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Arsenal Midfield v United Midfield

Darren Fletcher Darren Fletcher of Manchester United challenges Andre Ayew of Marseille during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Marseille and Manchester United at the Stade Velodrome on February 23, 2011 in Marseille, France.

After about 20 or so minutes in the Manchester United – Marseille game, it became very clear that neither side was prepared to take a risk going forward and give the opposition a chance to score. It was the kind of game that the commentators like calling “cagey”. It was true – neither side wanted to give anything away, which resulted only in a tedious, drab draw which left pretty much everyone frustrated.

United’s best effort was a Darren Fletcher snap shot which he hit into the ground proving awkward for the goalkeeper, but he dived well to save it despite seeing it late through a sea of flailing legs. Then, probably the most interesting and curious event was Wayne Rooney looking up to see the keeper off is line only for him to attempt a Beckham style half way line goal that was easily caught.

Those two attempts were the only two that United managed to get on target – long range efforts that required no clever or defence cutting passing, no midfield creativity, no team imagination – simply a spur of the moment snap shot and an individual piece of forward thinking which in the end, both led to nothing.

Before the game, the Marseille manager Didier Deschamps claimed that this United team lacked “fantasy”. Unfortunately, his comments were pretty well supported with clear evidence on the pitch last night (not that his team proved to be creative masterminds themselves).

A look at the starting midfield for Manchester United explains a lot. Darron Gibson, Darren Fletcher and Michel Carrick. They are all good midfielders, and they all do their own job – granted, not always well, but they can sure up the midfield, making it a steady area and so on. The problem is, they don’t have that inventive artistry that makes Paul Scholes such a great midfielder with his superb vision, and ability to follow through that vision with his astonishing passing range. The midfield was left passing sideways to each other and could not find an innovative forward ball enough.

Compare United’s central midfield triplet to Arsenal’s three, Nasri, Fabregas and Wilshere, and no matter which way you look at it, even if you are the most avid United fan, the Arsenal midfield is far more dangerous, imaginative and attackingly productive.

This is why Paul Scholes is so important to United. He has the quality and vision to do what the Arsenal midfield do – find that clever ball, cut open the opposition defence – create a goal.

Unfortunately, when he came on against Marseille, he was getting frustrated by the movement around him, and couldn’t make the impact that was hoped for. He has been sitting on the bench all game watching the defence and midfield try hopeful long balls to no avail, with the penetrative “fantasy” that Deschamps was talking about woefully absent.

United can be better, they have proved it before this season, but unfortunately, they haven’t shown it enough, especially away from home. Ferguson will certainly need to add to his midfield in the summer that is beyond doubt, especially if he is to be without Paul Scholes if he decides to retire. The United manager will also need to spend big on quality and not potential, as this is a problem that needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.

United have some tough remaining fixtures with two games against Chelsea, and one away game against Arsenal at the Emirates where the two midfields will come face to face. I still tip United for the win, as the defence is far stronger (Chris Smalling was brilliant with Vidic again), but Arsenal have a superior midfield, which is something that needs to be sorted out if the Red Devils are to challenge for all the trophies next season.

Tell me what you think!

Submitted by DBSFootball

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