Football Features

McTominay shows the value of courage: Five things learned from Man Utd 1-1 Arsenal

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:19, 30 September 2019

After a disorganised night of football, Manchester United and Arsenal played out a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.

The first 30 minutes was terrible but it picked up a bit from there. United scored first, but a defensive mistake let Arsenal equalise in the second half and the match petered out. What did we learn?

1. Scott McTominay and the value of courage

Scott McTominay is not the best player in the world. He’s a big tall lug whose reach often exceeds his grasp, especially when it comes to playing passes. You have to admire his ambition but on multiple occasions against Arsenal he gave the ball away trying penetrative passes. Better players than him have made a living by keeping it simple, he should take note of that. Same as in the second-half when he made a forceful back-post run to connect with a corner, only to somehow head it over.

But that blind courage is probably Scott McTominay’s greatest strength (beyond the obvious athletic gifts that make him such an imposing figure off the ball). That unshakeable belief that he is good enough for this level. It’s what causes him to make powerful runs forward and take shots on like he did at the end of the first-half. A more timid player would have deferred to Paul Pogba, but McTominay took the shot on and got a massive goal as his reward.

2. Aubameyang in inevitable

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came into Monday night’s match at Old Trafford having never scored away from home against any of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ sides. Now that shouldn’t be an enormous indictment of the Gabonese striker because Arsenal as a team are generally poor away against ‘big six’ opponents, but it’s a poor record.

A game away to a ‘big six’ side is, in fact, the only game this season in which Aubameyang has failed to score. Arsenal’s no. 14 had played in seven games so far this season, scoring seven goals (a brace against Watford covered up for his blank at Anfield) and so he came to Old Trafford in fine form.

But for the most part of the game he was wandering aimlessly about the pitch. Well, not aimlessly, but he didn’t seem to have the usual level of incision that he has so often shown. That is until Bukayo Saka picked up on a defensive error to put him through 1v1. Then suddenly we saw just why Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been so inevitable this season. A dead-eyed chip with his left-foot left the despairing David de Gea with no chance.

3. The Running Men

Both Manchester United and Arsenal were, once upon a time, the best sides in the country. Fans and opposition alike were afraid and in awe of the pair of them. Now, however, they have fallen a great deal from that peak. Both sides still carry a bit of a reputation but it is a faint glimmer of what it once was.

For 35 minutes on Monday, that glimmer came perilously close to being extinguished as both teams, for some reason, tried to play a more considered game. United were particularly guilty in this instance as they really took the initiative. Pre-match you’d have thought both sides would be fighting to give the ball away so they can play on the counter-attack, but no, they gave it a good go. Well, a go, anyway.

That both sides had their best chances on the break said so much about how wrongheaded the pair of them were. The second half was far more lively as Arsenal, the side with more attacking quality, began to dominate the ball and Manchester United were playing on the break. This made the second half so much more enjoyable and should show both clubs the way forward for the future.

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4. Captain Guendouzi

Arsenal have nearly always had great leaders. Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva, even Cesc Fabregas. And for the most part those leaders have been in the middle of the park. At Old Trafford the Gunners saw a captain-like display from a midfielder, someone who battled against United and drove the Gunners forward with sheer relentless energy.

And that midfielder was, of course, not Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka.

It was 20-year-old sensation Matteo Guendouzi. The Frenchman has become a real driving force for Arsenal, outshining midfielders who are all older and objectively better than him. There’s no weakness in Guendouzi’s skill-set, he can do a little bit of everything.

Guendouzi made four tackles, three clearances – a total of seven recoveries of possession which was second only to Paul Pogba in this game. Guendouzi is a supreme player and played with the kind of fire and drive that Arsenal need more of, he’s even got the best hair in the Premier League. Give him the armband, Unai!

5. A Blue Day

Despite the match ending 1-1, there was one winner at Old Trafford. One team that ended the night with an absolutely massive advantage: Chelsea. Now, Manchester United are on nine points (in 10th place) whilst the Gunners sit in fourth, level on 12 points with West Ham.

Chelsea are actually one point back on 11 points, but they will be absolutely relishing this display because it was a screaming signal to anyone with eyes that neither of these sides possess anything like a killer instinct, let alone true quality and coherence in their ranks.

Obviously in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal have a striker who could carry them to glory and beyond but the rest of their midfield is such a staggeringly shambolic outfit that can you honestly see them picking up lots of points? And United are decent at the back but would struggle to score even if the opposition had a toddler in goal.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have just won their first home game of the season and have some semblance of what kind of team they are. They know how to play with each other and they’ll have a huge advantage in the race for the top four. Chelsea look like a coherent football side (albeit one with weaknesses) which is a damn sight more than these two sides, the Jokers in the Premier League house of cards.