At least one monkey off the back then. And deservedly so.
I had not seen the starting line-ups so was a bit surprised in the early moments when it appeared that Cesc was missing and two Wilsheres were playing in the middle for Arsenal. It took me a moment to realize that Ramsey got a start. But there wasn’t much time to dwell on that as the Gunners had started brightly.
Wilshere had an excellent chance in the opening few minutes after some good work by Walcott down the right. His cross caused panic in the United box and Vidic could only produce a lame clearance that fell to Wilshere on the edge of the box. The youngster showed his inexperience as he lacked a bit of composure while dragging the shot wide. The key point to note here was the shocking clearance by Vidic, the kind of detail some fans miss.
In the opening ten minutes United barely touched the ball but their parked bus was doing its job. It was turning into a pitiful but effective display by Fergie’s boys.
As the game went on Arsenal created a number of half-chances without really testing Van der Saar. Some dangerous moments led to corners but those were predictably fruitless.
At the other end Hernandez was exposed as a woefully limited player who offered nothing outside the box. Rooney was having to play like a defensive midfielder so his attacking impact was quite limited. On few occasions when United did get the ball, Arsenal had enough players to win it back. Szczesny too was having a fairly comfortable night.
United’s only real dangerous moment of the first half came in the 20th minute when Nasri stopped tracking Fabio and the Brazilian was able to get into the box with ease. Only an intelligent interception/clearance by the particularly alert Sagna saved the day for the Gunners as Chicarito was poised to tap home.
The big moment of the first half came just after the half-hour. Walcott once again created some room down the right and whipped in a delicious cross. Vidic got it away from the head of RvP using his hand. It should have been a clear penalty and a straight red. The assistant had a clear view of the incident but kept his flag down. Van Persie clearly saw it but his plea fell on deaf ears. Incompetence or bias? Take your pick.
In my opinion, Vidic gets away with at least 4-5 penalties and a couple of red cards each season. Unfortunately, not enough people focus on the relevant details.
The first half ended goalless. I thought it was a valiant and impressive display by the gunners and a rather sorry one by the visitors. Wilshere and Ramsey lacked a little bit of experience and it showed in their decision making and final ball in the attacking third. Can’t really blame the youngsters but it was one of the main reasons Arsenal didn’t create more chances despite dominating possession and territory. The second reason was the slow-ish tempo which was again down to the midfielders taking too long on the ball.
Arshavin came out after half time for Nasri who had picked up a hamstring injury.
United showed a little more ambition at the start of the second half. Rooney forced a save from a free-kick. Szczesny was rooted to his spot initially and had to parry a ball he should easily have caught. The youngster did learn fast and caught one later in the game.
On the other end Sagna cut in from the right and struck one that flew just wide.
Ten minutes into the second half Arsenal got the winner. Song intercepted a ball in the air and played it to Ramsey. The Welshman found Van Persie who had drifted into the inside right channel. Arsenal had moved the ball quickly on this occasion and that forced the United players to rush back. It also caught them out of shape. Van Persie did well to attract two defenders and cut it back perfectly for Ramsey to side-foot it into the far corner. The fact that Arsenal had three other players in the box made a big difference.
The rest of the period was a real test for Arsenal. Just before the goal Fergie had introduced Valencia to try and exploit the right wing and Arshavin’s well documented slackness in consistently tracking back. In this game though, the Russian showed he can chase the ball and put some sliding tackles in.
The gunners did have a problem of lacking clarity after taking the lead. The team didn’t settle back into a defensive shape and didn’t press higher up the pitch either. United were able to dominate the ball from this point onwards but Arsenal worked hard in defence even if it wasn’t as well organized and comfortable as one would have liked.
There were a few counter-attacking opportunities for Arsenal but the players lacked composure in the final third. It was another sign that hardly any Gunner knew how to handle this situation. It’s an area where Wenger needs help and must seek it during the summer.
United’s only meaningful moment came when Owen went down on the edge of the box. It was far tighter than the first half howler and I’d have been surprised if the ref actually gave it.
On the whole it was a thoroughly deserved and a fairly convincing win for Arsenal. We could have been better after the goal was scored but in the circumstances I’m happy with the spirit and the effort.
Szczesny: Had one or two shaky moments but nothing serious. Did his job well. Good to see he has worked on his kicking technique and is now getting good distance.
Sagna: Excellent game down the right. Made a massive interception in the first half. Provided some testing crosses.
Djourou: Didn’t have much to do but looked competent in the air. Not sure how serious his injury is.
Koscielny: Another top class performance from the defender. Was in the right place all the time. Won the headers he had to, made some vital tackles/interceptions.
Clichy: Mirrored Sagna on the left. Put in some good crosses, one was exceptional that Theo was not able to direct on target.
I thought the back five played really well. They had to deal with a lot of pressure in the final half-hour and did well to see it out.
Song: Played a bit within himself and offered good protection to the defenders. Conceded a few fouls that he could have avoided.
Wilshere: Was excellent in the middle third but could have offered more in the attacking areas. Needs more experience to do that.
Ramsey: Great to see him coming back to his best and get a well-deserved goal. Offered a lot in the middle but just like Wilshere he can and must do better in and around the box. Another one who will only improve with experience.
I thought the midfield was really dominant in the first hour of play. They got caught in the no man’s land later in the game as the ball was being kicked long. Deserve credit for the effort and concentration.
Walcott: As expected, Park was playing as an ancillary left-back to negate the threat of Theo. Still managed to put a few teasing crosses. Better ball movement would have seen him rip Evra to shreds. Should have been used better after Arsenal took the lead.
RvP: Amazing movement, great composure in the attacking areas – something the younger midfielders should learn from, easily the most valuable striker in the League this season.
Nasri: Was making an impact every time he got on the ball. Didn’t get into enough shooting positions as United always got a midfielder to block him when he drifted in.
I thought the front three did well against the parked bus. They will be even more effective after they develop a better understanding with the young stars in midfield.
Subs: Loved Arshavin’s work-rate and tackling. Eboue did a job on the right. Squillaci was steady.
Wenger: Team selection was pretty straightforward. Substitutions were good. Has to find a way to organize the team after taking a lead. Needs to get the most out of guys like Walcott once the opposition is chasing the game.
The results of the weekend have been such that next week we will most likely be celebrating St. Totteringham’s day irrespective of the result against the thugs.