Man Utd 2 – 1 Arsenal: Why Fergie is like Captain Hook

The scoreline was entirely misleading…
If you missed the game and saw only the score, you might think that this was a close affair.  In fact, as an Arsenal supporter, you’d most probably be quietly relieved at the small disparity between the two teams – it’s a hell of an improvement upon 8-2, for one thing.  In reality, however, the gulf looked as wide as it ever has.  United missed a penalty and mustered a further seven shots on target.  Arsenal managed just three, all of which came during stoppage time at the end of a dead rubber of a second half.

There was a poignant sadness about Fergie…
Although Alex Ferguson was quick to state that his side “should have scored fix or six or maybe even more”, he didn’t seem to take too much pleasure in it.  In an interview with the BBC, he added:

“It was a strange game, nothing like the Arsenal – United games of the past.  It didn’t live up to his billing.”

He was disappointed.   Not just at his own side’s lack of efficiency, but at the sheer lack of competition.  Fergie loves a fight, and Arsenal simply didn’t give him one.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the film Hook, but it is one of Hollywood’s great cinematic masterpieces.  It features an astonishing turn from Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook.  He kidnaps the grown-up Peter Pan’s children, and uses them as bait to lure Pan to NeverNeverLand for one great last duel.   However, when Pan does show up, Hook realises he is now just a fat, flabby, middle-aged man.  He’s no longer the great warrior Hook loved to do battle with.  The war is over, and the eternally combative Hook is devastated.  That’s how Fergie looked in the post-game press conference: no smug self-satisfaction; just genuinely gutted that we can longer proffer a credible challenge.

In the film, encouraged by the Lost Boys and a preposterously named vagrant called ‘Rufio’, Pan rediscovers his former glories, learns to fly, fight and crow once more, and returns for one final titanic clash.  At the moment Arsenal look a long way from such a resurrection.  And Rufio is dead, so that’s out the window.

Not everything is Ivan Gazidis’ fault…
Last season Arsene Wenger took a lot of flak from supporters.  This season it seems to be Gazidis’ turn.  I do have a degree of understanding with some fans’ frustration at what they perceive as the poor running of the club.  But here’s the thing: an almost identical XI performed far better at the City of Manchester Stadium, in a game which finished 1-1 but in which Arsenal really ought to have won by a goal or two.  City and United are about as good as each other.  The disparity between those two Arsenal performances is nothing to do with Ivan Gazidis, and the responsibility for the downturn in form must be laid squarely at the door of the manager and the players.

Theo Walcott was never likely to start…
There are three reasons.  The first is that is contract situation has undoubtedly seen him slip down the pecking order.  The second is that he played 120 minutes in midweek.  The third is that Arsene was always likely to pick Aaron Ramsey on the right in the hope of replicating the aforementioned City performance.  Of those reasons, I genuinely believe that on this occasion the second and third were more influential than the first.  In future, however, I hope Arsene doesn’t cut off his nose to spite his face by leaving Theo out at a time when we plainly need him.

Thomas Vermaelen does not look like captain material…
When Robin van Persie took on the armband, he seemed to grow as a man and a player.  Since Thomas Vermaelen inherited it, he has shrivelled like a slug in a Bloody Mary.  His mistake for the opening goal was absolutely criminal, and it was an error which compounded several weeks of poor form.  Perhaps it’s unfortunate timing that this dip in his performances has coincided with becoming skipper, or perhaps the broadened responsibility has led his own game to suffer.  Either way, he needs to improve quickly.  At the moment the armband is the one thing keeping him in the team.

Give Santos a break…
You don’t have to know him to see that Andre Santos is a nice guy.  He’s always got a smile on his face, is clearly popular with the squad, and is basically a cheeky cuddly good sort of bloke.  Now, I will grant you this: he’s a bit slow, a bit positionally naive, and probably not good enough to be a long-term option for Arsenal at left-back.  He had a very poor game against QPR and quite a poor one against United.  And yes, he swapped shirts with Robin van Persie at half-time.  But none of that is enough to justify the abuse this guy is getting from his own ‘fans’ on twitter.

You may not know this, but pros swap shirts at half-time all the time.  It’s a regular thing.  It usually happens in the tunnel, rather than on the pitch, but it’s no biggie.  Especially between friends, and that’s what these players are.  Just like you might be friends with your former colleagues.  You all saw Van Persie hugging Arsene at half-time, just minutes after scoring the goal that separated the teams at that point, and yet Arsene seems to have escaped censure.

Santos is the latest in a long-line of scape goats.  The likes of Bendtner, Eboue and Arshavin have all been down that path before him, and it doesn’t end well.  Personally, I think it stinks, and I hate what I see a section of the fanbase dishing out to a guy who is still our player.  Get a grip, people.

We’re going backwards fast…
That’s the truth.  I’m not worried about shirt-swapping or referee decisions or anything else: I’m worried about this team.  The decline in recent weeks has been alarming.  Leaving aside that anomalous League Cup game, the first team have lost three of the last four.  On Tuesday night we face an intimidating trip to Schalke, and we’re only a couple of weeks away from a massive North London Derby.

We need to stop the rot.  At the moment we have slim trophy hopes and bleating fans.  We’re dangerously close to turning in to Liverpool.

Gunnerblog is the brainchild of childbrained football writer James McNicholas. Aside from Gunnerblog, James currently contributes to Bleacher Report, The Mirror and ESPN.