“I don’t know if United will go for us from the start, as they did at Chelsea last week, or whether they will sit back, defend in numbers and wait for the inevitable Magnum 45 into our Adidas Predators.”
“I’m all for Arsenal showing United respect today, but would also like to see us try and have a go at them. ”
“If we come back from Manchester having dominated possession but done nothing with it & end up getting beat, I will not be pleased.
I’m not in the habit of quoting myself so much at the start of a blog, but, today, I don’t know where else to start. The first quote comes from my blog on Friday afternoon- which, of course, you all read- and the next two are from my Twitter feed yesterday morn. In fairness, United didn’t really sit back on us and nor did we dominate possession, but we certainly had enough possession to do more than we actually did with it. Consider that the BBC records the possession split 52/48 in favour of the home team and that United had 7 shots on target to our 3- all of ours in injury time well after the game was lost- and that United had two goals disallowed as well. A few years ago, we used to watch Arsenal battering teams only to draw, or sometimes lose. Well, yesterday, the 2-1 scoreline was very kind to us.
Alarm bells were ringing before the teams even arrived on the pitch yesterday. With Aaron Ramsey getting the nod on the right flank over Theo Walcott, it looked certain that Arsenal were going to try and control the game rather than try to win it- and yes, you can win a match despite not being able to control it, how many times have we seen some team do it to us? It was perhaps understandable after Theo’s 120 minutes in midweek. In the tunnel, as the players waited to come out; with millions watching on television, the Dutch cunt arrived in the tunnel and was greeted with smiles and hugs by, well, almost everyone. Everyone except Jack Wilshere, that is. I don’t care how long he played for us, because he plays for Manchester United now; therefore he is a traitor to the Gooner cause- and you know what they used to do with traitors, don’t you?
Ok, so beheading him would be ever so slightly harsh, but no player representing Manchester United should ever be greeted in a friendly fashion- because THEY ARE THE ENEMY. It got worse. Three minutes in, a flick in behind Andre Santos saw Rafael afforded the freedom of Salford to fire a cross in. Thomas Vermaelen’s attempted clearance was more a pass to his former teammate who drilled a first time shot across Vito Mannone and into the far corner of the net. The ghost of Del Boy Trotter telling Rodney, after his wedding, that “You don’t live here no more!” hovered in my mind. He didn’t celebrate- apparently, playing for United, he has suddenly discovered the concept of respect. But I know he scored that goal in the same vicinity of the ground as the Arsenal fans, so I wonder what would have happened had he been at the other end.
Three minutes in, and already the Magnum had been discharged into the Predators- or whatever make of Nikes it is our hapless captain wears. The rest of that first half has pretty much been wiped from the memory, mainly because Arsenal did nothing of note. Vito Mannone made a couple of good saves, from Judas and the “fat granny shagger” and then minutes before half time, United won a corner. They worked it short and then fired it towards Santi Cazorla. His arms went up and Mike Dean, our favourite referee, pointed to the spot. Would that have been given up the other end? I don’t think so. The matter was rendered academic in any case as Rooney pulled it wide of Mannone’s right hand post.
Theo Walcott replaced Aaron Ramsey early in the second half and we immediately looked better for it. Olivier Giroud hadn’t had much to go on so far, but hit the outside of the post from a tight angle and, belatedly, it looked like Arsenal had come to the party. On a yellow card, Tom Cleverley might have been dismissed for a terrible tackle on Jack Wilshere but, having got away with it, was substituted. Wilshere himself was on a yellow card for a bad foul on Cleverley. The Dutchman was played in, offside, but the flag stayed down. Mannone tipped his shot wide. Relief was short lived. Another short corner, Arsenal slow to react again and Patrice Evra strolled into the box to head a cross past Mannone. Minutes later it got worse for Arsenal when Wilshere lost control of the ball, reaching for it, he raked down Evra’s shin. I don’t think Evra’s reaction did Wilshere any favours, but he was probably gone anyway.
Two goals and a man down, the game was clearly beyond rescue, but Arsenal were at least trying to go forward. Not that we managed a shot on target until injury time. And, in the final minute of that injury time, Cazorla curled home an absolute beauty of a strike. Rarely can a player have looked so gutted to score such a great goal, but it was some reward for our magnificent travelling fans who had outsung 70,000 tourists all the way through.
It was a miserable day for us all. Arsene’s team selection and approach to the game looked very much like a damage limitation exercise. I know it’s easy to say in retrospect, but if you look back over our results at Old Trafford in Arsene’s time at the club, they aren’t great. Yes, I know we had the famous and deserved wins in 98 and 02, not to mention the one in 2006. But three wins in 16 years? I know this is Manchester United we’re talking about here, but we are also talking about Arsenal Football Club and I don’t think one win every five years is anywhere near good enough. I also talked in my blog on Friday about psychological scars and how our, new, team should have none. But I wonder about Arsene. I wonder about a manager who admits to leaving Jack Wilshere on, despite risking a red card, because he has no attacking midfield option when he has Andrei Arshavin on the bench. I wonder about a manager making nice with a player who knifed him in the back. I wonder about a manager who continues to play Podolski down the left when he is clearly treading water. We used to laugh about Arsene’s myopia, but it’s hurting us now. I know Theo’s contract situation is clouding the issue here and that Arshavin has fallen from grace, but how are they being left on the bench when Podolski is struggling and Ramsey is not, and never will be, a wide player?
Yes, we’re missing three midfield options at the minute, but then a manager like Arsene should be astute enough to manage his resources accordingly. It feels like we’re playing this 4-3-3 formation, designed to get the best out of a player long since departed, because that is what we do, rather than it being the best formation for the players we have. It’s supposed to be a formation that helps us to dominate possession, but when we’re faced with a team that likes to get into our face- all of them- we can’t even manage that. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve looked poor ever since Gibbs and Diaby got injured, but the pace of our game is shockingly non existent right now. With the players we can still call on, I don’t think there’s any excuse for that. I wonder if a switch to 4-4-2 might help. It would give Olivier Giroud some assistance- let’s face it, he’s being thrown to the wolves out there, week after week. It would also give opposition defences something to think about. It’s fine playing one up top- if that one is a Thierry Henry, or Judas, but when it’s someone fresh out of Ligue 1? If we get Walcott or Podolski in alongside him and put Cazorla wide and any one of Gervinho, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain or even Arshavin on the other side then, I feel sure, improvement will be imminent. God knows, we need to reintroduce some verticality to our, mostly, horizontal game.
At least we’ll be taking the fight to teams and that will be a marked improvement on yesterday lunchtime.------------
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