Erik ten Hag given coaching priority at Manchester United after Arsenal loss - Tyrone Marshall

Erik ten Hag given coaching priority at Manchester United after Arsenal loss – Tyrone Marshall

A defensive reconstruction

The loss ends Manchester United’s hopes of playing Champions League football next season, but ironically it came in what has been one of their most consistent and productive attacking performances in weeks.

On the balance of the game, United did not deserve to lose to Arsenal in the Emirates. They lost because their defense is hopelessly out of shape no matter who is playing in the back four.

The two goals they conceded in the first half were hopelessly weak, with the first one particularly bad given the importance of the game and the requirement for a good start.

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Raphael Varane and Alex Telles were far too casual in their attempts to clear and Diogo Dalot failed to show the same determination as striker Nuno Tavares. It was dismal in defense and although United regained their composure, they never recovered from the deficit.

It is only the second time since 1978/79 that they have conceded 50 goals in a league season and their goalkeeper has been one of their best performers this season. Improving that rotten record must be a priority for Erik ten Hag when he brings these players to the training grounds in July.

Fernandes pays the penalty

It seems a missed penalty for Cristiano Ronaldo was enough to see him lose his spot-kick duties for United, but this could well be the last time he lets someone else take over.

When Scott McTominay ran to grab the ball and pass it to Bruno Fernandes before United’s second-half penalty, it caused many raised eyebrows.

Ronaldo sent a penalty wide against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup fourth round, but Fernandes had broken his last penalty on the crossbar against Aston Villa earlier in the season.

Considering Ronaldo had already scored in that game, has 22 goals for the season and scored 143 penalties in his career, it was odd that Fernandes would take him, especially when he had such a disappointing season.

The midfielder has a better from-place record than Ronaldo, but from a much smaller sample size, and if you had to pick one of the two to score to save your season, you’d only go for one player .

The misfire summed up Fernandes’ season and the icing on the cake came when his poor touch led to Arsenal’s third goal 20 minutes from time, ending United’s hopes of a comeback after what had been a great second half so far.

An efficient press

United seemed to have given up on pressing under Ralf Rangnick a long time ago, but whether that was still the plan against Arsenal or if they sensed nervousness in the hosts’ defence, it was just as well they had been pressing for a long time . .

Despite their early lead, Arsenal fans grew increasingly agitated by their side trying to play at the back, with shouts of ‘step up the bloody pitch’ near the press box every time Aaron Ramsdale hit it at Ben White or Gabriel.

United jumped on that hesitation, with the front four all pressing hard and it proved to be a successful tactic, winning the ball in good areas on several occasions.

This approach would have at least encouraged Ten Hag, who also likes his teams to be aggressive out of possession. There were signs in this game that United could meet those demands.

United’s misfortune

This season’s United DVD could be called ‘if it could go wrong, it did go wrong’ and the manner in which they conceded the second goal would fit into that narrative.

United were initially delighted with VAR Jarred Gillett confirming Eddie Nketiah was offside when he finished past David de Gea, but the review quickly turned into a penalty and Telles certainly didn’t take the ball when he wrapped himself behind Bukayo Saka’s back.

There might be few complaints about it, but United had reason to be aggrieved for not getting decisions at the other end when Nuno Tavares had a hand on Anthony Elanga’s shoulder when the winger was running through the area at high speed, then when Cedric Soares handled when Jadon Sancho beat him.

None of those decisions went as far as an on-field review and United certainly had the short straw in the decisions.

Maguire’s hard week

The terrible events of this week must once again have been a burden on Harry Maguire, who would be excused for being desperate for this season to end.

To his credit, the United captain was determined to make the Emirates squad despite the bomb scare at his family home, but his role in the capital was a substitute.

Rangnick spoke about Maguire’s ‘difficult week’ when explaining the decision, but he started that response by saying he had to choose two centre-backs out of three with Varane’s return to fitness, so it’s clear that this was a debate before the midweek incident.

Maguire’s form has suffered this season and his role as captain and starter will be one for Erik ten Hag ahead of the start of next season.

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