Let me set the scene.
Over the years on FM Jose Mourinho and I have had a very special relationship, that is to say, I absolutely hate his guts and often wish him a slow, painful death after losing to his Man Utd sides for the umpteenth time. I’d like to think we had nurtured a degree of respect and decorum but alas, he is not one for such decency and quite frankly when it comes to this particular bastard neither am I.
As for as my time at Arsenal in this save was concerned we had by in large had the better of Mourinho and Utd, we came into the 2020/21 season off the back of two successive Premier League titles with Utd coming runners-up each time. Utd did, however, have the better of us in the cup competitions, beating us in two domestic cup finals and knocking us out at the semi final stage twice as well.
Utd boasted the likes of Higuain, Morata, Mahrez, Suso, Denis Suarez, Golovin & Doucoure (he’s actually very good on FM) and snapped up Kingsley Coman in January 2021 to help push for their first Premier League title since 2017/18. This post will summarise this eventful season and highlight a few key matches along the way.
Utd flew out of the blocks this season winning 15 of their opening 17 games and drawing the other 2. We, on the other hand, lost 3 games and drew 1 in the same amount of time. All 3 of our losses came away from home as I tinkered with a system that, ideally, was defensively sound but dangerous on the counter attack – it’s fair to say my tinkering didn’t go well and I was incredibly frustrated with the 3 early defeats. Utd then travelled to the Emirates in what was a must-win game for us.
Arsenal v Utd – 26/12/2020
Utd lined up in their usual 4-1-4-1 formation with Higuain up top and Martial the danger man from ML, yet it was Martial’s role at ML that we were able to exploit for the first goal.
Martial’s attacking role causes him to close down Arthur, our DLP-D at MC allowing Milinkovic-Savic to move laterally into a narrow right midfield position enabled by his role as a Mezzala(S) and player trait of ‘Moves into channels’, Bellerin at FB-A needs no excuse to fly into the space vacated by Martial down the right flank. Milinkovic-Savic passes to the onrushing Bellerin. He swings an early cross into Aubameyang who impossibly cushions a header 3 yards to Nketiah who taps in from 4 yards out. 77 minutes gone and it’s 1-0.
As the clock wound down towards full time Utd started to commit more players forwards opening up greater gaps between their midfield and defence, from their goal kick Lucas wins the header at DC to Asensio (playing as a Trequartista in the AMC slot) who gets the better of Denis Suarez and turns into a lot of open ground.
Aubameyang (CF-A ) collects a short pass with his back to goal and runs a few yards back towards the halfway line. This draws Utd’s right back (Eric Bailly for some reason) towards himself and the ball freeing up the marauding Kieren Tierney (FB-A) to sprint into the vacated space.
Centrally we have overloaded Utd’s centre backs with Asensio rushing next to Nketiah as well as Ozil a few yards behind.
Tierney bombs on behind the 18 yrd line and squares a low ball into the near post (I specifically instruct for low crosses) for the onrushing Asensio to slot the ball into the near post and wrap up the 3 points. 2-0 to the Arsenal.
At the halfway point in the season this victory brought us back within 4 points of Utd at the top of the table and I was hoping we’d use the result as a catalyst for the rest of the season.
Three further wins followed in the league for both Arsenal & Utd before our January blues.
Utd comfortably beat us at Old Trafford in the EFL/Carabao/Carling/Mickey Mouse Cup and as you can see we couldn’t beat them at home and were unceremoniously dumped out, these results were sandwiched by 3 pitiful draws to mediocre sides prompting us to fall 10 points behind Utd as we moved into February. Chelsea were hot on our heels.
Thankfully our form picked up as we won 6 of the next 7 games. The 2-2 draw with City was mighty frustrating as we conceded a 91st minute Kevin de Bruyne equaliser, but it was a crucial point because…
Utd has their own sticky spell by their incredibly high standards this season as they drew two and lost 1 of their next 5 games including a surprising home defeat to City & draw with a very average Leicester side.
So we were into mid-March and the gap was cut to 5 points. Chelsea were only 2 points behind us at this stage and Stamford Bridge was our next destination.
Chelsea v Arsenal 03/04/2020
We have notoriously struggled to beat teams away from home in the last 3 seasons which led me to try and find a different system than my usual 4-1-4-1. This season, after the 3 early defeats away from home, however, I returned back to this solid system and with a few tweaks, it was doing the business against sides weaker than us. Chelsea had us well matched however so it was this game I decided to match their 4-3-3/4-1-2-3 system like for like, moving my wide players up in the AM strata with Ozil as an AP-S from AML and £62m valued Reiss Nelson as a W-S at AMR.
The match was an incredibly tight affair with both teams essentially nullifying each other across the pitch, that was until the 38th minute as Leon Bailey (bought for £71m from Leverkusen) made a fool of Bellerin down the wing and whipped a cross in for Dolberg to head home.
We had created a few half chances and had restricted them to very little by this point so I made no changes. Ozil picked the ball up deep and narrow due to his AP-S role and Tierney has seen the space ahead with Chelsea’s wide men drawn to Arsenal & thankfully ignorant of Tierney’s run.
Tierney, so good for me all season yet again, can’t be caught and as he passes the 18-yard line plays a square ball to the onrushing Asensio, almost a carbon copy of our 2nd goal vs Utd earlier in the season?
Not quite, Asensio is slightly further out and back than before so instead runs the ball to the byline before cutting back to Nelson at the far post to tap in. 1-1 on 52 minutes.
We didn’t stop there and despite losing Dybala to injury after 59mins continued to frustrate Chelsea and threaten through Tierney & Nelson. A long goal kick from Rios (our resident Colombian wonderkid) sees the ball drop over Chelsea’s left back Digne and Nelson bring it under control.
Nelson moves on before playing the ball into Lacazette (in for Dybala at CF-A). Our central midfielders can sniff an opportunity as they all bomb on ahead of Chelsea’s midfield.
Danilo gets a foot in on Lacazette and the ball fortuitously breaks to Nelson who whips in a first time ball to the far post where Wilshere has made a run between centre half & right back.
Wilshere executes a cracking volley to beat Courtois at his near post through sheer power and precision! We take a 2-1 lead on 80 minutes and hold on for a huge, huge away win.
Both ourselves and Utd win our next three matches that follow and my chances and hopes of winning a third consecutive title and keeping the smug smile off of Mourinho’s face start to dwindle.
We go out of the Champions League at the Quarter Final stage to PSG on away goals unsettling a few players who had been promised Champions League glory this season. Could we keep winning through to the end of the season? Would Utd let slip a 5 point lead with 3 games to go?
Oh and I should point out, the last game of the season is Utd v Arsenal – at Old Trafford.