Erik ten Hag has a coaching priority at Manchester United after Arsenal defeat - Tyrone Marshall

Erik ten Hag has a coaching priority at Manchester United after Arsenal defeat – Tyrone Marshall

A defensive re-build

This defeat is the end of Manchester United’s hopes of playing Champions League football next season, but ironically it came in what was one of their most coherent and productive attacking performances for weeks.

On the balance of play, United didn’t deserve to lose to Arsenal at the Emirates. They lost because their defense is hopelessly out of form, no matter who plays in the back four.

The two goals they conceded in the first half were desperately soft, with the first especially bad given the importance of the game and the requirement for a good start.

READ MORE: United player ratings vs Arsenal

Raphael Varane and Alex Telles were both far too casual in their attempts to clear and Diogo Dalot didn’t show the same determination as goalscorer Nuno Tavares. It was woeful defending and while United recovered their poise, they never recovered the deficit.

This is now only the second time since 1978/79 they’ve conceded 50 goals in a league season and their goalkeeper has been one of their best players this season. Improving that rotten record has to be a priority for Erik ten Hag when he gets these players onto the training pitches in July.

Fernandes pays the penalty

It seems one penalty miss for Cristiano Ronaldo was enough to see him lose spot-kick duties for United, but it might well be the last time he lets someone else take over.

When Scott McTominay ran over to grab the ball and hand it to Bruno Fernandes ahead of United’s second-half penalty it caused plenty of raised eyebrows.

Ronaldo sent a penalty wide against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup fourth round, but Fernandes had smashed his last penalty over the crossbar against Aston Villa earlier in the season.

Given Ronaldo had already scored in this game, has 22 goals for the season and has scored 143 penalties in his career, it felt bizarre that Fernandes was taking it, especially when he’s had such a disappointing season.

The midfielder does have a better record from the spot than Ronaldo, but from a much smaller sample size, and if you had to pick one of the two to score to save your season then there’s only one player you’d opt for.

The miss summed up Fernandes’ season and the icing on the cake came when his poor touch led to Arsenal’s third goal 20 minutes from time, ending United’s hopes of a comeback after what had been an excellent second half until that point.

An effective press

United seemed to have abandoned the idea of ​​pressing under Ralf Rangnick a long time ago, but whether it was always the plan against Arsenal or if they sensed the nervousness in the hosts’ defence, this was as well as they have pressed in a long time .

Despite their early lead Arsenal’s fans became increasingly agitated by their team trying to play out from the back, with cries of “get it up the bloody field” from near the press box every time Aaron Ramsdale knocked it short to Ben White or Gabriel.

United pounced on that hesitation, with the front four all pressing energetically and it proved to be a fruitful tactic, winning the ball back in good areas on several occasions.

That approach would have at least encouraged Ten Hag, who also likes his teams to be aggressive out of possession. There were signs in this game that United can fulfill those demands.

United’s misfortune

The DVD for this United season might be called ‘if it could go wrong, it did go wrong’ and the manner in which they conceded the second goal would fit into that narrative.

United were initially delighted with VAR Jarred Gillett confirming Eddie Nketiah was offside when finishing beyond David de Gea, but the review quickly turned into a penalty check and Telles certainly took none of the ball when he bundled into the back of Bukayo Saka.

There could be few complaints about that, but United had reason to be aggrieved they didn’t get decisions at the other end when Nuno Tavares had a hand on Anthony Elanga’s shoulder when the winger was running into the area at speed and then when Cedric Soares handled when Jadon Sancho had the beating of him.

Neither of those decisions went as far as an onfield review and United certainly had the short straw in decisions.

Maguire’s tough week

The dreadful events of this week must have been a burden once again for Harry Maguire, who would be excused for being desperate for this season to end.

To his credit, United’s captain was determined to be in the squad at the Emirates despite the bomb threat at his family home, but his role in the capital was as a substitute.

Rangnick talked about Maguire’s “tough week” when he explained the decision, but he had begun that answer by saying he had to pick two central defenders from three with the return to fitness of Varane, so it’s clear this was a debate before the incident in midweek.

Maguire’s form has suffered this season and his role as captain and as a starter will be one for Erik ten Hag to mull over before the start of next season.

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