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.

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.