Arsenal went into last night's game against "Manure" on top of the league, and looking to at least maintain that lead if not increase it. To do that they had to do something that they have found very difficult to do in recent seasons, and that is not lose to them. Unfortunately the Arsenal performance on the night was nowhere near what was needed to get that result, and Arsenal are now in second place in the table.
The team chosen by Arsene Wenger was exactly as I expected with the exception of Wojceich Szczesny playing in goal, as Lukasz Fabianski picked up a knock in training. It meant that the creative duties in midfield were down to Tomas Rosicky, and he hasn't got a goal or an assist to his name in a long time. I really can't understand why Samir Nasri is played in a wide role when Cesc Fabregas isn't in the team. I may have anticipated Rosicky playing in that role, but I still think that Nasri should have played there.
To be honest it was a pretty poor game for the most part, and Arsene Wenger's statement that the pitch was in a bad condition may have had a part to play in that. I lost count of the amount of misplaced passes and poor touches there were by players on both sides. It made for a poor game for the most part, and there were very few genuine goal scoring chances. Most of those chances went against Arsenal, as they created very little throughout the whole game.
I had hoped that the Arsenal players would show Patrice Evra exactly what they thought of his comments about them a few days ago, and they didn't disappoint me as Jack Wilshere, Robin Van Persie and one other player who currently escapes me had a good kick at him. However, it made no difference to the outcome of the game, but at least they showed some passion in reacting to the latest outburst from him.
It's hard to pick out what Arsenal players had a good game, but I was impressed by Szczesny on his Premier League debut. The defence weren't great, but they were not torn to shreads as many predicted they would be. In midfield there was very little positive to take from the game for Arsenal, as too many easy passes were misplaced time after time. Andrey Arshsvin had another poor game on the right, as he did very little to help out Gael Clichy and was caught in possession far too often. He may be involved in a lot of the goals Arsenal score, but in performances like last night's they are better off without him in the team.
The two best chances for Arsenal fell to Marouane Chamakh, but he headed straight at Van Der Saar in the first half, and he failed to connect properly with a rebound from a Nasri shot in the second half. The second chance in particular was one I felt he should have put away but he scuffed his effort before it was blocked. In games like this goalscoring chances can be few and far between, and they have to be pounced on when they arrive.
Some Arsenal fans expect the team to be perfect in every way, and can't understand why the opposition can even create chances against them. In the real world the chances of your opponent creating absolutely nothing in a game are very small, and it has to be remembered that "Manure" have the best home record in the Premier League. Besides the goal that they scored there were probably only three other very good chances for "Manure" to score in the game. Szczesny saved one of them very well, Nani's effort went just wide, and Wayne Rooney managed to put his penalty into row Z.
The first half was going nowhere, as neither team looked overly dangerous until the goal from Ji-Sung Park came in the 40th minute. Besides that goal there was only a volley from Nani that went narrowly wide to really bother the Arsenal goal. When the goal came there was a touch of luck about it, as Gael Clichy got a block on a Nani cross which made it spin up in the air. When the ball came to Park he managed to get his head to it, and the spin on the ball made it loop into the corner, leaving Szczesny with no chance.
As usual Arsenal were a little unnerved by the goal, and I was happy to see half time arrive with the score only at 1-0. At the start of the second half it looked like Arsenal had decided to take the game to "Manure" for a while at least, but when a goal didn't come Arsene Wenger decided to make a couple of changes. During that spell for Arsenal Chamakh missed a very good chance as Van Der Saar parried a Nasri shot out to him, but he scuffed the rebound and it was blocked.
The boss brought on Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie for Rosicky and Wilshere, as he looked to try and inject some life into the team. Unfortunately neither of them did very much in their 25 minutes on the pitch, and Cesc in particular looked to be far from ready to play. He tried to get into the game, but the amount of misplaced passes he made were not typical of a player of his calibre. I don't know if it's because he hasn't recovered fully from his injury, or the constant stop start nature of his season is making it difficult for him to regain his form, but if Arsenal are going to maintain their title challenge they need him at his very best.
On 72 minutes "Manure" were handed their customary home decision, as the referee gave them a penalty on the advice of his linesman. Clichy was tackling Nani in the area, and he fell to the ground. The ball was played against his arm when he was down, and there was nothing he could do about it. However, the linesman gave a penalty, and indicated to the referee that Clichy had intentionally moved his arm to the ball. Thankfully Rooney made a mess of the penalty, and Arsenal were still in with a chance of coming back.
With 15 minutes to go Theo Walcott replaced Arshavin, but again his introduction made very little difference to the game. Arsenal had lost their momentum at that stage, and never really looked like getting an equaliser. The game faded out, and Arsenal lost their position at the top of the table. With a very tough Christmas schedule ahead Arsenal need to bounce back at home to Stoke RFC this week with a convincing display and victory. That would at least put them back at the summit until "Manure" visit Chelsea the following day.
There were very few positives to take from the game for Arsenal, but at least Szczesny played well on his Premier League debut. It was also great to hear the Arsenal fans making themselves heard throughout the game, as they put in their usual fantastic performance away from home.
Arsenal weren't afraid to put their foot in at times, and committed twice as many fouls as "Manure", with four players getting yellow cards. It was interesting to see that the worst foul of the game went unpunished, as Rio Ferdinand went in studs first on Alex Song, and claimed that it was caused by the floodlights in his eyes. We were also treated to the sight of Darren Fletcher pushing the referee in the first half when a decision didn't go his way. These may be minor gripes, but it's incidents like them and the penalty award, that convince opposition fans that the officials are biased in favour of "Manure" at Old Trafford.
After the game Arsene Wenger said he thought there were positives to take from it, as Arsenal were far from outplayed, and that it's important for them to bounce back in their next game. He felt that "Manure" defended well, and Arsenal didn't create enough offensively which is an accurate assessment I suppose. I thought that Arsenal tried to keep things tight, and hoped to nick a goal at some stage, or even end up drawing 0-0. When they went behind they tried to take the game to "Manure" early in the second half, but after a good spell the belief seemed to ebb away, and they never really looked capable of doing it.
If Arsenal are going to challenge for the title this season it would appear that they will have to do it while continuing to perform badly against both Chelsea and "Manure". There is an opportunity on December 27th for Arsenal to break the cycle of defeats to those two teams when Chelsea pay a visit to the Emirates, and a victory in that game would make up for last night's defeat in my opinion. With four league games in ten days starting with that Chelsea game, it's going to be a very busy Christmas period for Arsenal, and their title credentials will possibly be a little clearer by the time they play Leeds United in the FA Cup on January 8th.
There's a lot of doom and gloom about after last night, but I didn't think that "Manure" looked like world beaters at all, Chelsea are on their worst run in 10 years, and Man City have just had their star player hand in a transfer request. If Arsenal can get Cesc, RVP and Tomas Vermaelen fully fit, and in their starting team week in and week out, I think that they have a genuine chance of staying in the title race until the very end.
That's it for today.
See You Tomorrow.