Man United 1 – 0 Arsenal: Anticlimactic end to a good week

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This felt like an anti-climax…
Arsenal had an opportunity to do something special, and didn’t take it.

Given our momentum going in to the game, I fancied us to turn United over. Having witnessed their workmanlike but uninspiring display, I’m convinced an in-form Arsenal could have done just that.

Sadly, we were far from our best. In the first half, Arsenal looked sloppy and sometimes sleepy. We improved in the second half, but still lacked imagination and energy. One wonders if, after draining ties with Liverpool and Dortmund, this was a big game too far.

I’m not too keen to dissect the goal…
Yes, Aaron Ramsey could have done better at the near post. Kieran Gibbs did drift from his position on the line, but without being a foot taller I’m not sure how much he could have done regardless of where he stood.

Every goal can be broken down in terms of errors. If defences were perfect, every game would end 0-0.

Sometimes you just have to take your hat off to a great delivery and a great leap.

RVP is welcome to celebrate…
Do you want his respect? His pity? I know I don’t.

There is no love lost between Robin and Arsenal. Why disguise it? Pretending otherwise is just silly.

United are an interesting case study for the theory that “strikers win games”…
It’s my firm belief that Arsenal had the stronger XI going in to this match. Our midfield compares particularly favourably with United’s.

However, the old adage goes that strikers win games, and so it proved. One moment of combination between Rooney and Van Persie was enough for United to secure the three points.

United’s midfield was also weak last season, but Van Persie was able to bail them out time after time, and they ended up as champions. A world class goal-getter can mask many deficiencies.

As good as Olivier Giroud has been this season, I think we’d be getting ahead of ourselves to suggest he’s in the same bracket as United’s front two. However, that’s not a fixed situation. As Wenger often says, you should never put limits on any player’s potential. If Giroud continues to improve at his current rate, that hierarchy might soon change.

What’s preposterous is that we have so little support for Giroud. Introducing Bendtner at Old Trafford, on the day he has made public his displeasure with Arsenal and Arsene, felt absurd.

Strikers win games. And we don’t have enough.

I think we’re right to expect more from Ozil…
Let’s be honest: he hasn’t played particularly well since the Norwich match on October 19th. In the six games since then he has struggled to impose himself on the game, often being forced to drift out to the right just to find space.

That’s partly due to tight marking. Teams are wise to his threat and are shutting him down.

Granted, he is still adapting. Ozil is encountering new problems, but he has the intelligence and the talent to overcome them. Arsenal need Ozil to start finding solutions.

We really really need players back now…
To go to Old Trafford with young Isaac Hayden on the bench tells you just how thin our squad is in some areas. An injection of width and pace from Theo Walcott will be very welcome indeed, whilst the efficient finishing of Lukas Podolski can not be far behind.

Arsene said afterwards that a draw would have been fair…
He’s right, really. However, the same would also be true of our midweek win over Dortmund. The truth is that top-level games are always decided by the finest of margins. In mid-week Arsenal were hailed as heroes; tomorrow they’d be ridiculous as flops. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in-between. While our failure to beat our major domestic rivals is frustrating, the numbers don’t lie: we have been the best team in England this calendar year.

There’s no need for despondency…
The wider results this weekend were generally very kind to us. We’re still top of league; still exceeding expectations. We’re on course to qualify from the group stage of the Champions League, and have plenty of players on the way back.

If there’s one thing that’s certain this year, it’s that the eventual Premier League winners will lose several games along the way.

It could still be us. Nothing I saw at Old Trafford made me think otherwise.

Further Reading:

Arsenal 0 – 2 Chelsea: Arsenal understudies fluff their lines

Match report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

The top story is: Chelsea’s reserves are better than Arsenal’s reserves…
I’m not sure there has been a squad in Premier League history as grossly bloated with talent as this current Chelsea group.

For this match Jose Mourinho was able to make 10 changes, yet the side he fielded would stand every chance of challenging for major honours. To have the likes of Juan Mata in reserve is beyond luxury and bordering upon absurdity.

The signing of Willian was symbolic of Abramovich and Mourinho’s tendency towards excess. When Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil, it was said that the Gunners didn’t “need” the German. Such an argument is plainly nonsense when held up against the Willian deal. Chelsea truly didn’t need the Brazilian. They signed him because they could, and because they feared his acquisition would strengthen a rival.

Wenger would never do that – even if he had the financial resources. He’d worry about congesting his squad, or allocating such a huge proportion of the club’s budget to a player who will not feature frequently.

Mourinho, on the other hand, is too short-termist to care, and Abramovich too rich. They build and build and buy and buy and now they’ve got a squad that contains at least two teams – maybe more. It might not be ethical but it’s pretty effective.

By contrast, Arsenal’s reserves are just that: players who fall a little way short of the standards expected of the first-team. Against Chelsea, it showed.

It would be disingenuous to blame it all on the stand-ins…
Arsenal fielded the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla in midfield, and none of those players hit the heights usually expected of them.

However, Carl Jenkinson had a shocker…
The opening goal exposed his major weakness: his aerial ability. First he was indecisive, then ungainly. It was a dreadful mistake to make.

Unfortunately for Jenkinson, even the areas of his game that are consistently positive, such as his crossing, were uncharacteristically poor.

He’s not as bad as he looked last night. However, it’s becoming clear that he may not be as good as he looked in the early part of last season.

Jenkinson’s current ability level lies somewhere in between the two poles: he is a good prospect with plenty to learn. He is not yet close to taking over as Arsenal’s first-choice right-back.

The sooner Bacary Sagna gets a new contract, the better.

Nicklas Bendtner looked as rusty as you’d expect…
Nothing stuck to the big Dane, and he even looked timid in front of goal. Believe it or not, the man with who turned the self-esteem up to 11 in his psychological profiling test looked short of confidence.

However, I refuse to believe he didn’t try. What would he have to gain from that? You’ve got a guy here who knows he’s on his last chance to make it with a big club, and whose contract expires this summer. He has every incentive to do well. Everyone agreed he seemed motivated and energised against Norwich. Now, all of a sudden, he doesn’t care? I don’t buy it.

The simple truth is he lacked service. A conventional target man like Bendtner is dependent upon supply.

Lacking in fitness? Certainly. Lacking in quality? Arguably. But those things, rather than a lack of will, were his principal crimes. And how booing him is supposed to help matters I have no idea.

Ryo Miyaichi is an odd one…
The coaching staff seem convinced he’s a gem, but he always looks more of a perfectly pleasant but inspiring pebble to me. Quick, with decent technique, but nothing special. I’m sure he’ll prove me wrong in time but I do wonder how great a toll all those injuries have taken.

Criticising Wenger’s selection policy is missing the point…
He didn’t have a huge amount of choice.

I’m convinced that had Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem, Yaya Sanogo and Thomas Eisfeld been fit to start they would have been involved tonight. However, the crop of youngsters Wenger considers most appropriate to blood were almost entirely unavailable.

Wenger will have been disappointed that he was forced to use Ramsey, Wilshere and Cazorla, especially having failed to pick up a positive result. However, he’d gladly trade off Capital One Cup progression for three points against Liverpool on Saturday. That match is taking on more significance by the day.

For further reading follow me on Twitter @gunnerblog. More reaction to come throughout the day.

Arsenal 1 – 3 Aston Villa: It was just a mirage

I had a vision of a better Arsenal. It was a vision sold to me by Ivan Gazidis, who promised me that after a decade of harsh desert we were approaching an oasis of plenty. It was a vision that sustained me through a summer starved of football.

It seemed entirely plausible: Arsenal were changing. The shifting financial landscape had left us in a position of relative security. Our prudence had paid off, and it was time for the purse-strings to be loosened. Arsenal would challenge for major honours once again.

It was a vision that I, somewhat foolishly, believed in. And it was just a mirage.

The dream evaporated and condensed in to the cold wet reality of a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa. Some dream. Some start.

Arsenal must be the only club in world football who can begin the summer with a triumphant declaration of renewed spending power, yet plunge in to crisis just one game of the new season. The journey between that zenith and the subsequent nadir has been riddled with negligence and incompetence.

Let’s put this simply: a better Arsenal side would have beaten Aston Villa, regardless of referees and injuries. Arsenal have the resources to build a better team – they spent the early part of the summer boasting publicly about the fact – they have simply neglected to do so.

The buck stops with Arsene Wenger. It is easy to make jokes the vagueness of Gazidis’ role or the clowning of chief negotiator Dick Law, but the truth is that all major decisions on transfer policy are made by one man: Arsene.

My impression is that Gazidis and the board would like to see Arsene spend. However, the manager seems unwilling to let go of the parsimonious habits of the last ten years.

Wenger is fond of challenging reporters to name potential targets:

People always say ‘buy players, buy players, buy players’. When you tell them ‘tell me who?’ it becomes much more problematic.

I’ll play your game, Arsene: Gonzalo Higuain. Luis Gustavo. Etienne Capoue. Paulinho. All of those players are well within our financial grasp and would significantly improve our squad. Two have joined our closest rivals. Arsenal are knowingly allowing the gap to close.

Our squad is in a state of drastic disrepair. A spate of injuries picked up on Saturday means we must travel to Fenerbahce for a crucial Champions League qualifier with a severely weakened team.

There is still time left in this transfer window. What’s more, I fully expect Arsene to embark on another desperate trolley dash before the window closes. However, by then, it may already be too late.

Tottenham 2 – 1 Arsenal: The Defending is Indefensible

Tottenham 2 – 1 Arsenal 
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction 

Those Arsenal supporters who defend Arsene Wenger most vehemently occasionally insist that he is a victim of circumstance: a selfless man who has martyred himself for an economic cause. He works, we are told, with one hand tied behind his back – and presumably it’s the hand he signs cheques with.

That might well be true. I find it hard to believe that Arsene is somehow prohibited from using the vast reserves of cash at the club’s disposal, but I’m prepared to entertain the idea. It’s a potential explanation of an otherwise baffling transfer policy.

If it’s possible to defend Arsene Wenger’s work in the transfer market, it is far harder to excuse his work on the training ground. Yesterday Arsenal were undone by some truly dire defending. Having dominated the early stages, we conceded two goals in as many minutes to hand the initiative and with it the game to Tottenham.

Arsenal’s defensive line looked like it’d been drawn on a spirograph. Playing a high line against the likes of Bale and Lennon is always a risk, but doing so when your defence is bereft of any kind of organisation borders on masochism.

The mistakes were so basic, so fundamental, and so frustratingly familiar. We’ve been here time and time again, and yet the defence don’t learn their lesson. My conclusion has to be that it’s a lesson they’re simply not being taught.

All of these players have a distinguished defensive record with their former clubs and international sides. Only at Arsenal do they appear so flawed. My impression is that for too long the defensive side of the game has not been a priority for the manager.

For a time, we got away with it. Wenger’s early sides inherited the famous back four from George Graham. The Invincibles could rely upon the protection provided by Vieira and Gilberto and the extraordinary recovery pace of Toure and Campbell. What’s more, both sides were balanced out with an irresistible attacking threat. Even last season, we could rely on Robin van Persie to dig us out of the holes we created for ourselves.

No more. We now have a porous defence, and a plain poor attack. Arsenal dominated the midfield for huge swathes of this derby, but came up short at both business ends: Giroud’s laboured display upfront neatly paralleled the slapstick at the back.

Tottenham weren’t great, but they’re organised and determined. That counts for a lot. This win takes them seven points clear of us and hands them a huge advantage in the race for Champions League qualification.

It’s not quite over. Their fixture list gets a lot trickier over the next six weeks, and we also have the possible boon of a Chelsea implosion to look forward to. Arsenal can still make the top four, but if we do it’ll be in spite of our own self-destructive tendencies.

Arsenal now face ten days of brooding and self-examination before a daunting trip to Bayern Munich. Respite is likely to be in short supply. It’s a gloomy time to follow the club, made gloomier by the stark fact that of 28 league games this season, we have won just 13.
Unless that record improves dramatically, it will be hard to argue we deserve a place at Europe’s top table.