A few days ago, Arsenal held on to their 5 points league at the Premier League summit with a scintillating win over Manchester United at the Emirates.
It was a frantic game full of individual brilliance, but both teams stuck to the fundamental tactical philosophy of their managers.
There was no surprise in the Arsenal lineup.
Mikel Arteta reintroduced the 4-3-3, which would become a 442 during attacking transitions. Martin Ødegaard joined the frontline of Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka, and Gabriel Martinelli.
Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey were joined by Ben White and Oleksandr Zinchenko in the midfield. The fullbacks would invert and provide more cover to the backline duo of Gabriel Magalhães and William Saliba.
White and Zinchenko overlapped when the wingers occupied the half-spaces. As Saka and Martinelli took up more central positions, Zinchenko and White could burst into these wide pockets of spaces and provided attacking widths.
Ten Hag’s game plan
Erik ten Hag knew that the best chance his team had to take something away from the Emirates was to exploit the transitional phases.
Man United are the only team this season who have won against Arsenal this season. At Old Trafford, United exposed Arsenal’s high line with their blistering pace on the flanks and incisive through balls from the middle.
That seemed to be the most sensible way to go about this match from United’s perspective. They were coming away to a hostile away environment against a team who are statistically one of the best in Europe at the moment.
On top of that, they did not have Casemiro, who has been the best midfielder in the Red Devils squad this season, as he had to sit out to serve a one-match suspension.
United absorbed the wave of Arsenal attacks in the opening minutes of the game. Slowly they started to show their counter-attacking prowess as Aaron Wan Bissaka and Luke Shaw would threaten to break down the flanks. Antony and Marcus Rashford started to run at the Arsenal backline, with Bruno Fernandes pulling the strings from the back.
Marcus Rashford drew first blood as he won the ball in the midfield, escaped away from Partey and took a stunning goalbound shot from outside the box that ultimately got the better of Aaron Ramsdale. Rashford silenced the raucous home crowd to put the visitors ahead, but their lead would only last long.
Eddie NKetiah took advantage of Wan Bissaka’s positional unawareness as he jumped high to meet Granit Xhaka’s inviting cross in the right post and head it in for the equaliser.
Arsenal orchestrated several attacks after restoring the deadlock, but the scores were tied 1-1 at the interval.
The midfield battle
United had to field Scott McTominay at the centre of the park.
The Scotsman is not as good as Casemiro in reading the game and anticipating danger. So, Ten Hag instructed him to drop deep when necessary and rotate position with Christian Eriksen, who did most of the heavy lifting in the middle. He was patrolling the half spaces and was mostly drifting leftwards to stop Bukayo Saka from getting too much space.
When he did move left, Antony and Bruno Fernandes would drop and try to plug the holes that would pop up. This made it harder for Martinelli and Zinchenko to receive the ball in favourable positions around and inside the United box.
But, the next Arsenal goal would come from a moment of madness. Bukayo Saka astonishingly beat David de Gea from a distance to make it 2-1 before Lisandro Martínez pounced in a fantastic header to make it 2-2.
Arsenal would increase their efforts in search of a winner afterwards and was rewarded with a late NKetiah strike to make it 3-2.