Yet again Arsenal stumbled against a direct rival for the league. This loss continued our poor recent record against Manchester United, home or away. With so much riding on the match and the chance to stay top as well as putting some distance between us and them, this was a very bland Arsenal performance. We even lost the chance to end United’s unbeaten start to the season.
When players talk about this being an important match, it is disappointing to see how it turned out. In a match where everyone wants to play in, the desire and effort on the pitch is not matched by the pre-match talk. It’s even worse when they choose to highlight how different the team is compared to last season and everyone has matured and relishes taking on big teams without any of those spirit showing up in the game. Arsenal were certainly not scared of United but anyone who watch the game would have seen the lack of drive from our team.
In his post match interview, Arsene Wenger was adamant that we’re still in the title chase. That is fine, considering United are only potentially 5 points away with plenty of games still to be played. However, you kind of feel that he was trying to deflect from a poor performance by shifting some of the blame on the condition of the pitch. There’s where I don’t like go. If the pitch is bad, it’s bad for both sides. These players are professionals who are paid handsomely in wages and should adapt to any sort of surface.
As was rumoured, Wojciech Szczesny got his first Premier League start for Arsenal. Yet, Lukasz Fabianski was able to make it to the bench. It doesn’t seem to add up, this. If Fabianski is fit enough to be a substitute, then why didn’t he start? If there was any injury to Szczesny or god forbid, a red card for him, playing an injured Fabianski would’ve been a risk too much to take. Or was this the change of guard? That the younger Pole has finally earned Wenger’s trust?
Many questions and most of it was answered in a positive manner by Szczesny. When put into a game of this high profile, nerves are bound to take over. That is exactly what happened with some of his early clearances. Though, Bacary Sagna did not help by giving back-passes that were a little short. Szczesny saved a couple of early shots from distance and grew in confidence with each catch of the ball.
There was an early chance for Marouane Chamakh with a diving header but it was straight at Edwin Van Der Sar. After that it play was pretty much balanced with perhaps United having the upper hand of things. Alex Song was more aware of his defensive role and I appreciate that he did not roam forward as much in this game. Nani was arguably United’s most dangerous player and had already made a couple of in-roads on Gael Clichy, yet Arsenal did not heed the warning signs.
Laurent Koscielny challenged Darren Fletcher near the halfway line when he should have let the midfielders handled that. United won the flick header and sent Nani running straight at Clichy. Nani’s shot was deflected off Clichy and fell nicely for Park Ji Sung to loop a header over the despairing dive of Szczesny. The moment Koscielny lost the header, our defensive shape went awry. Koscielny was undecided whether to stay in the middle of the box or go support Clichy. Song and Sagna was culpable of ball watching and did not track Park’s run from wide left. At least in that respect, Wenger was right about the player we should look out for.
That being said, Koscielny had a very decent game and although he allowed Wayne Rooney plenty of time on the ball, he did not allow the United striker to do much with it. His defensive partner, Sebastien Squillaci was equally decent but I find his penchant to drop off strikers a little annoying. He’s got the height and the build, just go and challenge for the header.
The second half was all Arsenal, but despite the huge ball possession time, we manufactured close to nothing. Samir Nasri, finding no freedom out wide right was getting into good positions in the middle of the park. He was involved in the best Arsenal move of the game that nearly brought us back into the game. He turned Rio Ferdinand a couple of times before unleashing a left-footed shot which VDS saved but spills it in front of goal. Chamakh should have put the rebound away but saw his shot blocked by Nemanja Vidic. A different striker would’ve been more incisive in front of goal or maybe even showed more patience to control and allow Vidic to slide away before planting the ball in the net.
That was as much as we could mustered. Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott was introduced to try and find us the equalising goal but to no avail. Fabregas’ substitution showed Wenger’s desperation. Our captain was obviously not fit and definitely not match sharp. Misplaced passes and lack of running was evident for all to see. Surely there are better options on the bench than to ask someone who is not match fit to get us something from the game. Walcott sky-ed a late volley when he should have driven it across goal like he normally does. Even when Rooney missed a penalty, Arsenal did not get a boost to push on for the equaliser.
Another disappointing match for Arsenal. This is our 5th defeat of the season already. Next up is Stoke away where we expect another physical battle and a test of our title credentials. On this basis, it’s going to be a long week. More tomorrow.