This has happened far too many times this season. I’ve only kept this blog up for only the second season. And yet I feel like I’ve written pretty much the same things over and over again. The opposition were there for the taking. We had the players to do it. No arguments about the referee this time (apart from the late Scholes moments). We ended up getting beat and can have no excuses for our performance.
Manchester United probably had one eye on their Champions League tie in midweek, in addition to their injury problems, lined-up a very defensive side. One that hopes to negate our play in midfield and try to work our wings. How else could you explain Alex Ferguson starting 7 defenders.
On paper, having seen the starting line-ups from both sides, you’ll be hard pressed to find even the most pessimistic of Gooner who would not fancy us winning at Old Trafford. Arsene Wenger put out a very decent side that composed of Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri, Andrey Arshavin and Jack Wilshere. The idea of us not winning possession against a midfield of John O’Shea and Darron Gibson is frankly a ludicrous idea.
While we were not overrun in midfield, we did not control it either. United were sharper on the ball and quicker to press us. When they had the ball, it was immediately lifted over the top of our defence for either Hernandez or one of the Da Silva twins to run onto. Wayne Rooney was all over the place and made it hard for either of our central defenders to pick him up. None of our midfielders picked that tactics up and it became our downfall.
Rooney picked up the ball in midfield and floated in a pass to Hernandez. For Johan Djourou to lose a header to the smaller built Hernandez is worrying. But only because he failed to follow the run the Mexican made. Manuel Almunia made a brilliant save to stop the header from going in but could do nothing with Fabio’s follow-up. Laurent Koscielny was guilty of ball watching. He saw Fabio sneaking in but did neither track his man or anticipate the spill.
The goal came in the 30th minute. There were warning signs but none of which alerted our team. We had far more possession and ball time in that first half an hour than we did in the whole 90 minutes at Nou Camp and yet we created nothing. Going a goal down compounded our lack of urgency and what seems to be desire to win. Some of the performance from those in yellow really makes you wonder how they deserve to be on the payroll of Arsenal Football Club.
It took only 4 minutes of the second half to kill off our hopes of getting anything out of this tie. If we were unable to find a breakthrough when we’re a goal down, to come back from two was impossible. This time, no one track the one of Antonio Valencia and Rafael until the latter found himself with a shooting chance inside our penalty box. The shot did not come but a cross did. It rebounded off Djourou and into the path of Rooney who easily headed it into goal.
It was then that we saw a little bit more urgency from our side. Bacary Sagna was the provider as his improved crossing from the right continues. Marouane Chamakh a replacement for a below par Denilson had the best chance but his header was acrobatically saved by Edwin Van Der Sar. Tomas Rosicky then missed the next good cross from Sagna by completely missing the ball.
Those chances and the shot Koscielny had before United’s second goal were our way back into the game but it was not meant to be. VDS did make a couple of good saves but hardly deserve the man of the match. Sometimes I do think we make the opposition keeper look good. The save are still there to be made but none of it was top/bottom corner stuffs. We seemed contended to aim straight at goal without any angle.
When the team did not lose, it is never good to single out players to blame. We win as a team and lose as one. But one only has to look at the performances of Abou Diaby and Denilson and it is obvious that they are not good enough. Don’t get me wrong. They may still get there one day but at the moment, they are not helping our cause for trophies. The loss of Djourou for the rest of the season will stretch our squad even thinner than it already is.
One player who deserves a special mention is Wilshere. Here is a 19 year old boy who is in his first full season with the first team who has now become pivotal player in the Arsenal team. One who can never be faulted for his conviction of play and his desire to win. Every other player should be ashamed of themselves if compared to Wilshere. Not once you see him coasting in the game. Always prepared to get involved and making runs and tackles.
Also a special welcome back to Aaron Ramsey. Playing his first competitive Arsenal first team match since his leg break. Djourou’s injury saw him drop back into the centre of defence and limited his chance to show his mettle in the middle of the park. Will be looking forward to seeing him more in the coming weeks.
It’s time to regroup the squad and refocus our attention. There’s still one more competition left for us and we must try out best to win it. Nothing like this game is acceptable from here on.