Premier League 2019/20: Biggest takeaways from Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal
Manchester United hosted Arsenal in the Premier League Monday evening kickoff. This was an important clash as both teams are contenders for the fourth place which is an automatic Champions League spot. Both teams form has been hit-and-miss with some easy points being dropped so far this season. Arsenal has struggled defensively this season while Manchester United have found goals hard to come by.
This resulted in a 1-1 draw as Arsenal continue their thirteen-year streak of not winning at Old Trafford. The first half was very lackluster as both teams seemed lifeless until a Scott McTominay strike put the Red Devils ahead. The second half was a lot more exciting as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang equalized and both teams had chances to kill off the game. There were a few takeaways that can be analyzed further based on the draw from two of English football's biggest teams.
#1 Scott McTominay shines for the Red Devils
The first thirty minutes of the game was dire. There were constantly misplaced passes and it seemed that both teams lacked that killer instinct on the pitch. Paul Pogba looked off the pace and while United had the larger spells of possession, they still struggled to create. In the second half, the game opened up and we saw more chances being created.
Scott McTominay, in particular, had a good game. The Scotsman has been often criticized as being an average Premier League midfielder, however, he was arguably the game’s man of the match. McTominay was a valuable asset both offensively and defensively, he completed two dribbles, scored an incredible goal and nearly had a second from a header off of an Ashley Young cross.
On the defensive end, he looked comfortable in his role as he finished the game with four tackles and two interceptions. McTominay still has a lot to prove as one game can be an anomaly but being able to boss the midfield against a top-six side is a great sign.
#2 Nicolas Pepe struggles but Bukayo Saka flourishes
It was a tale of the two wingers for the Gunners. The 72 million Euro-man, Nicolas Pepe, struggled which has been a theme this season. Pepe didn’t make an impact on the game, only completing a measly one dribble and not taking advantage of play when in space. Pepes two shots went well wide and saved respectively. In general Pepe's shot accuracy has been below par this season and that goal-scoring prowess that was seen at Lille last season hasn’t been on display quite yet. In Pepe's defense, he is adjusting to a new league and sometimes the Premier League’s physicality can come with some growing pains.
On the other hand, eighteen-year-old Bukayo Saka, who is an Arsenal Academy graduate, was fantastic. Saka was Arsenal’s standout performer with two key passes (which included the assist to Aubameyang) and two dribbles. Saka also had a good chance late in the first half as a pass from Nicolas Pepe found Saka upfield after Andreas Pereira over-committed and missed the ball which put Saka through on goal and forced a David De Gea save.
Saka was also excellent defensively as he constantly got back and completed five tackles which were a game-high. Alexandre Lacazettes absence hasn’t been as costly with Bukayo Saka rising to the occasion.
#3 Marcus Rashford shouldn’t be the main striker for Manchester United
Marcus Rashford had an average game and didn’t do anything particularly bad, however, his positioning is important to look at when analyzing his game.
The Englishman on many occasions tends to get wide and finds more comfort cutting inside rather than being isolated upfront. Prior to this season, it was presumed that Ole Gunnar Solksjaer would use Rashford as the main number nine with the sale of Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan, however, it may look as if Anthony Martial will occupy that role with Rashford and Daniel James either side of him (when Martial returns from injury).
Rashford possesses that scintillating pace and trickery that can trouble any defender and those qualities can be better utilized in a wider role.
#4 Even with VAR, offside calls can be controversial
Arsenal’s equalizer came from an Aubameyang goal that was ruled offside by the assistant referee. VAR corrected the linesman and awarded the goal, to Manchester United’s dismay. The complaint was that after the assistant raised his flag the Manchester United players may have taken their foot off the gas which led to the goal. There are many factors that one must look at when analyzing this.
Firstly, the assistant ref makes two mistakes here, the offside call was obviously incorrect as Harry Maguire is playing Aubameyang onside by a decent margin. The second mistake is that he raises his flag because with the inclusion of VAR in this Premier League season they are told to keep their flags down on tight calls and let play go on and allow VAR to do the rest.
All that being said, Manchester United can’t claim that the offside flag going up is what caused the goal to go in because in football you play to the whistle. Despite Solksjaer’s complaints about a whistle, there wasn’t one and therefore the players have no right to stop playing and take their foot off the gas. Kevin Friend (the center referee) made a good decision by not blowing for the whistle immediately and because he did so the goal was completely fair.
For all of the complaints about VAR this season, it’s pros far outweigh its cons and Arsenal can thank technology because last season that goal would’ve been ruled offside which means three meaningful points would’ve been dropped.