LONDON — Manchester United are finding a way to get it done. They proved that in a spirited 2-1 win over Arsenal on Saturday.
The Red Devils have rebounded from injuries, poor form and a huge turnover in players to be in the top four of the Premier League at the end of November. That’s no mean feat.
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As Wayne Rooney raced in on goal and dinked the ball into the net for United’s second goal late on at the Emirates Stadium, manager Louis van Gaal jumped up from his seat and punched the air with glee.
Slowly but surely, United are turning things around. This win at Arsenal proved it. But van Gaal wasn’t happy is forever a perfectionist.
“No I was not pleased with the way we played in the first half,” van Gaal said. “Of course you mean it was an away game against a top team. So it was good that we have won. Also it was the right moment to win this game. I have to say the first 25 minutes we gave the ball away easily, that is not possible. Because of that Arsenal created a lot. Fortunately we have a very good goalkeeper. After the first 25 minutes you saw that we are coming back in the game.”
After being dominated in the first half, van Gaal urged his players to be braver on the ball and slammed his fist on the table of the conference room at the Emirates Stadium when making that point.
“I said at half time. When we keep the ball and show confidence then we shall create many, many chances,” van Gaal said. “We created at least three big chances. Di Maria could have finished the game, but two times the pass was easily to give to Di Maria and Wayne Rooney and the pass was not alright. So we have to improve that. But I am very happy of course.”
Injuries were again the key word around United’s squad as they started in a 3-5-2 formation that have not used since Aug. 30 when they faced Burnley. Early on they looked shaky and struggled to get to grips with Arsenal’s fluid frontline. Van Gaal has not featured his favored formation for quite some time with injuries in defense and had to try it once again as the Red Devils’ injuries persist.
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“First I hope there are players coming back from injury because it is unbelievably difficult to create consistency in the team because I have to change every week my lineup,” van Gaal said. “When you are a coach you have the same lineup and maybe change one or two. I have changed many players and changed the formation. That is not always good to create consistency in the team.”
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That said, United’s players adapted well on the fly with young center backs Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett standing up tall in the face of adversity away at Arsenal with over 60,000 baying for their blood. Asked if it was risky to play such a young backline, van Gaal had the following to say.
“I said this before the match that I made the right decision. To make this decision before the match. Okay… that is a quality decision. I can say that now,” van Gaal laughed. “But at the same time I say that, that’s the life of a manager or a coach. The result is always giving you the reason. I have to say that I cannot do other things because I don’t have many players.”
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United have now now lost just once in their last 15 matches against Arsenal while Wayne Rooney has scored 11 goals against the Gunners during his career. That is more than any single player in Premier League history, as the stars aligned to hand United a marquee win they will hope to build off.
“We rode our luck at times, our goalkeeper was fantastic,” Rooney admitted. “We felt they were vulnerable on the break and we hit them with two good goals, which was our game plan.”
As for the Gunners, they are heading in the opposite direction as Arsenal now have 17 points from their opening 12 games which is their worst start to a PL season.
“We had the best chances and we could have finished better,” Wenger said. “At 1-0 we should have been more cautious not to give the second goal away. There was plenty of time to come back and that’s where we made the mistake. In our job when you don’t win, you’re very concerned but there are a lot of positives in this team. If we can keep this going with the quality and the energy levels we have, we can bounce back very quickly.”
This match was billed as a top four clash before it began. After grinding out a crucial win United look more likely to qualify for the Champions League than Arsenal on this showing, simply because they adjusted and dug deep to get what they wanted. Rather than wilting and looking unable to seize the moment, like the Gunners have now down time and time again this campaign. Last season United finished 15 points and three places behind Arsenal. That shows how far van Gaal’s men have come in a relatively short space of time but the Dutchman isn’t getting carried away.
“It is the first away victory and the players are very excited but it is just one victory,” van Gaal said. “We have to confirm that with further victories and then we can say we have the spirit and can start looking upstairs and not downstairs.”