United beat Arsenal 3-1 with a display of counter-attacking football that Solskjaer saw as one of their most complete performances of his eight-game tenure. United won 1-0 at Wembley against Tottenham earlier this month but he rated this as a more complete performance than that. When United beat Spurs they were reliant on David De Gea making half a dozen impressive saves to keep Tottenham out. Tonight Sergio Romero had far less to do. After taking the lead early on, United had the game exactly where they wanted it.
“David De Gea saved us [against Spurs], today Sergio [Romero] had a fantastic save in the second half but our structure was miles, miles better,” Solskjaer said afterwards. “We’ve been working on that because we need to dig in and defend properly against good teams.”
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“Today we looked more like a proper team, we looked more structured. We had worked hard at defending and at counter-attacking.”
United’s second goal was the most classic counter of all, breaking away after an Arsenal attack, Ander Herrera to Romelu Lukaku to Jesse Lingard, sweeping from one end of the pitch to the other. It was reminiscent of United scoring past Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final here in 2009. Solskjaer had showed his players videos of that beforehand, and the players lived up to the example that had been set. Solskjaer sounded vindicated in his post-match press conference.
“That was classic Manchester United counter-attacking,” he said. “There are so many examples of that against Arsenal – [Wayne] Rooney, [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Ji-Sung] Park and we showed them those videos.
“If you go through the history and the games against Arsenal, even I scored in ’97 after defending a corner kick, and everyone knows about the classic Champions League goal with Park, Rooney and Ronaldo.”
It was Lingard who finished that goal tonight and Solskjaer was delighted for his young midfielder, especially given that he is a player who is himself steeped in United history, and who has learned all about those famous Arsenal defeats of the past. Solskjaer has taken great pride from his successes so far and hopes for more in the future.
“Jesse is someone we never, never hesitate to put in a Man United team,” he said. “He has been brought through this system, he knows what this means, he knows the club, he knows this history, he knows all the counter-attacking goals we’ve scored against Arsenal. He knows everything about the club and he’s someone we’ll look after.”