Arsenal 0 – 0 Man United: We’ve missed the party

I had a more emotional reaction to this game than normal. The reason why is simple: I hate United. I loathe them. Their demise this season has made me cackle like the most perfectly played out slapstick comedy.

And I so wanted us to be in on it. I wanted us to join the party, along with West Brom, Newcastle, Sunderland, and all those other teams. When we went to Old Trafford, I had visions of a cathartic victory. I wanted us to batter them, get a bit drunk, piss on the corner flag, and dance disgracefully on the grave of Fergie’s dugout. I thought we’d be the munchkins in Oz, the Ewoks on Endor, gleefully celebrating the destruction of a once feared nemesis.

But we weren’t. We were feeble.

This time, surely, it had to be different. Yes, we went in to the match on the back of a painful defeat to Liverpool, but United come in to it off the back of a truly agonising season. Surely, this time, we ought to have had the psychological upper hand.

It wasn’t to be. We blew it.

We weren’t dominated by United, but nor did we shed our insecurities. We had an opportunity to put them to the sword, but we looked more worried about dropping our shield. We’re as scared of Fergie’s ghost as David Moyes is.

There was plenty wrong with the performance, but it’s clear the main problems are in attack. Without Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud’s weakness come in to sharp focus. Arsenal lack pace on the counter and someone who can run in behind the defence. With the pair in tandem, you get a bit of everything. Giroud in isolation is a one-dimensional threat.

Mesut Ozil had one of his finest games in an Arsenal shirt, but his dribbles forward often ended in frustration as he looked up to survey his options. No-one in this XI had the speed required to sprint in to the space Ozil’s probing passes seek out. When Ozil looks up, you can almost feel him forlornly casting his eyes across the horizon in search of Cristiano Ronaldo.

It’s clear the jig’s up for Lukas Podolski, too. In a game in which Arsenal’s attacking was limp and lifeless, Podolski went unused. Wenger’s vote of confidence could not have been more emphatically delivered.

I do feel this was a game we had to win. Not mathematically. Numbers-wise, the title is still very much on. No: I thought we had to win it to escape our hang-ups, to instil the team with confidence, and to make a statement to our rivals.

After the game, Arsene suggested that the team was inhibited by the mauling at Anfield. Perhaps so. “We are only human”, he offered. My concern is that champions often have the sheen of the superhuman. One point from the two games against Liverpool and United does not seem enough for a title-winning team.

There are certain similarities with the sequence of games where we lost to City and then drew at home to Chelsea. Arsenal followed that up with a further seven games unbeaten in the league. Given that our next seven games encompass games with Tottenham, City, Chelsea and Everton, I consider it unlikely we’ll repeat that feat.

It’s not all doom and gloom. The table makes it clear: we’re still in the race. I’m not going to prematurely mourn the title. However, I’m inconsolably sad that Arsenal will go through the 2013/14 season having failed to beat the worst United team in decades. We’ve missed the party.

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:

Video: Arsene Wenger sings Cee-Lo Green hit to Robin van Persie

wengervp

Alright gang. I’ve done another one of my silly songs. This time, my slightly strange brain has got Arsene Wenger belting out a version of CeeLo Green’s hit “F*ck You” at his former charge Robin van Persie. I thought it might be timely ahead of Sunday’s game. Enjoy:

As regards the Dortmund game, apologies for the lack of blog. I’ve got a few pieces I’ve written on it floating around the rest of the web though:

Cheers all.

Arsenal 1 – 1 Man United: Disappointed Love

Arsenal 1 – 1 Manchester United
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

After the game, Arsene Wenger described Arsenal fans’ hostility towards Robin van Persie as “disappointed love”. It strikes me that this explains much of the animosity and in-fighting among our own supporters. We all desperately want the same things, and the strength of that desire spills over in to frustration and anger.

Today, however, we can surely be unanimous that this was a positive Arsenal performance. For the first time this season we imposed ourselves upon a top four side, taking the game to United from the first few minutes. Indeed, we even nabbed an early lead, with Theo Walcott racing away to open the scoring. Those who chose to miss the guard of honour probably also missed our opening goal.

If there’s any negativity today it surrounds United’s equalising goal. Bacary Sagna gave the ball away with a sloppy back-pass before chasing back and felling Robin van Persie. As expected, the Dutchman converted the penalty with typical efficiency.

Sagna’s mistake came in the midst of an uncertain performance from a man who was, for several seasons, Arsenal’s most consistent performer. At his peak, he was twice voted as the league’s best right-back by his fellow professionals. However, this season his powers have visibly waned, and the moment his slide tackle made contact with Van Persie rather than the ball probably represents his Arsenal nadir – his ‘Eboue’ moment, if you will.

Just moments before Sagna had almost been responsible for conceding another goal. Released on the right by Tomas Rosicky, he dallied on the ball and was dispossessed, leaving him well out of position for United’s surging counter-attack.

There was a lack of conviction to Sagna’s play at both ends of the pitch. He vacillated between uncertainty, as when handed the opportunity to cross, and over-compensation, as when throwing himself wildly at Van Persie.

Some will relate his decline to the cloud over his contract situation. It certainly can’t help. Personally, I suspect it has far more two do with suffering two broken legs in the past year or so. The physical and psychological effects of that kind of trauma can’t be underestimated.

Anyhow, on balance, a draw seems a fair result. Arsenal may have dominated the play for long periods, but only occasionally did their possession convert to clear-cut chances.

This is largely down to the absence of a real-life centre-forward. For all Olivier Giroud’s flaws, he is at least a central striker with the physicality to pose a threat to the likes of Ferdinand and Evans. Lukas Podolski had neither the fitness to drag the defenders out of position, nor the willingness to attack the six-yard box. Arsenal played with a false nine, but not on purpose.

United, however, were consistently dangerous on the break. Even before Van Persie converted the spot-kick, he ought to have had a goal and two assists. First Wojciech Szczesny spread himself brilliant to block a goal-bound header with his face – then Phil Jones twice conspired to head wide with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.

In the second half their counter-attacking threat only increased as Arsenal chased a winner. With a better final ball, United could have scored three of four times – only a last ditch block by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain prevented Ryan Giggs from adding an ugly gloss to the score-line.

Although United’s final pass was sloppy, there’s no doubt they came to win. Fergie picked his best side and was chasing a record points tally and validation for a team he still finds himself defending despite a convincing championship win. Arsenal matched them for ninety minutes, with Aaron Ramsey’s remarkable energy levels the key to our unusually intense display.

A midfielder is usually judged on his success in the 50/50s. At the moment, Ramsey is winning the 30/70s. His improvement in the last few months has been dramatic, and Rambo now looks ready for war.

I would’ve taken a draw beforehand and I’m more than satisfied with it now. A point against the the Manchester teams is never a bad one. We’re left with three games against QPR, Wigan and Newcastle. If we can’t take nine points from those, it’s hard to argue that we deserve a place at Europe’s top table.

And if you’re angry at dropping two points against England’s champions, perhaps you need to calm down. Remember: it’s just disappointed love.

Man U Preview: Let’s win for our own sake

A lot of pre-match chat will surround how Arsenal fans should react to United entering the field. There is debate over how exactly we should greet the return of Robin van Persie. Some pundits suggest respect is due; most fans are preoccupied by revenge.

Frankly, I think it’s soap opera nonsense. There is something far more important at stake today: three points.

It doesn’t really hurt me to welcome United as champions. It would hurt far more if they’d won it at our expense, but it’s not as if they pipped us to the post. We were never in contention for the prize.

Seeing Van Persie return as a champions is uncomfortable, irritating and a touch embarrassing, but we’ve got to remember our priorities. Right now we’re embroiled in a battle to for Champions League qualification with Spurs and Chelsea, and this is a great opportunity to tighten our grip on third place.

As it happens, I wouldn’t be surprised if Van Persie was left on the bench today. Alex Ferguson left Wayne Rooney out on his first return to Everton, and perhaps the United manager will be mindful that including the Dutchman will work the Emirates crowd in to a frenzy.

It’s our responsibility to create that atmosphere regardless. United have little to play for; Arsenal still have their season at stake. On our home turf, we should have every chance of causing an upset.

Manchester United arrive today expecting to receive a guard of honour. Let’s make them run the gauntlet instead.