Mikel Arteta faces familiar problems as Arsenal self-destruct in frustrating Manchester United loss

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  • Arsenal
    Arsenal
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  • Manchester United
    Manchester United
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  • Mikel Arteta
    Mikel Arteta
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  • Ralf Rangnick
    Ralf Rangnick
    German association football manager
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Defeat to Liverpool last month hurt Arsenal, but this loss to Manchester United was a different kind of pain.

Mikel Arteta and his side will have left Old Trafford frustrated and with a sense of what might have been. They finished the game with more possession and shots on goal but, ultimately, they came away with nothing to show for it.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get something out of the game,” said Arteta. “When you concede three at Old Trafford, it’s unlikely you’ll get something out of the game. We are here to win football matches. That’s a lesson that [playing like we did tonight] is not enough. We have to do things better.”

This is a young Arsenal side and Thursday night felt like another tough lesson for them as they continue to grow under Arteta.

Trips to Old Trafford are nearly always a daunting affair, however this was a United team in a state of limbo as they waited for Ralf Rangnick, who was sat in the stands, to take control in the dugout.

United were disjointed at times and they felt there for the taking, particularly when Arsenal took the lead after 13 minutes in bizarre fashion. United keeper David de Gea went down after a corner into the penalty area and, as he lay stricken, Emile Smith Rowe volleyed the ball into the net from outside the box.

That gave the visitors the perfect platform to kick on, but instead, as has been the case with this team before, it felt like they were playing with the handbrake on — and that allowed United back into the match.

Arteta rejected that idea, instead claiming his team were “sloppy in possession” and “didn’t defend our box well enough”, but either way they allowed United back into the match and it was an invitation they accepted.

Bruno Fernandes levelled before half-time and then Cristiano Ronaldo struck either side of Martin Odegaard’s quality finish in the second half to ensure United claimed all three points in Michael Carrick’s final game in charge before German Rangnick takes over on an interim basis until the end of the season.

“We scored the first one and after that we had total control of the game,” added Arteta. “We started to give some very simple balls away in very dangerous areas that opened some spaces for them and gave them some momentum.

“We scored the second one and then after that we have to go and show the maturity to go and score the third one. In that moment we did not manage well enough that situation, and we conceded the [third] goal.”

A win away at one of the Premier League’s “Big Six” feels like the next step for this young Arsenal side, who have made great strides since being put together.

The frustration here will be that they had a chance at Old Trafford and all three of the goals they conceded involved elements of individual errors.

Their severity increased with each goal: the first coming after a poor clearance from Ben White; the second a result of Nuno Tavares and Smith Rowe losing the ball; while the third came after Odegaard inexplicably brought down Fred in the penalty area for a penalty.

Individual errors, like playing with the handbrake on, have been a trend of Arteta’s team, and it is something that Arsenal must look to eradicate as they try to progress. As Arteta pointed out, very few teams can come to Old Trafford and leave with anything if they concede three goals.

There were some positives for them to take from last night, with Arteta and his players pointing out this was not the collapse we saw at Anfield.

Gabriel Martinelli was a bright spark, causing problems out wide with his pace and willingness to run in behind. That is another trend of Arteta’s team since he was appointed, with young players shining, but now feels like a moment for the senior players to step up.

When Arsenal won at Old Trafford last season, Thomas Partey was at the heart of the performance, as he bossed the midfield and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the only goal of the game.

Both, however, were nowhere to be seen last night, and the balance between senior and young players performing feels off. “Certainly, it’s the balance we need, and that the balance is right,” said Arteta. “The senior players have to lead and the young players have to follow.”

So far this season, this young Arsenal side have shown themselves to be quick learners and they have bounced back from setbacks before.

They did so in October following a disappointing draw against Crystal Palace by over-running Aston Villa, while after defeat to Liverpool they steadied the ship again by beating Newcastle.

Now the challenge is for them to learn from Thursday night’s defeat, where they let an opportunity to claim a big scalp — and break into the Premier League’s top four — pass them by.

The busy Christmas period affords them the chance to make amends — and Arteta will want to make sure last night was a bump in the road, not his side veering off course.

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