Granit Xhaka has just told Arsenal fans to f**k off, having been unceremoniously booed while walking off the Emirates pitch. TV viewers eagerly await the thoughts and analysis of a football punditry triumvirate. This is a discussion that never happened, in a studio that doesn’t exist. David Jones presents The Full-Time Whistle with Football365…

 

JONES: Welcome back to Football365. I’m joined in the studio by Graeme Souness, Alan Shearer and Garth Crooks in the wake of Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace. We’ll get on to all the action in what was a very entertaining game shortly, but there’s really only one place we can start, Graeme…

SOUNESS: Yes, Paul Pogba. Who the f….

JONES: (holds hand up to stop Souness mid-sentence) No, Graeme…this is Arsenal and that is Granit Xhaka. Firstly, do you think the Arsenal fans were right to boo their captain from the pitch?

SOUNESS: Is he their captain? They say they’ve got five of them, but I didn’t see any out there.

Silence as Jones waits for Souness to actually answer his question.

SOUNESS: Look, if he puts in a performance like that I think the fans have got a right to vent their frustration. This is a guy earning millions of pounds a year, far more than ever did. The least he can do is run around a bit. But then there are plenty of players earning big bucks these days who aren’t worth a dime.

JONES: Like who?

SOUNESS: Like Paul f***ing Pogba (sits back in chair triumphantly)

JONES: (sighs) Sorry about any foul language you might have picked up through our microphones there. So, Alan. Do you think the Gunners fans were right to… Garth are you alright?

CROOKS: Yes, yes I’m fine.

JONES: OK, it’s just that you nodded when I introduced you and you haven’t stopped since.

Crooks closes his eyes and continues nodding.

JONES: Fine. Alan, do you think the Arsenal fans have got a point?

SHEARER: Well if I show you this bit of analysis on the space he afforded the Crystal Palace midfielders, I think they do.

JONES: (puts finger to ear and whispers) I thought we had disabled the big red Match of the Day circles around players that illustrate nothing?

PRODUCER: We said he could use the 25 other methods of analysis, but he insisted on the big red circles. He said Gary always lets him use them.

SHEARER: (points pen at Jones) There’s no excuse for giving Palace midfielders space in the midfield like that.

JONES: So what should Xhaka be doing? Surely he can’t be within a yard or two of all of them all the time?

SHEARER: Shall I show you the red circles again?

JONES: No, we saw the red circles, thanks Alan. We just thought you might be able to tell us what he could do about it?

Shearer looks blankly back at Jones, mouthing the words ‘red’ and ‘circles’.

JONES: No? OK then. We’re now going to cross live to the Emirates, where Jamie Redknapp joins us.

Redknapp appears on the screen in the studio.

SOUNESS: (mutters under his breath) For f**k’s sake, not this prick.

REDKNAPP: Hi guuuys!

JONES: Hi Jamie, thanks for joining us. We’re just discussing the Xhaka incident here in the studio.

REDKNAPP: Oh yeah.

JONES: What do you make of his reaction as he walked off? It appeared he aimed a profanity at the Arsenal fans?

REDKNAPP: He told them to fuck off, Dave.

JONES: (winces and chuckles nervously) Ahem! Jamie remember we’re live on Football365 right now.

REDKNAPP: Can you hear me? (taps his microphone) HE TOLD THEM TO FUCK OFF DAVE… (turns to someone off camera) I don’t think they can hear me.

Video link gets cut off.

JONES: We appear to be having some technical difficulties, we’ve just lost Jamie there.

SOUNESS: (mutters) Good riddance.

JONES: Go on then, Graeme, what do you make of Xhaka’s reaction as he walked off? Emotions must have been running high.

SOUNESS: But he’s a professional footballer. You can’t let your emotions get the better of you in the heat of battle, you’ve got to keep a level….why are you looking like that? (shoots daggers at Jones)

JONES: I’m just wondering if they’re agreeing with you. (points at Shearer and Crooks)

SOUNESS: (frowning even more than usual) No! It was the way you looked.

Jones shifts nervously in his seat, turns away from Souness.

JONES: Do you agree?

CROOKS: (nodding more quickly) I agree wholeheartedly with everything Graeme just said. The intonations in his voice were nothing short of superb. And his tie looks great.

Crooks continues nodding as Jones looks at Souness, then Shearer, but gets nothing in return…

JONES: And do you think Xhaka will be punished for his reaction?

CROOKS: He may well be punished, but he will still make my team of the week, probably as one of four strikers.

JONES: Thanks Garth. Well we’ll be right back after this short break, when we’ll get the manager’s reaction as well as some more cutting-edge analysis from our guests here in the studio. See you shortly.

Jones smiles at camera two until the LIVE light goes off.

SHEARER: That seemed to go pretty well.

All nod in agreement. Especially Crooks.

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Manchester United are reported to be ready to move again for Matthijs de Ligt after a difficult first year at Juventus for the Holland centre-back.

The Red Devils were firmly in the hunt for De Ligt last year when he was one of the most in-demand stars of the summer window. Barcelona were also keen but the defender opted to join Juve from Ajax for £67.5million.

However, the 20-year-old has endured a tough debut season in Serie A, failing to hold down a place in Maurizio Sarri’s first-choice XI.

The Daily Mail claims United are monitoring De Ligt’s situation – and Juve may be willing to move the defender on this summer.

United have plenty of options in central defence but Ole Gunner Solskjaer is still short of a top-class partner for Harry Maguire.

De Ligt could also help grease the wheels to move Paul Pogba out of Old Trafford.

The France midfielder is desperate to leave United with Juve and Real Madrid most heavily linked. But Pogba has not started a Premier League match since September and with the coronavirus pandemic causing chaos across European football, it seems unlikely that either Juve or Real would be willing to meet United’s £100million valuation.

But United could be interested in a part-exchange deal, which would be made easier by both players being represented by Mino Raiola.

The F365 Show is on hiatus until the football returns. Subscribe now ready for its glorious comeback. In the meantime, listen to the latest episode of Planet Football’s 2000s podcast, The Broken Metatarsal.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit has praised Bruno Fernandes for impacting Manchester United’s performances in a way that Paul Pogba was “meant to be doing”.

Summer interest turned into a prolonged January pursuit for the 25-year-old, with the Old Trafford giants finally getting their man towards the end of the window in a deal worth an initial 55 million euros (£46.6million).

After an inconsistent first half of the season, Man Utd are unbeaten in the nine games Fernandes has featured in since his move from Sporting Lisbon.

FEATURE: Ranked: This season’s best Premier League signings

Pogba, meanwhile, has missed most of the season through injury and Petit has congratulated Fernandes for succeeding where the Frenchman failed.

“Fernandes has made a huge impact,” Petit told the Daily Mirror.

“In the space of two months, he is the best buy in the winter market. He has made such a big impact. It’s like he’s been at the club for six years.

“He’s changed the mentality inside the dressing room. It’s hard for a player to come in mid-season and do that.

“Paul Pogba was meant to be doing this at Manchester United. It’s what he should have done in terms of leadership on the pitch.

“But I’m looking forward to seeing them together on the pitch, I want to see if that can work, and I’m pretty sure it can work.”

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Manchester United are reported to be ‘optimistic’ that Paul Pogba has been priced out of a move away from the club.

There have been repeated claims that United want to sell Pogba but ESPN‘s well-connected United correspondent Rob Dawson claims that United are positive about keeping the Frenchman after they trigger a one-year contract extension this summer.

This ‘optimism’ seems to come from Pogba’s price tag of over £100m and wages of £300,000 a week; United ‘doubt whether any of Europe’s elite clubs can afford the midfielder’. And that was before coronavirus blew a hole in the season and the financial security of most football clubs.

FEATURE: Ranking the 12 £50m-plus signings available this summer

Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola has said he “wants to take a great player to Real Madrid”, but it might be that the Spanish club spend all their money on a striker, with Erling Haaland strongly linked.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Former Real Madrid winger Steve McManaman has warned Paul Pogba that he has not played enough for Manchester United for other big clubs to make a move for him.

Pogba is keen to leave Old Trafford this summer after two years of trying to get away from the club which re-signed him from Juventus for £89million in 2016.

But the France midfielder has spent much of this season on the sidelines having not started for United since September.

Reports suggest United would be willing to accept £100million when they wanted £180million last summer, but McManaman doesn’t feel like Pogba has earned a big move this term.

The ex-Real star told HorseRacing.net: “He hasn’t played enough football this season for sides like Madrid to be genuinely interested in him.

“If he stays, plays and gets back to full fitness at Manchester United, I certainly think that he will get back into the starting XI very easily.

“Nemanja Matic is a year older, Juan Mata is a year older and Paul is definitely good enough to play in those positions alongside Bruno Fernandes, so I don’t think there’s any problem there.

“He’s certainly got the quality to play in the Manchester United midfield as long as he’s fit and healthy, but we’ve been waiting to hear from Paul Pogba all year regarding his future.

“Pogba has yet to say whether he wants to stay or whether he wants to leave.”

The F365 Show has so far escaped the wrath of coronavirus. So we’ll be back every Thursday (probably) with more irreverent nonsense intriguing insight. Subscribe here.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

1) It came as little surprise when Jose Mourinho threw a brown paper bag over Scott McTominay’s head and assembled his Tottenham side in a sort of presidential motorcade formation towards the end of their pulsating, maddening and actual 3-3 draw with Manchester United that definitely happened on Sunday.

McTominay, the scorer of a first-half hat-trick, had tormented the hosts all afternoon. A 30-yard piledriven opener was followed up with a routine overhead kick and a diving header from outside the area as Tottenham summarily failed to cope with his generational talent and athleticism.

But Mourinho’s actions at the culmination of this bizarre game was a pertinent reminder. It was he who gave McTominay his chance, he who first noticed his brilliance when scouting Scottish youth tournaments in the early 2000s and he who bestowed upon him that wonderful high skin fade. This game had no winner – except, as ever, for Mourinho.

 

2) Having said that, Graeme Souness went a little overboard with his half-time praise. Declaring Sergio Busquets “the Catalonian McSauce” was one thing but it was quite uncomfortable viewing when, beclad with full face paint, he started to straddle Gary Neville while screaming about “freedom”.

 

3) It was a welcome departure from his usual character assassination of Paul Pogba, which occurred soon after the final whistle. He is not wrong in suggesting that giving Mrs Brown’s Boys a lucrative Saturday evening television slot – or one of any kind – is setting a bad example to humanity. It just felt somewhat churlish to demand that Pogba shoulder that responsibility.

It mattered not that Pogba was not part of the matchday squad; Souness blamed his hairstyle for Harry Maguire falling over and Andreas Pereira not yet having been sold despite it being March. And as someone who was famously sans body hair throughout his entire playing career, he might have a point.

 

4) Pogba at least outperformed his compatriot. Mourinho was kind enough not to namedrop the culprit, referencing only “a certain agitator, for privacy’s sake let’s call him ‘Tanguy N’… no, that’s too obvious…erm, T Ndombele” in his post-match interview.

As if the decision to bring him on as a substitute in the second minute and replace him 20 seconds later with the lingering memory of Maniche was not pointed enough, this was an explicit reminder that what was once a career burgeoning with great promise has been sacrificed to the assorted football gods.

 

5) By the time Tottenham had their first touch of any kind after four minutes and 27 seconds, the pattern of the game had long been established. United dominated possession while Tottenham sat back with two banks of five settled deep into their own half. Not since Stephen Mulhern became a national treasure has there been a more accommodating host.

It can be quite jarring to watch a home side actively walk away from the ball as soon as they retrieve it. Mourinho, even two decades into an irreplicable managerial career, continues to tactically innovate.

 

6) The problem came when United realised that Tottenham were literally terrified of possession. When Toby Alderweireld shrieked because an errant Anthony Martial pass came within ten feet of him, the facade was over.

A few minutes later, Bruno Fernandes drifted past the statuesque Eric Dier in a moment that encapsulated most of the game. It was a bit much that the Portuguese paused to actually pull his opponent’s pants down – the implication was enough – but the imagery was powerful nonetheless.

 

7) That was the prelude to McTominay’s scorching effort. Fernandes had ventured into roughly five acres of space and played the ball a few yards ahead of the Scot for him to run onto. There was an audible gasp around the stadium: not at the wonderful long-range finish but at the temerity of a player daring to make a forward pass.

Mourinho requested the intervention of VAR before realising that the only clear and obvious Tottenham error this season was discarding the antidote before administering the managerial poison.

 

8) The second came soon after, when Ben Davies suffered an existential crisis when considering whether or not to track back from a rare attack. This can be at least partially explained by his new-found status as Schrödinger’s left-back: placed in a locked box with no key and something that could strain a hamstring or damage an ankle ligament, he is forever destined to be simultaneously available and injured. There is more than a modicum of sympathy for someone who will view match fitness as an abstract concept. He is 26 and the apocalypse is upon us.

 

9) Aaron Wan-Bissaka was able to punish the Davies mistake, having become the most potent attacking weapon in the history of United’s right flank. It was a sumptuous cross which left McTominay with the simple task of showing Hugo Lloris to be an utter charlatan.

Wan-Bissaka’s defensive work deserves credit, mind. To make 305 tackles in a single game cannot be understated, particularly as he was taken off on the hour mark. Those impressive statistics started to look a little farcical when he began passing the ball to Lucas Moura after discovering he has all the retention skills of a bucket with a hole kicked through it, but still.

 

10) McTominay completed his hat-trick by the 31st minute but United were unfortunate not to be four goals ahead when Mike Dean started whistling Sandstorm by Darude to signal half-time.

Tottenham had conceded a throw-in deep in their own half in an effort to stem the tide. The ball was directed towards Lloris who, distracted by Paulo Gazzaniga’s inexplicable handsomeness, allowed the ball to roll over his foot and into the net.

It was, of course, a foul throw: Serge Aurier had taken it. Unsure of how to proceed and aware history was being made, Dean awarded a corner to United. They obviously didn’t score.

 

11) Tottenham’s recovery began as it often tends to: at the feet of Giovani Lo Celso. Fifteen minutes into the second half, he managed to isolate Nemanja Matic like a virile lion cornering and challenging the declining leader of the pride. Matic has improved notably of late but is still only able to move in instalments, like a PC struggling through its latest Windows software update.

Lo Celso galloped into the penalty area and crossed for Troy Parrott to score. Mourinho immediately substituted him.

 

12) But the hosts were resurgent. Erik Lamela whipped out his rabona, Dele Alli did a load of those little flicks that are bloody infuriating when they don’t come off but otherwise make him look like the illegitimate spawn of Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane, and Lucas tried really, really hard.

United stood firm as long as they could, but Tottenham’s first goal opened the floodgates. Maguire started heading literally anything in his peripheral vision, Wan-Bissaka had started channelling Eden Hazard by tackling ball boys, and Victor Lindelof is about as futile in the face of an aerial bombardment as buying all the toilet paper and hand sanitiser within a 50-mile radius, thus rendering the local population as unhygienic as possible.

Jan Vertonghen took full advantage, banishing Brandon Williams to his room with no dessert,and barrelling past Luke Shaw to score. David de Gea probably shouldn’t have jumped over the ball but then he is continuing to gradually punish United for destroying their own fax machine that one time.

 

13) The comeback was complete when Dan James scored an own goal in stoppage time. The Welshman should be commended for sprinting 100m in 5.78 seconds to thwart a counter-attack, but it was being led by a Lucas playing neither in Amsterdam nor against Huddersfield.

James continues to frustrate a large section of the support. The fact is that if and when his pace is properly weaponised, he could immobilise a small country. Plus he is a skilful, Welsh forward playing for Manchester United. It is worth at least trying to channel and emulate a club legend like Daniel Nardiello.

 

14) Solskjaer was left having to try and swing the momentum that had for so long weighed in United’s favour. His response was to tell Pereira to get ready to warm-up and come on, only to shout ‘WE ARE MANCHESTER UNITED THIS IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH THE UNITED WAY FERGIE’S PARKING SPOT NOU CAMP CORNERS’ directly in his face.

Odion Ighalo would replace Martial instead.

But it has to be said that there doesn’t seem to be much of a way back for Pereira after that. Considering the Tottenham and United fans cheered in unison at his public admonishment, it was rather stark.

 

15) Ighalo, to his credit, did precisely as was expected. United started peppering him with long balls from defence and each stuck to him with consummate ease.

To break the seasonal record for Opta-defined ‘holding up the ball by primarily using your arse’, despite playing less than two minutes, is to be admired. He has been the signing of the season.

 

16) That final statement will also be true next season when United sign him permanently. The £15m it will take to persuade Shanghai Shenhua looks like a snip, particularly considering Ed Woodward has an entire summer to leak speculation to the media, negotiate furiously and drive the fee down to just £15m.

He will likely have to compete with Daniel Levy, with Mourinho tenderly stroking the striker as he hurried off the field with an abducted McTominay. Tottenham cannot possibly be expected to play with any discernible style without Harry Kane, Heung-min Son or Ighalo, after all.

Matt Stead

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Manchester United are reportedly ready to offload Jesse Lingard in the summer, having lost the confidence of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The 27-year-old has been in woeful form for United this season, and has fallen further down the pecking order following the arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January.

The £47million signing has been a breath of fresh air at Old Trafford, and has shown exactly what the Red Devils have been missing.

OPINION: No, Lingard and Dier should not bloody ‘grow a pair’…

And Solskjaer is said to have been underwhelmed by Lingard’s performances and commitment in training, and has made the decision to move him on, according to Goal.

Mino Raiola has been recruited as Lingard’s new agent, further sparking speculation the England international could be on his way out in the summer.

 

 

His contract runs out in 2021 and there has been no indication that a renewed terms are in the offing.

And United are planning on bringing in at least one of Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and James Maddison in the summer as they anticipate the exit of Paul Pogba to Real Madrid or Juventus.

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Jamie Carragher claims Manchester United’s shaky relationship with Paul Pogba harmed their chances of signing Erling Braut Haaland.

United were keen on signing strike starlet Haaland in January, offering him the chance to work with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer again after their time together at Molde.

However, they ultimately lost out to Borussia Dortmund, who snapped him up for a bargain €20m before seeing him score 11 goals in his first seven games.

With Haaland’s market value only set to skyrocket over the next few months, it appears United have missed a golden chance to sign one of the biggest prospects in world football.

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, though, does not think missing out on Haaland was the worst news for United.

Writing for the Telegraph, the pundit cast doubt over the value of United working with another Mino Raiola client, amid a turbulent situation with Paul Pogba.

The French midfielder has been heavily linked with a departure from United, with agent Raiola getting embroiled in a very public row with the club.

Gary Neville was one of many to take a swipe at Raiola for the fallout, claiming he was “publicly trying to embarrass the club all the time”.

It is for this reason that Neville’s Sky Sports colleague Carragher believes opting against signing Haaland was a wise decision by the Red Devils hierarchy.

“Whoever signed Haaland from RB Salzburg knew they were not only getting an amazing young talent – they were also inviting the circus into town in the form of his representative, Mino Raiola,” said Carragher.

“United, like every club scouting the Norwegian teenager, had to weigh up the value of the player against the cost of the distracting influence of his high-profile advisor.

“No matter what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said to Haaland to try to convince him to move to Old Trafford, it is a reasonable assumption the advice from Raiola mattered more to the player.

“It does not strike me Raiola would have been United’s ally given recent history.

“I cannot help but think if Haaland was represented by someone else, he might be at Old Trafford.

“Just because Haaland looks like he is the bargain of the century for Dortmund, it does not mean the cost of signing him was a price worth paying for United.”

 

For some bizarre reason, the F365 Show was not cancelled after the pilot episode. So we’ll be back every Thursday with more irreverent nonsense intriguing insight. Subscribe here.

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Manchester United boasted about looking at 804 right-backs before settling on Aaron Wan-Bissaka. On that basis, the Vitamin D deprived occupants of Carrington’s transfer bunker must have looked at around 100o central midfielders by now, and far too many will be better than the options United currently have. At least one must be attainable and capable of immediately improving the Red Devils should they act decisively in the transfer window.

The fact we cannot presume that they will is another damning indictment of how business is conducted at Old Trafford these days. United officials spent much of the early season patting themselves on the back after an expensive summer, but half a season on, the need for reinforcements could not be more clear.

Initially it was thought that United would move for a centre-forward and had they not refused to be bogged down in Mino Raiola’s bullsh*t, they might have got Erling Haaland. But it wouldn’t matter if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was to be presented with Robert Lewandowski or Harry Kane when he shows up at Carrington in the morning since United’s overwhelming concern is the creation of chances, not the conversion.

In the goalless FA Cup draw with Wolves at Molineux, United failed to register a shot on target in a domestic match for the first time in five years. Louis van Gaal was the manager then but such embarrassment is nothing new to Solskjaer’s side. They were similarly toothless against AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League earlier this season.

Solskjaer could certainly do with a centre-forward but the squad’s most gaping void can be found in central midfield. Some clubs would give their managers both but United bosses since Sir Alex Ferguson have had to learn that you can’t have everything.

Unless Ed Woodward suddenly becomes competent, then Solskjaer will probably have to be grateful for reinforcements in just one of United’s two problem areas – and part of the problem is, he will be ever so grateful. Inconsistency, in form and presence, is the forward line’s biggest flaw. Inability in midfield is a more urgent concern.

Solskjaer and Woodward seem to believe that Paul Pogba is going to ride to their rescue when quite clearly he has no desire to do so. Pogba is injured – we are told – but the record signing has never been subtle with his desire to quit the club. This will be the fourth window Pogba has spent longing for Real Madrid or Juventus to come to his aid. It has gone on long enough that United should just take the best offer either club has to make.

Selling Pogba would provide clarity where the only other thing for certain about United’s midfield options is that they are way below the required standard.

Against Wolves, Solskjaer paired Nemanja Matic with Andreas Pereira. A dynamic duo they are not. Matic was a vital cog in Jose Mourinho’s XI but these days, the Serbian simply slows down Solskjaer’s spluttering machine. Always looks forward, then passes sideways. What is Pereira? In these complex times when we are told a midfielder must specialise in going either way, the Belgian-born Brazilian excels around neither box. He can’t screen a defence, and whether playing in the midfield base or a front four, he can’t crack one. Pereira is United’s perennial passenger on the slow road to nowhere.

Matic and Pereira teamed up because Solskjaer had little other option. Fred was left on the bench alongside Marcus Rashford with both having started United’s last 12 matches. The £52million Brazilian has shown some improved form during that run but it cannot be forgotten how low the bar was. Fred is not the joker many thought; nor is he the answer.

Scott McTominay has emerged as United’s most credible midfielder this season but the academy graduate will be missing for “a few months”. In the meantime, United are left with the choice of Matic, Fred and Pereira – presuming that James Garner will go out on loan – and a fixture schedule which sees them in action seven more times by February 1.

Solskjaer repeatedly talks about approaching United’s transfer business with the long-term in mind but the current scarcity of choice is not going to improve beyond the next few weeks and months. Matic will leave at the end of his contract and Pogba will push harder than ever to follow him through the door.

United simply must act this month. If their recruitment operation is as extensive and efficient as they would brief you, that won’t be a problem.

Ian Watson

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Their 2-1 defeat to Chelsea on Sunday was a good example of what Arsenal will look like for the next six months at least: hard-working and moving towards tactical coherence but with fatal flaws undermining Mikel Arteta’s plan. Unlearning years of stagnation and bad habits, and building trust in themselves and each other, will take a long time.

So this probably isn’t the best time to be facing a Manchester United team who have lost just one of their last nine league games – and who generally perform well against high-pressing opponents who leave space for counter-attacks. If Tammy Abraham can walk through the centre of the pitch to give Chelsea the three points, just think what Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Daniel James might do.

Here are five tactical questions ahead of Arsenal v Man Utd on New Year’s Day:

 

1) Will Arteta’s Guardiola tactics have improved further since Chelsea?
Before we look at how the two teams match up it’s worth spending some time on exactly what Arteta has been working on since his appointment on December 21. Several players have made a point of talking about the intensity of the tactical work carried out by the new manager, and judging by an encouraging 75 minutes against Chelsea we can safely say Arteta is very closely aligned to Pep Guardiola.

Their 4-2-3-1 shape mimics Manchester City’s version of this system, focusing on a constant high press, positional play that ensures no two players are occupying the same column or row of space, and patient possession football.

More specifically, both Arsenal and Man City use one holding midfielder (Lucas Torreira/Rodri), one box-to-box player (Matteo Guendouzi/Ilkay Gundogan) who leans out to one side of the pitch, and one attacking midfielder (Mesut Ozil/Kevin de Bruyne) leaning out to the other. The balance this gives their attacking shape is complimented by a striker dropping short (Alexandre Lacazette/Sergio Aguero), a right winger staying out wide to stretch the opposition (Reiss Nelson/Riyad Mahrez) and a left winger who cuts inside to overlap the striker (Pierre Emerick-Aubayemang/Raheem Sterling).

What’s more, against Chelsea right-back Ainsley Maitland-Niles could be seen drifting into central midfield like Kyle Walker. Arteta seemingly takes all of his ideas from Guardiola – which might mean he has inherited all of his flaws, too.

 

2) Does Arsenal’s new approach play into Man Utd’s hands?
It is no secret that Man Utd like to play on the counter, rarely winning when forced to hold the majority of possession but often victorious if allowed to sit back, invite pressure, then break into the spaces left behind a high defensive line. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s focus on raw pace means this won’t change long-term; beating Newcastle and Burnley with 73% and 61% is just another false dawn.

There is no doubt, then, that Arsenal playing such an expansive and aggressive attacking game could play right into the visitors’ hands. United countered superbly in a recent 2-1 win at Man City, and that was against a Guardiola team with years of experience and knowledge of their manager’s tactics. By contrast, Arsenal will – for quite some time – leave unfortunate gaps as they get to grips with such a complex and constantly shifting formation.

It only takes one minor positional error for Guardiola’s system to fall like a house of cards, such is the collective endeavour required to pin back the opponent. If an out-of-form Chelsea could expose them, surely a rampant Man Utd will too.

 

3) Will James and Rashford find joy against makeshift Arsenal full-backs?
The key areas for Man Utd’s counters are the two flanks, but for different reasons. On one side Bukayo Saka will again deputise at left-back, creating an obvious mismatch with James; Saka is expected to overlap frequently, and as a winger by trade is highly unlikely to spot danger quickly enough to get back and prevent James from getting a head start as United counter.

On the other side, Maitland-Niles’ complex new role as an inverted full-back should give Rashford space as soon as United win possession. Maitland-Niles won’t be able to stay on top of the United forward, instead frantically making diagonal defensive runs as Rashford moves away from the right-back and in support of Martial, who will lean left to overload this flank.

It is simple analysis, but difficult to look past: Arsenal will hold most of the ball, but when they lose it will no doubt be out of position and unable to cope with the transitions as Man Utd counter-attack down both flanks.

 

4) Can Ozil and gutsy Arsenal midfield expose Matic?
The best thing about Arsenal’s performance against Chelsea was the work-rate and togetherness of their three-man midfield. Ozil was surprisingly effective, dropping neatly into pockets of space to the right of centre, while Torreira showed an energy and passion that’s been missing since his arrival at the club. Together with Guendouzi, he can form a formidable partnership under Arteta; these are two superb footballers who simply lost their way under Unai Emery.

Clearly given more detailed instruction under Arteta, all three midfielders pressed hard and stayed relatively close to one another at Chelsea, and with three team-mates – a left winger, a right-back, and a striker – all dropping into midfield to help out they regularly received the ball with multiple passing options. High tempo interchanges and little darts into space – a cycle of give-and-go football – perfectly suits the attributes of Guendouzi and Torreira in particular.

Man Utd are particularly weak in midfield without Scott McTominay, and if Paul Pogba still doesn’t fancy it that means the ageing Nemanja Matic alongside Fred. Do these two have the energy or intelligence to fight off a swarming mass of Arsenal bodies in their zone? The answer to that question will probably determine the outcome of this match.

 

5) Will Arsenal’s backpedalling centre-backs give Greenwood late opportunities?
Chelsea’s winning goal last time out exposed the brittleness of this Arsenal team. As legs tire and confidence wanes the centre-backs will start panicking, backpedalling comically to open up a chasm between themselves and midfield. Guardiola football requires bravery and every member must push high to compress the team shape, but the Arsenal defenders just aren’t good enough to trust themselves to do so.

It says a lot about both the passion and tactical coaching Arteta has already drilled into this team that Guendouzi was gesturing furiously at Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz as Tammy Abraham dribbled through the middle at Stamford Bridge, incandescent at the experienced pair’s sudden collapse. Most of these players already know roughly what to do. It doesn’t take a genius to work out Mustafi and Luiz can’t function in Arteta’s system.

Injuries will force this pair to play again on New Year’s Day, unless Sokratis makes an unexpected recovery from concussion, and that means further encouragement for United’s forwards – particularly late on as tiredness creeps in. Mason Greenwood has made a habit of scoring from the bench in January. When he comes on, Mustafi and Luiz will start to panic.

Alex Keble is on Twitter

 

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