Man United have found their FA Cup final gameplan to avoid risking their biggest liability

United conceded a soft goal against Arsenal after another Casemiro mistake -Credit:2024 The Arsenal Football Club Plc
United conceded a soft goal against Arsenal after another Casemiro mistake -Credit:2024 The Arsenal Football Club Plc

Manchester United produced a much-improved performance but suffered a 14th Premier League defeat of the season as they went down 1-0 to Arsenal at Old Trafford.

United can hold their heads high after giving Arsenal a tough time at Old Trafford in a game nobody expected them to win. The Gunners will take the title race to the final day of the season but they were fortunate to get all three points.

Leandro Trossard gave them the lead after another Casemiro mistake in the first half but United were the better team for large parts of the game and deserved a point. The draw leaves them eighth in the table with two games to go, but the performance will give them belief they can salvage a European spot through their league finish.

ALSO READ: 'Look at him jog' - Gary Neville hammers Casemiro over Arsenal goal

ALSO READ: Pre-match scenes before United lost to Arsenal suggest big decision is coming

Here's what we discovered from the match.

Casemiro's end game

After an iffy first four minutes, United had actually settled into this game impressively and they were looking surprisingly assured until they supplied a title-chasing team with an absolute gift of a goal.

When Andre Onana received the ball Casemiro dropped deep to offer him a pass, while Sofyan Amrabat also came short. Everybody else turned their back and walked up the pitch. Onana shifted the ball to his left and towards an attacker so then had no choice but to launch it up the pitch.

To the surprise of nobody it came straight back at them. Casemiro's attempts to get out and try and catch Kai Havertz offside were pitiful, but the lack of organisation from the ball going to Onana had caused the issues. It was a classic case of a team having no idea what they were supposed to be doing in a certain situation within a game and when it's compounded by either individual errors or lazy defending then it becomes a problem.

But it was still avoidable if Casemiro had worked harder to get out once the ball had gone long. As Gary Neville said on commentary, it was a "basic error". There have been too many of those this season and United have to find a way out for the Brazilian this summer.

Cup final template

Erik ten Hag will hope to have at least a couple of his injured cohort available for the FA Cup final in just under a couple of weeks, but this game has to now act as a template for what United can do at Wembley.

They started this match as barely believable 8/1 outsiders and will be similar odds to cause a shock under the arch. They showed that price to be wrong against Arsenal and will need to show the same kind of spirit and fight against Manchester City.

With Sofyan Amrabat in the side they were most disciplined defensively and more secure here. That has to be the focus against City and having been so poor defensively for weeks, they now have a gameplan they can try and emulate in what will be their biggest game of the season.

If Lisandro Martinez is fit enough to resume action on May 25 then he should come into the side for Casemiro, who doesn't deserve to reclaim his place from Amrabat in midfield. He has been a liability of late and can't be risked against a side as good as City.

Hojlund finding it hard

Rasmus Hojlund had managed just six shots in his last seven starts for United, three of them coming in the same game against Sheffield United, so it was no surprise that he was a bit ring rusty when he got an early chance.

Scott McTominay's excellent work in taking the ball off Thomas Partey created the opportunity, but from the centre of goal and around 19 yards out, Hojlund fluffed his line and hit a left-footed shot against his standing foot. It summed up his difficulties at the moment.

While Kai Havertz led the line with intelligence for Arsenal, often dropping deep to get on the ball and moving wide as well, Hojlund couldn't get in the game. When he got the ball with his back to goal in a good position later in the first half he was bullied off it far too easily by Gabriel and William Saliba.

Maybe this shouldn't be a surprise. Hojlund is still relatively raw and has been forced to play more than he should have this season, but for £72million United can expect more. The Dane needs to kick on ahead of next season.

Players respond

It felt like a response from the United players was absolutely essential against Arsenal. They collapsed in a heap against Crystal Palace and the comparison between their efforts and those of the travelling fans couldn't have been starker.

That had been referenced a few times in the week and it made a performance of greater commitment and industry a given against Arsenal. On this occasion, it was the fans responding to the players.

With the game in the balance around the hour mark the atmosphere ramped up several notches at Old Trafford. When Willy Kambwala went to warm up he raised his hands asking for even more.

United's fans liked what they were seeing, buoyed by an improved performance from their own team as well as a disappointing display from a title-chasing Arsenal side.

Title nerves

Arsenal had won't at Old Trafford in front of a crowd since 2006 and when you add in the nerves of a title race in which they know a mistake will be fatal, it's probably to be expected that they were to show some nerves.

This was a hugely disappointing display from Mikel Arteta's side, however, and one that must worry them ahead of next weekend. Even if Manchester City drop points at Tottenham on Tuesday, you wouldn't say Arsenal beating Everton at the Emirates is a formality on this evidence.

As bad as this season has been for United, they have at least given two title chasers a tough day at Old Trafford. Liverpool's challenge collapsed in a 2-2 draw here and Arsenal were extremely fortunate to escape with their challenge still alive.