LONDON • Manchester United's players were left dismayed by Louis van Gaal's unwillingness to adopt the counter-attacking tactics that have served them well against Arsenal in the past, at the Emirates Stadium last Sunday.
Van Gaal had been encouraged in the build-up to the game to play a system that would involve sitting deeper and hitting on the break but the United manager rebuffed that request in favour of playing a pressing game that failed miserably en route to a dismal 3-0 defeat.
The Dutchman questioned his players' desire and failure to follow his game plan after United fluffed the first serious test of their English Premier League title credentials.
Yet United's players appeared to be perplexed by the instructions they were supposed to be following as confusion reigned and Arsenal ran riot, scoring three goals in the opening 19 minutes, United's worst start to a Premier League game.
The sight of Bastian Schweinsteiger, whose mobility has been severely restricted by a succession of injury problems in recent years, often trying to press the Arsenal defence as the most advanced United player was a curious one and served to leave more space in midfield for the home team to exploit ruthlessly.
Van Gaal defended the decision to omit Morgan Schneiderlin, United's most mobile defensive midfielder, in favour of a central partnership between the ageing Michael Carrick and Schweinsteiger but they were left brutally exposed by Arsenal's pace.
Arsenal had won just one of their previous 13 league meetings against United, who have often successfully utilised a counter-attacking strategy against Arsene Wenger's side. Several members of United's squad believed this was a proven formula that had worked well in the past and would be worth persisting with.
Juan Mata admitted "everything went wrong in the first half" against Arsenal and that United will not win anything playing like that. "The only thing I can say is that we shouldn't play a game like this again," the Spain midfielder said.
THE TIMES, LONDON