Erik ten Hag changed his tone and said he was happy with Manchester United’s overall defense this season, despite criticizing his side after the 3-2 loss to Arsenal.
United were 11 points behind the Gunners in the race for the Premier League title, with Eddie Nketiah scoring the final goal at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
After that game, Ten Hag said United’s defensive failures were “unacceptable”.
Speaking before the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest, Ten Hag explained that he was talking specifically about goal defense and was otherwise pleased with his team’s defensive efforts, although there is much to learn.
“I think in a lot of games we defended very well, we had a lot of clean sheets,” Ten Hag said.
“Against Man City” [in United’s recent 2-1 win at Old Trafford]We defended very well. I think, in general, we defended well against Arsenal.
“I don’t think they had a lot of accurate shots, I think one was from a free kick. But other than that, it was shooting from a distance, when we had a lot of defenders between the ball and the goal.
“That’s what I meant when I said that all goals are avoidable and it can’t be. That was my point: when you concede three goals in a top match, it’s very difficult to win the game.
“That’s what happened, so that’s one of the conclusions. This cannot be. We have come to this conclusion… we must learn this lesson.”
In this match, Arsenal scored 63 touches in the penalty area of Manchester United.
— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) January 22, 2023
Ten Hag, who took Diogo Dalot, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Martial out of the Forest game, also spoke of the importance of winning trophies, with United looking to end the streak without trophies from May 2017.
The 52-year-old has won three Eredivisie titles, two KNVB Cups and a Johan Cruyff Shield in his time at Ajax and said: “It’s about that, it’s about winning trophies.
“We have a good opportunity, but we have to move from game to game. So now we’re playing Forest, two stages, so focus on the first stage and don’t think any further because it will be distracting. So the goal for tomorrow is to win this game.
“It’s the best feeling you can get when you win a trophy. I’ve been lucky enough to win a few trophies in my career and it’s been great, especially for the fans. It’s so cool.
“The fans are here, they have some experience, especially the old fans. And now there has come a period when Manchester United have not won a single trophy, and it has been too long, so we are aware of this fact. We must do everything to bring the trophy.”