With Rodgers gone, spotlight falls on van Gaal
Rodgers' sacking puts Dutchman under scrutiny as tough games loom
(Alexis Sanchez 6, 19, Mesut Oezil 7)
MAN UNITED 0
Nineteen brutal minutes were all it took for Manchester United to come apart at the seams.
The title hopefuls travelled to Emirates Stadium from a vantage point on the English Premier League table, looking to send out a strong statement of intent.
Instead, they returned with tails tucked between the legs, licking their wounds as Arsenal seized the initiative and the points yesterday morning (Singapore time).
From the rubble, United must regain their confidence.
But, from the carnage, questions about United's mettle have also asked.
There were few positives manager Louis van Gaal could take from the comprehensive 3-0 defeat.
After Alexis Sanchez (6th and 19th minutes) and Mesut Oezil (7th minute) scored thrice to give Arsenal an unassailable lead, United improved in the second half.
But, as van Gaal himself admitted, the Gunners had taken their foot off the pedal by then.
Heavy losses such as this undermine the Red Devils' position as genuine title contenders, but it is the psychological damage that could put a huge dent on their title aspirations.
It could turn pear-shaped by the end of the month, as the testing fixtures come thick and fast.
Their next match (Oct 17) pits them against Everton, who produce an energy level and practise a pressing game similar to Arsenal's.
The Red Devils' record at Goodison Park will form a mental barrier. United's last three Premiership matches there have all ended in losses, with an aggregate 6-0 scoreline in favour of the Toffees.
The following Premiership outing is the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, a ground where City have outscored them 13-6 in league matches over the last four seasons.
As if the task wasn't difficult enough, the Red Devils will play CSKA Moscow in freezing temperatures in Russia, just four days before the City clash.
Van Gaal will have no choice but to go all out against the Russian club, as Group B hasn't quite turned out to be the stroll it was expected to be - all four teams are tied on three points after two games.
Their final game of this month comes on away turf against Crystal Palace, feisty underdogs who have punched well above their weight to occupy fourth place in the standings.
Brendan Rodgers' sacking is a reminder of the brutal nature of football management.
Critics said that his results at Liverpool did not justify his profligate spending in the transfer market, and that it eventually returned to haunt him.
Van Gaal will come under similar, if not more intense, scrutiny should United crumble in this challenging month.
The Dutchman has spent approximately £259 million ($560m) on new players, compared to the ex-Liverpool manager's £292m.
However, to give an idea of how much more extravagant van Gaal's expenditure has been, one has to look at the length of their stints.
Rodgers lasted three years and four months. Van Gaal joined the Red Devils only last year.
What happens if United don't win any of their next three league games, as well as the important Champions League clash with CSKA?
Considering the quality of the opposition, it's not that far of a stretch.
United's owners have allowed van Gaal's indulgence so far but, when the gap at the top of Premiership table significantly widens and progress in the Champions League becomes increasingly uncertain, will they keep the faith?
As van Gaal negotiates his way through the mine-ridden terrain that is October, he will do well to bear Rodgers' plight in mind.
When the music stops, the buck stops too.
MAN UNITED'S OCTOBER FIXTURES
- Oct 17: Everton(Away, EPL)
- Oct 22: CSKA Moscow(Away, Champions League)
- Oct 25: Man City(Home, EPL)
- Oct 29: Middlesbrough(Home, League Cup)
- Oct 31: Crystal Palace(Away, EPL)
Neville blasts United's midfield
Gary Neville says Manchester United's midfield was "outnumbered, outplayed and outfought", as they slumped to a surprise 3-0 defeat by Arsenal yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Louis van Gaal's side were top of the table at the start of the weekend, but were stunned by a rampant first-half display from Arsenal, which saw Alexis Sanchez (two) and Mesut Oezil fire the home side into a three-goal lead in less than 20 minutes.
Analysing the game in the Gary Neville Podcast, the Sky Sports pundit argued that Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney didn't offer enough protection from the impressive midfield play of their opponents.
He said: "Manchester United looked shell-shocked and it didn't look like they were prepared for Arsenal's strengths - which were Cazorla in midfield and Oezil getting in space.
"I have to say the tactic around the use of Schweinsteiger in the first half was odd. Not maybe to start with.
"If you look at the very start of the game, United's back four were pushed really far up the pitch. It looked like they were on the front foot and were going to go for them.
"After four or five minutes and you're 2-0 down, you think it must stop.
"You have to retreat. You have to do something different and there was no change at all in the first half from United, no adaptation from what was happening.
"Schweinsteiger, Carrick and Rooney got completely outnumbered, outplayed and outfought. Everything you wouldn't want in a central midfield.
"It exposed them. Juan Mata and Memphis Depay don't get back and double up with Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young and it exposed United's fullbacks in particular.
"Darmian probably had the most difficult game he's had. He's done very well since coming over from Italy, but he really struggled today and was subbed at half-time.
"The midfield that protected United's back four in the past few weeks has been a very compact unit all the way through the team, but it wasn't there today.
"They got dismantled in that first half and the two fullbacks got exposed against very, very good Arsenal play."
Van Gaal was at a loss to explain the reasons behind the shambolic defensive display.
"I didn't expect that," he said. "I was surprised, amazed, maybe that is a better word - not performing our game plan, not having the will to win.
"When you give a team like Arsenal so much space to play football, then you know that you shall lose.
"And we prepared ourselves also in that way, to play more contact, but don't lose your aggression.
"It was amazing for me and I am very disappointed.
"We have lost in a way that you cannot lose when you are top of the league - you cannot start like we have started and the players know that.
"The worst thing is that everybody is going away. They are flying away (on international duty) and I cannot build up a new situation that they have the confidence to play football, to win your next battle against Everton away." - PA Sport.