It’s eight out of eight for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United, as the Red Devils knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup at the Emirates with a 3-1 win.
It really can’t get any better for the Red Devils right now. Eight games into his caretaker tenure, few would have expected Solksjaer to have an incredible 100% record, let alone win huge away games against Tottenham and Arsenal.
The Gunners dominated most of the possession – 63% to be precise, but Manchester United chose to sit back and hit them on the counter, and executed their gameplan perfectly.
Romelu Lukaku showed that he’s more than just a physical, goalscoring centre forward, setting up two first-half goals in the space of three minutes for Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard.
While Lingard’s finish was pretty straightforward, Sanchez did extremely well to score from a tight angle after being played in by Lukaku, on a night when the reception he got at his old stomping ground was far from warm.
Aubameyang appeared to briefly give Arsenal some hope just before the break, but an 82nd minute strike by Anthony Martial after Cech’s parried save off Pogba settled the game decisively in favour of United.
Here are 5 takeaways from the match:
United have options in attack
Martial and Rashford have been Solksjaer’s go-to men in attack ever since he took over at Old Trafford, and the duo were bound to be rested sooner rather than later.
But it was a pretty bold move from the Norwegian to drop two of his most in-form players to the bench in what was probably his biggest match as United boss.
Lukaku and Sanchez showed that they should be in Solksjaer’s plans, and looked dangerous alongside Lingard whenever United broke in the first-half. More importantly, both of them provided decisive contributions in a crucial knockout fixture on enemy turf.
With the Red Devils still involved in three competitions, Solksjaer and his management team will be happy to have additional options in attack for the rest of the season.
Solksjaer is somehow better at the Mourinho game than Mourinho
Against Tottenham at Wembley, Solksjaer really had no other choice than to sit deep and hit on the counter, while facing technically superior opposition.
He had to do the same thing at the Emirates tonight, after United suddenly found themselves with a 2-0 lead to protect. And somehow, Solksjaer has shown that he’s better at the counterattacking game than Mourinho himself.
While their defence showed signs of cracking against Brighton and Spurs, Lindelof and Young superbly marshalled the back-line against a dangerous Arsenal attack. That is already a tremendous improvement over Mourinho’s last few months in charge.
Whenever they got the ball, Pogba carried it out from the back repeatedly with precision, willingly aided by Sanchez, Lukaku, Lingard, Martial and Rashford. They showed once again that this side is built to attack on the counter, which makes Mourinho’s tactical failings all the more difficult to understand.
Arsenal’s defensive crisis
With Rob Holding out for the season, Unai Emery really couldn’t afford any more injuries at the back.
But the Spaniard was forced into withdrawing Sokratis for Mustafi early in the first-half after the Greek centre-half landed awkwardly on his ankle. To make matters worse, Lukaku’s stray boot caught Koscielny’s face in the second-half, and he came off to be replaced by Guendouzi.
As soon as that second change was done, United looked really dangerous whenever they came forward, as Granit Xhaka looked slow and laborious playing in defence.
With Emery and Arsenal being linked with Eric Bailly, who impressed on the other side of the pitch tonight, the Gunners really need to bring in defensive reinforcements before the January deadline.
Romero steps up in De Gea’s absence
Yet another bold move by Solksjaer – benching De Gea in favour of Sergio Romero in goal.
The Argentine has always been reliable when called upon, and although he didn’t have much to do tonight, he pulled off tremendous saves off Ramsey and Lacazette to keep United 2-1 up.
Petr Cech, on the other hand, really couldn’t do much in what was the last FA Cup appearance of his illustrious career. He wasn’t helped by a porous Arsenal defence, but he would have hoped for a more memorable send-off from a tournament that he’s won 5 times.
PSG in the crosshairs?
A month ago, any football fan would have laughed off suggestions that Manchester United have a realistic chance of knocking PSG out of the Champions League.
But eight games into Solksjaer’s reign, and injuries to Neymar and Veratti, you’d be foolish to suggest that the French league leaders will have it easy against the Red Devils.
The Parisians still have plenty of ways by which they can hurt United, but the latter’s performances against Tottenham and Arsenal suggest that Ole can pull off a tactical masterclass against Thomas Tuchel and his men.
Speaking of the Norwegian, what do you say about that permanent contract Ed?