What a boring game of football.
Manchester United came with a functional defensive approach. Not a surprise there at all, it’s something that’s worked for them in the past and did so again. So one might safely say their’s was an intelligent result oriented approach.
Arsenal clearly made some tactical changes but didn’t get the balance right. I was particularly disappointed with the effort after conceding the goal. The nervousness displayed by the team at the start of the game and the lack of composure towards the end were also disappointing.
As expected Howard Webb was quite lenient and I thought Arsenal took good advantage of this to break the play down. On that note the manager and the coaching staff deserve some credit for learning a lesson. In the past we have suffered because of this far too often so it’s good to see we can also use it to our advantage.
Before the game I was also talking about the need for the midfield to stay close to the defence. For bulk of the first half Arsenal achieved that and minimized the opportunities for the home side. Unfortunately after this adjustment the team didn’t have any real attacking options.
I thought this was down to the weakness of Arsenal’s collective defensive system in which the midfielders chase the ball instead of getting into the right positions and making interceptions. As a result almost each time Arsenal won the ball back there was hardly any outlet for bringing the ball out. This was compounded by the fact that Nasri was double-teamed throughout the game and Arshavin had a stinker.
Manchester United for their part seemed too keen to try the ball over the top. One such ball almost yielded dividends when Nani won a header on the wing and Fletcher ran in behind on the right. No Arsenal midfielder tracked his run – this is a huge problem with Arsenal’s defending but I’ll deal with it later in the week. The Scot put in a lame cross so Squillaci couldn’t get any power on his clearance. It fell to the feet of an onrushing Nani who fired it inches wide of the far post.
I don’t really recall any other serious talking points at the other end in the first half except the goal. It was important to go into halftime without conceding the lead but Arsenal failed to achieve that.
Nani got the ball wide on the right and was able to run at Clichy. His attempted shot was blocked by the Frenchman and the ball flew towards Park in the box. The Korean came up with a fantastic, if somewhat fortunate, finish with an intelligent header from a very awkward angle. Once again it was a midfielder’s run that was not tracked. Why was no one marking him when Arsenal had Song and Koscielny in the vicinity? I haven’t seen the replays so I don’t want to put the blame on someone right now.
One point that I must mention is that this goal was not due to a mistake by Clichy. Steve Mcmanaman (commentating on ESPN) was completely wrong when he said Clichy should have closed Nani down sooner. The reason for this is that there was absolutely no cover behind the French fullback. If he went for a tackle and Nani got past him, something the winger is more than capable of as he has shown all season, the Portuguese would have been in on goal. Wilshere and Arshavin offered no support to Clichy all day long despite knowing that Nani is a major threat. We just have to look at the way Nasri was marked to realize how poor Arsenal were in this regard.
It was disappointing to see Arsenal come out in the second half with the same line-up. I was hoping Walcott will come on for Arshavin so that Rosicky can go to the left and Nasri into the centre. That way we would have better cover on the left, Nasri would have had more space to work his magic as he was being crowded out on the wing, and we would have some genuine pace on the right.
United dropped deep and were comfortable in holding on to the lead. Arsenal did see a lot of the ball in the opposition half but didn’t create anything more than half chances.
The hosts tried to create opportunities on the break but I thought the defenders dealt with most of it pretty well.
The substitutions just after the hour mark were quite disappointing. Arshavin wasn’t taken off and a clearly off pace Fabregas was introduced. Van Persie had to come on there can’t be much debate there. Wilshere and Rosicky were taken off. I thought this affected the balance of the team even more and left the defence exposed without really adding anything to the attack.
These are the kind of decisions when I get really exasperated by Wenger and that’s putting it mildly. Yes, Arshavin and Cesc can create something out of nothing and they have something special about them. But that alone is not enough to put them on the field when we are struggling to get any kind of a flow going and the team shape isn’t working.
Arshavin did finally go off with 15 minutes to go and Walcott came on but Arsenal never really created an opportunity for Theo to run at the defence or get in behind.
Just before that substitution Howard Webb gifted the hosts with a penalty when Clichy slipped and fell to the ground and the Nani kicked the ball on to his hand. I guess those are the kind of decisions United get at home while Arsenal hardly ever get in their favour at home or away and in either box. Rooney blasted it over the top and justice was done.
I was very disappointed with the fact that Arsenal didn’t produce better in the final fifteen minutes. The players were moving without real purpose, there were no intelligent runs in attacking areas, no decisive passes, no co-ordination or systematic approach.
Van Persie had to drop deep far too often when he should have been receiving the ball around the penalty area. Fabregas gave the ball away cheaply and lacked urgency. Walcott didn’t have much time to make an impact but he looked lively.
Arsenal have some basic systemic problems and I was happy to see some visible effort towards improvement but it was not good enough.
One more point that I want to touch upon is the Kung-Fu kick by Ferdinand on Sagna. There was absolutely no need for Ferdinand to keep his leg stretched forward with his studs towards his opponent. It was the only really filthy moment in the game.
Szczesny: looked a bit nervy at the start but can’t say he made any mistakes. Caught everything that had to be caught. His positioning for the goal might have been better but it’s difficult to blame the keeper for such a goal. An excellent save late in the game when Rooney tried to chip him. Not yet ready for the starting role but a good experience for the youngster no doubt.
Sagna: was harried and hounded by Park all day long. Did a decent job of defending the right side but couldn’t offer anything going forward.
Squillaci: I thought he had a good game. Read most situations well and kept his composure. Was at fault when Rooney got in behind late on as he stepped up a fraction late.
Koscielny: Pretty much like Squillaci. Made some vital interceptions. Showed excellent composure even at the end. His distribution was fairly good as well. Might have been partially at fault for the goal I’ll have to see that again.
Clichy: Excellent. Did a great job on Nani and made many important tackles. Didn’t have much support but rarely made a mistake despite doing the work of two people in defence. Could have done more while going forward.
Overall it’s very difficult to blame the back five. United didn’t succeed much with their long balls over the top. They got a few half chances and took one. Arsenal couldn’t do the same at the other end.
Song: worked really hard but most of it was donkey work. There was no intelligence or composure to his game. made a mess after getting into good positions in the final third and didn’t do a good job of collecting and spreading the ball in the final half hour.
Rosicky: Very disappointing. Should have done more defensively and offensively. Didn’t get into the right positions and rarely showed initiative in attack.
Wilshere: gave the ball away too often, didn’t support Clichy well enough, his inexperience was exposed.
As I mentioned in the preview, this midfield was too weak but we didn’t have many options. Looking back at the game it was rather easy for United and the midfield was largely to blame.
Nasri: was double-teamed all through game. Tried hard and but never got enough support. Should have swapped positions with Arshavin and Rosicky in the first half.
Chamakh: hard work but no real attacking threat. Part of that was due to the lack of supply and support.
Arshavin: not good enough. Hardly any contribution in attack or defence. United were far too intelligent and disciplined for the Russian to make an impact.
The attackers should have done better in the second half but lacked composure and co-ordination. Most of the passing and movement was easy to read.
Subs: RvP never got the ball in the right areas. Cesc should never have been risked. Theo needed more time and should have come on at half time.