Whether you were inside Old Trafford or watching at home on Amazon Prime Video, it was impossible to take your eyes off the hallowed green turf as Manchester United and Arsenal contested a five-goal thriller on Thursday evening under the lights.
With new interim manager Ralf Rangnick, who was appointed as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s successor’s on a six-and-a-half month deal on Monday, watching from the stands, United’s players ensured they put on a show for him, running out 3-2 winners, with Cristiano Ronaldo, once again, the Reds’ saving grace, scoring what proved to be a famous and historic double.
While United deserve credit for serving up some much-needed entertainment for the Old Trafford faithful, who have been forced to stomach some forgettable performances and results in recent weeks, Arsenal also deserve credit for making it such an entertaining contest.
After all, it takes two to tango.
Although, certainly for the neutral, it made for a highly entertaining, attention-grabbing contest, there was still parts of United’s play that needs series improvement, not least their defensive standards.
OK, Arsenal’s first goal – scored by Emile Smith Rowe – was a bizarre one and such a scenario is unlikely to crop up again this season. But the second, coolly swept home by Martin Odegaard, raises questions.
Alex Telles had allowed fellow Brazilian Gabriel Martinelli to find no shortage of space down the left and Odegaard was left with the freedom of Old Trafford to fire home the Gunners’ second of the night. Whether it was Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Scott McTominay or Fred that was meant to be tracking him, it was not good enough.
But what’s done, is done. United cannot reflect on that particular situation with too much anger. After all, they went on to win the game and record a much-needed three points, ensuring Michael Carrick’s 15-year spell at Old Trafford ended on a high.
Nevertheless, defensive frailties cannot be allowed to continue. United have now conceded conceded 17 goals in ten matches at Old Trafford in all competitions so far this season, they have failed to register a single clean sheet at home so far this term and have kept just one clean sheet in their last 16 home games.
One shut-out in 16 is simply not acceptable for a club of Manchester United’s stature.
Solving the club’s defensive woes at home is a problem that Rangnick, who spoke with a high level of intelligence, understanding and, not least, pride at his United unveiling at an Old Trafford press conference on Friday morning, has to look at closely and find out just why United have shown such levels of vulnerability in their own back yard over the course of this calendar year.
Although he may not have delivered his assessment on that particular problem in such layman terms, it was, one would think, the point he was trying to make when he reflected on the end-to-end feel United’s victory over Arsenal had.
Rangnick said: “Yesterday’s game was exciting for the fans but for myself those are not the kind of games that we need every day because football is to minimise the coincidence factor and have control.
“The major target for me in the next couple of weeks is just to bring more balance into the team. Even yesterday, we conceded two goals and needed three goals, in the end, to win the game.
“If you look at the total number of goals conceded, it is almost two, on average, per game, and this is just too much.”
Rangnick is not wrong. United have been vulnerable defensively, so much so that even Leeds United and Newcastle United, when shipping five and four goals themselves, found a way to goal, robbing United of a clean sheet when they had recorded such convincing victories.
A key word Rangnick mentioned during his Old Trafford unveiling was ‘control’. As proven against Leeds and Newcastle, United have, even if only for short spells in those aforementioned games, lacked that. Under the German, they will need to be in ‘control’ right from minute one.
As proven by Chelsea – the Premier League’s current pace setters – the art of winning, more often than not, is built on defensive solidity and being in control of your own destiny. United shouldn’t be needing to score three or four times just to make sure of a victory.
As the days on the countdown to Christmas are ticked off, and the weeks pass by, Rangnick will discover more and more about his players and squad as a whole. However, tightening them up defensively has to be one of the very first tests that he passes successfully.