Before the game I was quite confident of a good result in this game. We have been playing well and the team sheet showed that except Van Persie this was perhaps the best starting line up we have. Within five minutes however, I was really worried. In spite of Arshavin fashioning a couple of openings for himself and making Brown look like a school boy it seemed to me that we were sitting back!
I am not sure whether we were “inhibited and tense” as Arsene said or it was a tactical decision. I doubt that Wenger would come up with the tactics of sitting back against the opponents who had lost 5 of their last six visits to the top four sides. That means most of our players were really nervous and for this kind of a game, our playing style, and given our defensive vulnerabilities we just could not afford that.
United got in behind us quite easily and quite often in the initial minutes. Mostly from the left. Some might consider this a problem with Clichy. I think Nasri was caught in no man’s land too often and there was no left sided DM cover as Denilson was hopeless. This put a great deal of pressure on Clichy who ended up making some mistakes. It was only a matter of time before United scored.
The first goal came from some excellent play by Nani. He tends to get inspired against Arsenal. Is it a great mystery or could it be down to something as simple as most Arsenal players’ inability to put a tackle in.
The Ronaldo wannabe went straight through Nasri and Clichy. How many times have we seen that when two or more Arsenal players close someone down they tend to wait for someone else to put a tackle instead of taking the responsibility themselves. Perhaps Song is the only one who takes it upon himself. This is a really deep rooted issue and one that Wenger must address if this team has to have title aspirations.
Even after his initial bit of trickery, Nani had a lot to do or maybe not, as it was Denilson on the edge of the box. The way Denilson was mesmerized just by body movement tells me how bad the Brazilian is in a defensive role. This gave Nani a clear run into the box.
Contrary to what some people believe, Almunia’s positioning was not poor it was good. If he had been any further back the near post would have been exposed. If Nani had scored on the near post Almunia would have been criticized for being too far back. The Spaniard has a simple problem now. People have decided he is not good enough and will find faults no matter what happens. To me, there was little the goal keeper could have done as the cross was excellent. Another skill that we desperately need to learn.
After the first goal went in we were forced to throw men forward. So whether it was tactical or just out of fear, we could not sit back anymore. The second goal showed why we had reasons to be afraid!! Our defending on counters is woeful. As I have mentioned in the past, we fail to maintain a good attacking shape leaving large holes for the opposition to exploit. This has very little to do with the formation but boils down to each individual player’s reading of the game.
Firstly, how easy is it for any striker to receive and hold the ball in front of our defenders? Rooney, though halfway inside his own half, had so much time to receive the ball and keep it while Nani pulled away. This is a simple matter of poor defensive technique and is common to almost all our defenders. Other top defenders attack the ball aggressively when a striker is about to receive it and this is another area Arsene must address.
Secondly, even when the ball was played to Nani there was plenty for him to do and we had bodies behind the ball. I was gutted by the effort put in by Denilson. He was ambling back and allowed Rooney to sprint past him into a good position. How can anyone defend him by saying he reads the game well and makes vital interceptions! If ever there was a time to make one, this was it. I was also a bit disappointed that Vermaelen didn’t throw his body on the line to block Rooney’s effort.
The third goal came from a similar counter. Denilson had a horrible first touch and then went AWOL. Rooney was able to receive and hold the ball in front of our defender. Then he was able to play it back to a team mate who lobbed it forward for Park. Really school boy level of play that was enough to carve us open. Too many of our players get attracted to the ball but cannot put a tackle in. Too many of our players don’t know when to give someone space and when to close them down. Hardly any Arsenal player knows how and when to commit a professional foul.
Three goals down, we put a disjointed effort to come back into the game. By now United were taking it easy and allowing us possession up to their box and clearing anything that was floated in. Some people, of course, cannot see beyond the need of a big tall front man but our problems were more down to a lack of cohesiveness and in the case of some players, a lack of effort.
We scored from a deflection as a handful of individuals worked hard. I was particularly impressed by the work put in by Gallas and if he had better awareness of where the goal was we might have scored the second, setting up an interesting final few minutes. On the other hand the visitors had plenty of chances on counter attacks but they couldn’t find the finish. This only highlights what I have said many times in the past – scoring a goal is difficult and needs multiple mistakes from the defending team and some great skill from the offensive team.
As it stands, our title challenge is in tatters. Before these four games we had discussed that whatever happens, we cannot lose to our title rivals in this period. A draw with Villa and this loss has put us in a situation where we need multiple slip-ups from Chelsea and United. I am a staunch supporter of this squad and Le Boss but it is difficult to see us coming back into the title race after such a showing. I doubt if the players have enough confidence and spirit to deliver under pressure.
When we lost to Chelsea, it was after playing well and dominating the ball. This defeat on the other hand was a complete mess as United had 58% possession at the end of the first half. The next two games are very critical and the fight for the title could easily be changed into a fight for third and fourth place. Worrying times ahead.
Almunia: Was fairly decent. I don’t blame him for any of the goals.
Sagna: Efficient in defense as can be seen from the limited number of attacks down our right.
Gallas: A hardworking and solid performance. Couldn’t have done much more.
Vermaelen: Was poor for the second goal, could have done better for the first one as well.
Clichy: He is not match fit and doesn’t have his positioning right. Gets caught in no man’s land far too often. We need him to deliver on both fronts but right now he is struggling.
Song: My player of the match. Don’t want to imagine the scoreline without him. Worked really hard, was everywhere.
Denilson: I don’t like saying this about any Arsenal player but he was utterly useless, a serious liability in fact. Partially at fault for all the three goals.
Cesc: Struggled to get into the game as United played with three defensive central midfielders. Our play was tentative and off the ball movement was poor so we cant blame Fabregas too much. He tried as much as he could individually.
Rosicky: Really poor work rate and off the ball movement. I expect more from an experienced campaigner. At times, he has the tendency to stand and watch in stead of making an effort to get involved.
Arshavin: Worked really hard and created our best chances. Might have been too eager to deliver in a big game. Those who think he missed a number of chances should also count the number of chances Rooney missed. The only difference was the United front man got a lot more and better opportunities.
Nasri: Very poor positioning and work rate. Not sure if he is fully fit or not but he must do better both offensively and defensively.
Subs: Walcott is not a natural and cannot do wonders in such a game. Bendtner is out of touch and cannot come into a big game after a week of training. It’s not difficult to see why he didn’t start. Should we have played Eboue ahead of Sagna in this one?