MANCHESTER, England – Paul Pogba left the field alone after playing a central role in the fall of Manchester United. The French midfielder's unnecessary foul on Hector Bellerin in the 68th minute resulted in the penalty that saw Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang secure Arsenal's first league win at Old Trafford since 2006.
Always lacking defensive skills, Pogba conceded another penalty in their 6-1 home defeat to Tottenham last month when a similar thoughtless challenge against Ben Davies resulted in a penalty for the opponent.
This is the problem with Pogba. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can only count on the £ 89million player to fail him. Therefore, the question arises why the United manager continues to entrust him with a place on the team. United's loss to Arsenal isn't Pogba story, but it embodies the reason why Solskjaer is still running around in circles after 100 responsible games and why Gunners boss Mikel Arteta is pushing his team forward more convincingly instead.
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When Arteta took command in the Emirates last December, he inherited a talented but unreliable midfielder in Mesut Ozil. After less than a year, Arteta threw Ozil into the wild and made a plan without the German. This decision underlines the certainty and conviction of the Spaniard and is now reflected in his team.
As for Solskjaer, no one knows exactly where United is headed and Pogba sums up how the team is moving towards the doldrums.
Yes, they beat Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig in the Champions League this season, but United are now 15th in the Premier League with seven points from six games and haven't won any of their first four home league games for the first Times since the 1972/73 season. The Solskjaer cheerleaders are free to celebrate Champions League wins, but the Premier League is the key to the club and United are already nine points behind leaders Liverpool. So you can forget the title for another year.
Not so long ago, United versus Arsenal was the game that played a role in the Premier League. Between 1996 and 2004, the two teams won nine titles in nine seasons. Those days are long gone – Arsenal haven't won the title since 2004, United since 2013 – but they're such big clubs that they should both be a lot closer to the top than they are now.
Despite being at Arsenal less than half the time Solskjaer was at United, Arteta clearly has his team on the road to recovery by imposing a coherent plan that includes signing players to resolve clear issues. This marked the first time since a Manchester City win in January 2015 – a run of 29 games – Arsenal had won against a so-called Big Six opponent, and the win had Arteta's fingerprints everywhere.
Two of his big summer signings – defender Gabriel and midfielder Thomas Partey – were key figures in this win. Gabriel built a solid line of defense for Arsenal with his aggression and organization skills and kept Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood calm. And Partey dominated midfield, albeit against a United side struggling to get their diamond formation up and running.
Mikel Arteta's arsenal is trending, but the same cannot be said of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Man United. Getty
By the time Arteta arrived eleven months ago to replace the sacked Unai Emery, Arsenal's problems in the back and midfield had become an embarrassment, issues that Emery and Wenger had somehow not resolved. But Arteta has already dealt with both and his strategic recruitment over the summer was key to that.
In contrast, Solskjaer and United have again paid the price for a shambolic summer window. Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek, who bought £ 40m from Ajax, has not yet started a league game but with Pogba and Bruno Fernandes already playing in his preferred position, why should he sign him in the first place? United needed a commanding midfielder and a defensive midfielder just like Arsenal, but both issues could not be resolved.
Arteta got what he wanted and needed, but Solskjaer had a midfielder he hadn't targeted and two gaping holes were left vacant.
But it's not just about signatures either. Tactically, Solskjaer was brought back to school by Arteta, who deployed full-backs Bellerin and Kieran Tierney far out to take advantage of the lack of width caused by United's diamond formation. The pair wreaked havoc all afternoon – the contrast between United full-backs Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka was remarkable – and Solskjaer was on his hands as United yelled for a change in approach.
But Solskjaer has never shown much confidence or direction as a United coach, so it's no surprise his side play the same way. Meanwhile, Arteta Arsenal has a positive image and his team looks good.
These two clubs will get it right again at some point, but the smart money would be for Arsenal to get there first.