It was around the 50th minute mark where Chelsea was drawing 0-0 away from home against Southampton. Jose Mourinho hauled off fan favourite, Juan Mata, to replace him with Willian and Oscar; consequently, the former netted a goal and the latter provided an assist and a goal of his own.
That substitution was quite clearly the last nail in the coffin of Mata's Chelsea career prior to him making the much publicised move to Manchester United. That provocative, confident, ruthlessness in making changes from the bench has made Jose Mourinho's name in management, but on Wednesday night we saw a contrasting attitude by David Moyes during the bore draw at The Emirates.
Amidst all the gloom on the champions' season, we may forget that David Moyes has previously proven at Everton that he is one of the finest managers in the country; propelling Everton to their lofty standing in the table during his reign at Goodison has been over shadowed by demoralising defeats at the hands of sides that the Red Devils have historically discarded with ease, and if it’s going to get any better, Moyes must realise this himself and rediscover his tactical awareness he so freely exerted on his former sides.
His team started in north London with a rigid 4-4-2; with Mata and Valencia providing the width. Mata, a natural playmaker, has made his name in Europe predominantly playing in the no.10 behind the striker, although against Arsenal he was shifted out to the left.
The Spaniard struggled to make an impression in the second half, often eluding space on the flank when drifting inside to his favoured position to create an opportunity. His poor performance resulted in being replaced by Januzaj to prevent from him extending his impeccable scoring record against the Gunners.
However, this substitution underlined Moyes' desire not to change his tactics to suit the status quo. The 4-4-2 seemed similar to that of Manchester City's; two strikers, one a poacher, Robin van Persie - in City's case, Negredo - and one a hybrid of a no.9 and a no.10, Wayne Rooney - in their rivals case, Aguero. David Silva is their main creator and he is often plunged on the left for himself to drift inside, similar to what David Moyes possibly requires of their record signing, Mata.
After this the similarities stop. City are able to accommodate for two strikers and a playmaker because of their prowess from the middle of the park; Fernandinho and Yaya Toure apply the steel for David Silva's elegance and guile to shine through. On the other hand, Moyes has resulted in playing Cleverly and Carrick in the middle of the park due to the current squad's scarce supplies in that area of the pitch, two players who aren't known for their grit and tackling; rather their passing and engines. Individually they are good players, but when used together to provide a defensive shield their qualities seem to fade.
It seemed a game open for Mata to take by the hornes. With Arsenal not fielding a recognised defensive midfielder, the space was available to the £37m man to operate proceedings and create chances.
The Scotsman would have sacrificed support for Patrice Evra if he had encouraged Mata to drift more inside, which made it clear that he would have to alter the team shape in order to get his prized asset the space to exercise his talents.
With Fellaini on the bench he could have switched the formation to 4-3-1-2; Mata just behind Van Persie and Rooney; with three men in midfield to combat the same amount deployed by Wenger. This would allow United to maintain their defensive solidarity, but also provide an attacking spark from the middle of the pitch.
Instead, the former Everton man opted to make like-for-like changes when replacing his wingers with just fresh legs, contributing to the stagnant style of play.
Whether they came for a draw should be out of the question. In the situation they find themselves in it seems beyond comprehension that Moyes would settle for a point in the race for Champions League football.
It should have been imperative that they would attack at the Emirates - a happy hunting ground in recent times, but it’s one of those should-have, would-have seasons for David Moyes and his troops.
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