Football:Louis van Gaal's Manchester United have struggled against weaker sides

Manchester United managed to find a way past Shrewsbury and FC Midtjylland but what chance do they have against Arsenal? More than you might think. It's the results against the lesser lights that have wrecked Louis van Gaal's season, writes Adam Bate...

The last time Manchester United faced Arsenal was one of the more chastening experiences that Louis van Gaal's men have endured this season - and there's been some stiff competition. Three goals down inside 20 minutes, United were utterly overwhelmed.

And yet, that 3-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to games against the bigger teams. For all the pressure he finds himself under, the curious truth about Van Gaal this season is that his record against the best is not the issue.
In fact, the defeat at Arsenal is United's only reverse against a top-four side. They're yet to concede against Tottenham or Manchester City, while only the Gunners fared better at Leicester. Van Gaal has also done the double over Liverpool for a second successive season.

It's not been particularly pretty, but these are not the results that are holding United back. For context, in United's most recent Premier League title-winning season - Sir Alex Ferguson's final one at the helm - the results against their rivals were actually inferior.
Not only did United lose at home to Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham, but they were also beaten at Everton on the opening weekend of the season. It meant that Ferguson took only 14 points from his 10 matches against other members of the top six in 2012-13.

The marked difference came in United's dealings with the bottom half of the table. Incredibly, Ferguson's United took maximum points home and away against every single team from twelfth down - 18 wins out of 18. It was a ruthlessly efficient performance.
The contrast with Van Gaal's United is stark. As well as the home defeat to Norwich, his team has been beaten at Bournemouth, Swansea and Sunderland. Remarkably, no other team in the Premier League - Aston Villa included - has lost four times to the bottom six.

So is it bad luck or bad tactics? Van Gaal might point to Murphy's Law but United's passivity is a problem. There is talk of playing a 'positional game' but the cautious approach is proving particularly counter-productive against inferior opposition.
Van Gaal's search for controlled football is having the opposite effect. Reducing the number of opportunities for both teams makes control an illusion and increases the possibility of the other side taking what few chances there are. Everyone is in the game against United.

That's literally the case when so many matches remain goalless into the second half. Jesse Lingard's opener against Stoke this month was the first they'd scored before the break in a Premier League game at Old Trafford since September.
There had been seven games in between. Although some seek to explain this by talking of a lost aura, it's not necessarily about what the opposition are doing. More likely, it's about what United are not doing. Not enough overlaps, not enough intensity and not enough ambition. It's proving costly.

Indeed, an examination of what the Premier League table would look like without these slip ups against the bottom six highlights the significance of them. Only leaders Leicester have picked up more points-per-game than United once these results are excluded.
In other words, Van Gaal's United have a better record against the better teams than both Arsenal and Manchester City. Had they matched even the worst record of the four teams above them against the bottom six, Van Gaal's men would have 50 points - three off top.

All of which is bad news for any Arsenal supporters assuming they can travel to Old Trafford on Sunday expecting victory. Don't be too shocked if Van Gaal comes up with something. As for those May fixtures against Norwich and Bournemouth, that might be a different story.

Reference source:skysport