Manchester United put out an impressive display in a 3-1 win at Arsenal in the FA Cup 4th Round. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men extended their winning streak to 8 games since the Norwegian’s arrival, and did so against a fierce rival from the gaffer’s playing days at the club.
Here are 3 things we learned from United’s 3-1 win at the Emirates.
Solskjaer is willing to rotate
Much of the success under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is attributable to the consistent starting 11 he’s put out in nearly every league match. His preferred starting 11 has remained largely unchanged since his first match against Cardiff, but today he showed his willingness to rotate the side and give other players a chance to show what they’ve got, even in big Cup matches.
Alexis Sánchez and Romelu Lukaku each had impressive run outs in the first half, and were involved in both goals, with Alexis scoring the first and Lukaku assisting the first and second. There has been a bit of speculation about the futures of Alexis and Lukaku respectively, but giving them starts at Arsenal shows Ole isn’t done with them. The forwards didn’t disappoint, and have surely earned more appearances in the future after showing a return of both form and confidence.
Along the back line Eric Bailly made his return following a 3 game suspension for a red card against Bournemouth. The centre back position is lacking in depth because of injuries at the moment, with both Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo still out, but it’s good to see Victor Lindelöf, Bailly, and Jones each get good minutes rather than one of them being alienated by the manager for 3 months (looking at you, Jose).
Sergio Romero started in goal, as he did in the 3rd Round against Reading and in the League Cup 3rd Round against Derby County. David De Gea hasn’t been listed in the squad for any of United’s Cup games this season, and we could see Romero keep his spot going forward in the FA Cup if Solskjaer was willing to trust him against Arsenal at the Emirates.
Alexis isn’t done yet
Alexis may not pan out as the next great no. 7 as many hoped he would, but at least we know he’s still got something in the tank, and Solskjaer is willing to let him prove it.
Alexis opened the scoring in the 31st minute, which was a great moment for him after an awful year at United throughout 2018. The Chilean winger appeared enthusiastic to return to the side from injury after Solskjaer’s arrival, and played well in outings against Newcastle and Reading, providing assists in each of those outings.
Perhaps Alexis has a future at the club, even if only for the next couple of months. There was speculation that he wouldn’t even return to the club, and that he would stay in Chile to rehabilitate until a new club came calling. Now it seems he’s fighting for his future. He is still capable of producing, and Ole seems keen to get the most out of him while he can.
Defensive problems persist, but this will do for now
As has been the case in many games this season, United’s defenders switched off and allowed Arsenal to get back into the game through a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goal just before half time. The culprit this time was Luke Shaw, who has struggled in recent starts but made a return to the side after falling ill just before the Brighton game.
Arsenal didn’t stop there either, and there were moments when the Gunners looked on the verge of equalizing. Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette looked dangerous going forward, and they were supported by their midfielders and forward thinking full backs. However, United’s defense held them off, and came up with some key stops down the stretch.
Almost every game this season has seen some poor defending on United’s part, and the goals against column in the league is hard to look at, but Solskjaer’s new tactics in possession and going forward have eased the pressure on the defenders. Goals are still finding their way through, but the bleeding has slowed enough to keep the wins coming.
With the January window about to close it seems United will let another transfer period pass by without reinforcing the back line. It isn’t what the fans want, but it will have to do for now. Solskjaer’s United have an eye for goal, and it will keep the poor defending out of the spot light for the time being.
The significance of the FA Cup has diminished a bit in recent years, but it may be Manchester United’s best chance at a trophy. Solskjaer put out a strong side that was there to win, and they certainly looked the better team. The winning streak continues, and United head back to Manchester with confidence and style with key matches in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League just over the horizon.