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.