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Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United: Three things we learned

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Problems at full-back, and a need for creativity

Arsenal FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Arsenal gave Mikel Arteta his first win as newly appointed manager with a comfortable 2-0 victory against Manchester United at the Emirates Wednesday. Two first-half goals from Nicolas Pépé and Sokratis Papastathopoulos was enough to hand the Gunners three points against a longtime rival and trigger deserved hostility against a club in the midst of an identity crisis.

Not a good start to the new year for the Red Devils. Here are three things we learned from United’s defeat to Arsenal.

United have a serious full-back problem

There are plenty of concerns about United’s form, but Wednesday’s contest exposed the painfully obvious problem regarding Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s defensive unit. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is an extremely talented player, yet struggles when attacking with the ball. The easiest remedy to better use his skills with quick results would be to keep him in the back to halt the opponent’s attack and position youngster Brandon Williams in a role where he can move forward and impact the game from an attacking standpoint.

Fans will never know if that strategy would have worked, because Solskjaer overlooked the rising star and instead handed left-back responsibilities to Luke Shaw. At a time where he could have proven his worth, the Englishman once again demonstrated why he’s not the right man to start against stronger clubs or for United in general. United have been marred by inconsistent performances from Shaw, who was woefully outclassed by Pépé all evening. After five years with no consistency and forgettable flashes of brilliance, it’s time for United to move on from the 24-year-old liability.

Marcus Rashford cannot be United’s sole creator

When the England international is in form, he’s unstoppable on the pitch. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge when Rashford is off, and Wednesday was unfortunately more of the latter. The back-to-back Player of the Month recipient only managed to win just one of nine matchups in the first half. He didn’t get a shot on target and recorded a less than 70% passer rating.

To his defense, Rashford’s contributions during a demanding festive period have likely begun to take a toll on the 22-year-old. Given the shortage of United attackers and several must-win games on the horizon, it’s unlikely he’ll see the bench anytime soon. That being said, the Red Devils must have other creative forces in the team, especially against sides with similar playing style.

United were handed the ball by a worn out Arsenal side many times in the second half, and still they were clueless on how to clinically finish much of anything. Nemanja Matić was dreadful and it further strengthens the argument that he does not warrant a starting role on this team.

Solskjaer must sign quality players this month

Per The Guardian, Solskjaer said that United will only open the pocketbooks this month if the right player becomes available. After losing out to Dortmund for Erling Braut Haaland, Ed Woodward must work fast to recruit top talent this month and finish the campaign better than how they started it. Pogba, who could have easily fulfilled the role of a number 10 on Wednesday, did not travel with the team and is undergoing foot surgery. With a three to four week timetable for return, United are without their most expensive and most creative player to start the year. If the Frenchman gets his way, he could on his way out from Old Trafford for good at the end of the month or at the very latest before the start of next season.

In short, United are desperate. January fixtures include two Manchester derbies, a trip to Wolverhampton and a visit to Anfield against presumed league winners Liverpool. This month is not getting any easier, and how United choose to address these ongoing issues on the pitch will reveal how seriously they want to win trophies this season and who is the right manager to make that happen.