Why did Manchester United neglect Mesut Ozil?
A week later and it’s still baffling what Louis Van Gaal was thinking when he devised Manchester United’s gameplan for their trip to the Emirates last Sunday.
United played with a high defensive line from the off, looking to pressure Arsenal into mistakes high up the pitch.
That was an incredibly bold tactic to make against an offence consisting of Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott, who had acres of space to break into when Arsenal made quick transitions up the pitch.
Stranger still was the decision to play with Bastion Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick in a pivot with Mesut Ozil allowed to ghost into central attacking spaces unmarked. Santi Cazorla effectively won the midfield battle alone and fed Ozil, often with one simple pass past United’s rearguard, leaving a vulnerable United defence in retreat against an oncoming onslaught of devastating Arsenal attacks.
Ozil’s dazzling reputation has certainly downgraded in his two years in England, but Van Gaal should have known better than to give one of the best attacking playmakers in the world such a free reign. 20 minutes later and three goals down, the game was gone. United looked notably better after half time when Van Gaal reshuffled his deck to put Michael Carrick as an anchor in front of his back four, but Arsenal still looked potent when they found space.
Perhaps next time Van Gaal might take a leaf out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s book, who explained:
In the later years we learned more about Arsenal’s thinking. Arsene had a template of how he sees his players and the way they play. We didn’t need to win the ball against Arsenal, we needed to intercept it. We would say to our players: ‘Stay with the runner, then intercept the pass’. Then we counter attacked quickly. They were more dangerous at Old Trafford than their own ground. Away from home, they didn’t feel obliged to throw everything at us. They were more conservative.
Such gave rise to some wonderful counter attacking goals, which often exposed Wenger’s expansive passing approach.
It was strange to see Arsenal counter attacking at the Emirates with United pushing high, and letting Mesut Ozil reign free cost United the game.