It won’t be the most opportune of timings to write this match report today. With the amount of news, articles and blogs out there; what has and needed to be said should have already been available. If you’re not sick of it yet, appreciate your continuation interest in this piece.
Given 2 days of reflection, a draw is probably a fair result on the basis of both sides’ performances. We’ve denied them the chance to achieve a new record points haul in the Premier League – well done us. We continued our unbeaten run in the league – well done us. We matched Sp*rs’ result from the weekend, albeit against tougher opposition – well done us.
Yet, having been pleased with the result, it’s hard to hide the disappointment (not love) about it. We had an incredible start to the match, got the early goal but couldn’t build on it. Combination of poor finishing and poor choice of passing, meant that we could not capitalise on the dominance that we displayed. That would later come back to haunt us as we conceded a very silly goal. Sluggishness proceeded afterwards and we could never quite gain a foothold back into the game.
We did produce a fantastic high energy start to the game. Whether this was because we had to give them the guard of honour, only the players know. I suspect there’s a little from there, the fact that we are playing Manchester United and because we are still chasing that Champions League spot. One could certainly add the confidence gained from our unbeaten run as another possible reason.
It was probably the best football we’ve played this season, in that first 35 to 40 minutes of the match. We were pressing high up on the pitch and it felt like almost 90% possession during that period. The early goal looked offside on replay but it was tight and while the assistant referee failed to spot it, it would be harsh to blame him as it happened in split seconds. I will only chastise the officials if those decisions are clear cut.
In the past, Theo Walcott would probably have missed that chance. However, he has added a clinical-ness to his finishing and from that tight angle; it was as good a finish as any. Tomas Rosicky’s part in that move could not be underappreciated. Turning and getting away from his marker, all without touching the ball, enabled us to gain that split second time advantage.
In a game between clubs of higher than average quality, the chances will be few and far between. When one does come and we don’t take it, it does change the face of the game. There was a counter after the 1st goal when we had a 3 v 2 situation. When the pass went to Lukas Podolski instead of Walcott, the chance was lost. Not because Podolski is a worse player than Walcott but because the latter was in a better position, coming in from the blind side.
Had we score there, it would have been 2-0 (yes, just simple maths) and we could have shaken United’s belief as half time approached. It would have been easier in the 2nd half to just soak a little bit of pressure and play on the counter. Or that United players could think that they might not want to force the issue, considering that the title have already been secured.
From the opportunity to increase the lead, we go the other way around and shoot ourselves in the foot. All throughout the season, we’ve had problem with individual errors leading to the concession of goals. For this particular time, it was two mistakes for the same goal. In some ways, at least it wasn’t two separate goals!
Bacary Sagna was the culprit this time. First, he under-hit a back pass that was gobbled up by who else but the returning traitor. Then, when Sagna raced back and caught up with the traitor, he slid in and tackled when there was no need to. Our right back could have just shepherd him wide or concede the throw in but perhaps was trying a little too hard to retrieve a situation that was created by him. It was sloppy and poor. He deserved a lot of criticism for it, not abuse.
Unfortunately for us, conceding that goal stung our confidence and stopped our momentum. We never recovered from it for most parts of the second half. We did upped our game towards the last 10 minutes of the half but it wasn’t good enough to find the winning goal. To be fair, United even had chances to win it. They were extremely dangerous on the break and we can thank Szczesny’s reflexes for maintaining the score.
Maybe it’s the end of the season and we have a lot of players that have played a lot of matches this season. Perhaps that is why they were unable to raise their game in the 2nd 45 minutes after the high energy first half. But when we take into account that we’re only playing league matches and no cup games, surely there’s more than enough recovery time in between matches. Or just maybe, the players are a little timid in facing United and got worried after we conceded the equaliser. That subconsciously, we wanted to sit and be more compact.
Either case, it doesn’t reflect well on the players, except for Laurent Koscielny who was magnificent. More on him tomorrow.
Only 3 games left to be played. The season can’t end soon enough (I anticipate around middle of June before I say, the new season can’t start fast enough). The team needs fixing and I hope we can do that while still playing in the Champions League. 3 games left to ensure that.