Let’s look at things at the end of the day. Manchester United gained 3 points while we only got 1 point on Saturday. That means an increase of 2 points to make the gap between us at 5 points. That is the number of the most significance. That United claimed their win with a man short against Bolton while we only managed to get a point against a side that is 5th from bottom only makes it even worse.
We had to keep in touch and match whatever result United were achieving but we failed to do that. Still, it is very much within our hands to do it. We are still able to use the phrase “win all and we’ll be champions”. This is surely the final chance that we have. I don’t even want to think or hope for United to drop points. I just want us to do it and not rely on them.
Arsene Wenger was brave in his team selection. Picking Aaron Ramsey ahead of Tomas Rosicky. The Welshman has only returned to Arsenal first team action and started his first game for over a year. He was beside Denilson and Jack Wilshere in midfield. As expected Sebastien Squillaci came in at the expense of Johan Djourou. The rest of the squad saw no changes to the one that played at Old Trafford.
Wherever we’re watching, I’m quite sure the seats were not warm yet when WBA opened the scoring. A needless corner conceded and some slack marking later saw us going behind in the 3rd minute of the first half. I won’t attach any blame to Manuel Almunia on this one as the generosity of the defence in front of him allowed Steven Reid a free header. It was a powerful header and it was hard to react quick enough.
No worries, there are still 87 more minutes left in the game. Plenty of time for us to come and win the game still. But no matter the enormous amount of ball possession that we had, we just could not find the breakthrough. Credit to WBA for being very disciplined in holding their line and preventing us from finding the space.
Yet, there were far too many bodies forward who were very stagnant and always wanted the ball to feet instead of ball into space. The closest we got was when Gael Clichy’s cross found Robin Van Persie. RvP’s looping header came back of the crossbar and into the feet of Ramsey. The latter’s shot was straight at the advancing Scott Carson.
Rarely we see Wenger making changes at half time but such was the performance of Denilson and the fact that we had to chase the game, the Brazilian was replaced by Marouane Chamakh. I’ve defended Denilson in the past, sometimes rather vociferously but this is the last straw for me. He just look like he didn’t have a care in the world out there yesterday. Wayward passing and stupid decisions put paid to his early substitution.
It many ways his performance can be highlighted in one particular move. A WBA player broke clear on the right of our defence. Denilson just point for someone to cover before realising that Bacary Sagna was in a more advance position than him. Only then did Denilson ran in to block the WBA player off. A shimmy and an extended leg later, Denilson got his yellow card. Unaware, slow and utterly stupid.
Chamakh’s introduction brought more purpose and direction to our game. Now, there is a focal point of the attack to consider. Only 10 minutes stood between Chamakh needing the 1 goal to find us an equaliser to Chamakh needing 2 goals to find us an equaliser. A long punt upfield and WBA scored the second which we handed to them on a silver platter.
First thing first, defenders are taught never to allow the ball to bounce. If there is a header to be won, it must be won. Letting the ball bounce only invite the opposition to interfere with the next challenge. Second of all, keepers are taught not to rush out when there is cover. Keepers should only act as sweeper in clearing the ball when there is no player around.
Almunia committed another error against WBA which ultimately cost us. There was no reason for him to rush out. Squillaci had that cover even though the French centreback should never have allowed the ball to bounce in the first place. Even when Almunia was out, he stopped halfway instead of just breaking his neck to get to the ball. If he had to take out 2 players (one of which is his team mate) just to get to the ball, so be it. I wondered how disgusted Jens Lehmann is, after watching that.
2 goals down in a game where we must win, you can’t blame anyone for being disappointed with the team. But somehow, we managed to get ourselves back into the game. First, Andrey Arshavin finished off a quick one-two between him and Chamakh to slam a spectacular left footed effort into the roof of the net. Then, RvP scuffled in a rebound after Clichy’s cross had hit the post. All square and still 15 minutes left to play.
Try as we did, we just could not find the winner. Even though we controlled pretty much the entire game bar perhaps a total of 10 minutes spell where WBA kept possession, we only really up our game in the last 20 minutes of the game. Why can’t the team start like that? Barcelona kick off with every desire to and motivation to win the game but for us it sometime takes being a goal behind or bad refereeing decision to get us going. If we can start like that, we could very well win most of the games.
This is a bad result which we can still wipe away but this is the last ray of light. The hope is thinning by the day. Internationals couldn’t come at a better time. Talk to you tomorrow.