Arsenal hosted Manchester United at the Emirates in what was a crucial game comparative to the glory days.
The Gunners were keen to beat United and cement their title bid while Ten Hag was looking to bounce back from a disappointing draw against Crystal Palace on Wednesday and get back to winning ways.
In the absence of Casemiro, Ten Hag restored Scott McTominay to the side with Fred having to be content with a place on the bench.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 3-2 loss against Arsenal
Feisty first half
The opening 45 minutes was a very balanced affair for both teams who had their moments.
Arsenal had slightly more possession of the ball compared to United. The London club had 51% while United had 49%.
The table leaders had significantly more shots on target compared to their bitter rivals – 11 to two. However, both sides registered two shots on target.
The Red Devils drew first blood in the 17th minute through Marcus Rashford. The Englishman received a pass from Bruno Fernandes before chopping the helpless Thomas Partey.
Rashford then fired the ball with venom into the back of the Arsenal net to give United the lead. Arsenal however achieved parity just seven minutes later through Eddie Nketiah, who powered beyond Wan-Bissaka to head in the ball past David de Gea.
The game in the first half tethered on a knife’s edge. Both teams were defensively resolute and did well to weather whatever storm the opposition mustered. There were few clear-cut chances.
United pressed well and were dominant in phases of the game as were Arsenal in some instances. Undoubtedly, Ten Hag would have been disappointed by the manner in which the goal was conceded but happy that his team held their own on hostile territory against the most in-form team in the country.
De Gea’s weaknesses still a massive problem
Nketiah’s goal came from a United mistake. De Gea passed it to an under-pressure Wan-Bissaka who failed to control his pass. Seconds later, Granit Xhaka was inside the box and delivered a sublime cross to Nketiah who made no mistake in front of goal.
De Gea’s poor distribution and initiating of play was a recurring theme throughout the game.
The Spaniard’s limitations with his feet were on full display – something Mikel Arteta’s men looked to exploit whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Whenever De Gea had the ball, the Arsenal crowd grew ecstatic and loud to encourage their players to press the United shot-stopper and force him to make a mistake.
Often, when De Gea kicked the ball he failed to find a United shirt and instead ceded possession to an Arsenal player. United’s number one also did not cover himself in glory for Bukayo Saka’s goal and Arsenal’s second of the match.
United’s inability to play out from the back and beat the press is clearly still a hindrance. It was no wonder that after some time the tactic was abandoned with De Gea going long.
Building from the back is a crucial part of Ten Hag’s way of playing football that must be worked on.
Top four finish is still the target
Heading into the game, there was plenty of talk regarding whether United would be legitimate contenders for the title if they clinched all three points against Arsenal.
Roy Keane himself said as much but warned that should the Red Devils fail to beat their bitter rivals, they should forget being in the mix for the accolade.
🚨🎙️| Roy Keane: “Anything less than a win [against Arsenal] and you can certainly forget about #mufc for the title.” [Sky]
— centredevils. (@centredevils) January 22, 2023
The loss is a reminder that a top-four finish is still the primary objective for United this season.
There’s still plenty of work to be done before United can be considered legitimate challengers. The second half where the Reds were under extreme pressure and pegged back to their box is evidence of this.