It feels like we have seen versions of this match many times. Arsenal were generally the better team but left themselves open to being countered against where Manchester United were ruthless at finishing their opportunities.
It is a story that has been told before and probably will again as Arsenal play a high-pressing style.
It is a bummer and I hope that this isn’t something that will derail the momentum and good feeling of the club.
Manchester United 3-1 Arsenal: By the graphics
Manchester United 3-1 Arsenal: By the numbers
I have sort of started writing this article several times and then stopped. It has taken me a while to figure out exactly what meaning to take from this match.
I think I want to start with this graphic. This shows the running “Goal Probability Added (GPA)”, GPA is my take on expected threat type metrics where you take the probability of a goal being scored and scored against you and compare how that changes after an on ball action.
I think that this illustrates really well the flow of this match.
In the opening 10 minutes, Manchester United were in control of this match. In this period United had 81% of the ball, they had a 26-11 lead in the final third touches. Arseanl were pinned in but still doing pretty well to play on the break.
After surviving that Arsenal grew into the game. It didn’t count but the goal from Martinelli was a thing of beauty between the pass and finish. It was called back because a foul in the Premier League is a moving target these days, same with what is a “clear and obvious” error. Arsenal started to really impose themselves on the match after that. From the 15th minute to the end of the half these were the key stats.
6 – Shots for Arsenal, 3 for United
0.4 – Expected goals for Arsenal, 0.25 for United
203 – Passes attempted by Arsenal, 86 for United
65 – Final third passes for Arsenal, 9 for United
11 – Passes completed into the box for Arsenal, 1 for United.
United got a goal very much against the run of play, taking advantage of Arsenal giving too much space and a rash challenge.
The start of the second half was more of the same. Here were the stats up to Saka’s equalizer from the start of the second half.
3 – Shot for Arsenal, 0 for United
0.6 – Expected goals for Arsenal, 0 for United
120 – Passes attempted by Arsenal, 36 for United
37 – Final third passes for Arsenal, 0 for United
3 – Passes completed into the box for Arsenal, 0 for United.
Arsenal continued to apply pressure, eventually getting a deserved goal. At this point Arsenal could have switched things up, going more conservative looking to escape for a point but Arteta I think rightly saw that Arsenal had over the course of the match been the better team and thought that all three points were there for the team.
Arsenal continued to have most of the ball but failed to fully strangle United’s ability to get out. That is going to happen from time to time when you are a team that wants to have ball high up the pitch, Arsenal had mostly gotten away with it this season with good pressing and defenders doing well one on one when they got put on an island.
I think about 38% of the time this strategy ends with Arsenal getting the winning goal, about 30% of the time this still ends in a draw and 32% of the time this happens. I think it is the proper strategy because the difference between a draw and a loss is minimal with the reward of three points being much larger. It stings when it goes against the team but it was probably still the right choice. The regular expected points from this position is about 1.2 and playing a more aggressive go for the win boosts it to about 1.4.
There aren’t any major issues that I think change my long-term view of this team from this match, hopefully the team can bounce back to winning ways in the Europa League on Thursday.
Sources: Opta via whoscored, my own database.