooney: Can I just give him a 10 and be done with it? No? OK then.
Rooney was fantastic today. Simply fantastic. His movement, vision, touch, passing, work-rate and ability to drop into space and create for others were key for United today. Oh, and did I mention he scored a hat-trick?
Two stunning free-kicks and a calmly taken penalty gave Rooney his first hat-trick of the season and moved him into second place in the Golden Boot race behind Edin Dzeko of Manchester City. No goals from play for Rooney today, but he certainly came close. One sumptuous chipped effort curled just a fraction to much and hit the post to deny Rooney a well deserved goal from open play.
This was one of the best performances of Rooney's United career. His developing understanding with Ashley Young seems to have made Rooney a better player, as the two combine flawlessly on the left of the United attack. Not that Rooney confines himself to the left; he was also excellent centrally and when he roamed today the right today. All in all, a tremendous display.
Overall Conclusion: Rooney and Wellbeck work great together, Rooney and Chicharito work great together and one would assume that Wellbeck and Chicharito would work well together judging by their respective style of play. I think it's fair to say that Dimitar Berbatov's United career is coming to an end. He may leave before the transfer window closes, but if not, he faces a long spell on the United bench, as he is surely No. 4 in their depth chart right now. A fall from grace for last season's top scorer.
Coming on off the Bench
Sub 1: Chicharito (replaced Danny Wellbeck 34th minute): Hernandez was his usual self after he replaced the injured Wellbeck just after the half hour mark and used his clever movement, quick thinking and pace to add another dimension to the United game. Deserved a goal for his performance today and will probably count himself unlucky not to have gotten one.
Sub 2: Park Ji-Sung (replaced Nani 68th minute): Had barely been on the pitch a minute when he exchanged passes with Ashley Young on the edge of the Arsenal area, teed himself and drilled a shot past Szczesny to make it 6-1 United and bring the few who had bothered sitting back down after celebrating United's fifth goal to their feet once again. Aside from his goal, he gave his standard performance: busy, efficient and selfless. Could have had a second in the dying seconds.
Rating: 7; would have been higher had he been on for longer
Sub 3: Ryan Giggs (replaced Anderson 68th): Composed. If there is one word that can be used to describe a Ryan Giggs performance these days, it's composed. He does the simple things better than anyone else, uses the ball well, sees space better than anyone in the game and makes clever runs into that space to create an options for team-mates, all while remaining composed. Nothing seems strain; it's all effortless for the United veteran.
Rating: 6.5; would have been higher had he been on for longer.
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So all in all, a performance that will make everybody connected with Manchester United extremely happy and boost confidence throughout the team as Sir Alex and his team go in search of title No. 20. I still have Man City as my favourites for the title, and I think Chelsea are going to be very strong if they secure Modric, but it's going to be a hell of a title race.
It was hard for me to write this piece as a Liverpool fan, but I felt United's players were so good today that they were deserving of the praise I gave them.
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