Saturday, 3 November 2012

Toothless Arsenal Lose 2-1 To Manchester United

Arsenal went into yesterday's Premier League game away to Manchester United in pretty poor form. They had the best defence in the league but they had been struggling to create chances for the last few weeks. They needed to raise their game if they were going to have any chance of getting something from the game.

The team selected by Arsene Wenger was as I had expected with just one exception. Aaron Ramsey kept his place on the right side of the attacking trio despite Theo Walcott scoring a midweek hat trick in the Capital One Cup. Ramsey had played in that position against QPR last week and it is a position he is not suited to.

Arsenal needed to keep things tight from the start, but they were behind within three minutes. Lukas Podolski failed to track Rafael da Silva on a run forward and he crossed into the Arsenal box. Thomas Vermaelen's attempted clearance was very poor and it fell straight to the feet of Robin van Persie.

The ex-Arsenal captain hit it from 20 yards with his right foot and it went into the far corner of the net. I'm not so sure van Persie caught the ball properly, but there was nothing Vito Mannone could do in the Arsenal goal. It was the perfect start for United and exactly what Arsenal didn't need.

After that Arsenal just couldn't string two passes together for the rest of the first half. Wayne Rooney dropped back into midfield to stop Mikel Arteta getting on the ball and it stifled Arsenal. Luckily for Arsenal United didn't make the most of the chances they had and it was still 1-0 at half time.

The best of those chances came just before the break when the referee gave a penalty against Santi Cazorla for handball. It was a harsh decision in my opinion and it look like it would spell the end for Arsenal. Wayne Rooney stepped up to take the penalty and put it wide of the post much to the relief of Arsenal.

The second half started in much the same mode as the first half finished and it looked like only a matter of time before United increased their lead. Unusually the boss made a change less than 10 minutes in when Walcott came on to replace Ramsey. I had Walcott would get the chance to run at the United defence, but they had a lead to protect and didn't have to over commit players forward.

Gradually Arsenal started to get back into the game and they looked like they might be capable of getting something out of it. At the midway point things were looking promising but Arsenal conceded another goal to kill the game for them. The route was hardly unexpected with United scoring a header from a cross.

A United corner on Arsenal's right was cleared, but it was swung back into the Arsenal box from the same side. Patrice Evra rose unchallenged to head home and as good as end the game. It was a killer blow for Arsenal and the next blow came only two minutes later.

Jack Wilshere had picked up an early yellow card for a late challenge and was given a final warning by the referee for a foul on van Persie. United's Tom Cleverly was in the same boat but he was withdrawn to prevent him from getting a red card. Wilshere slightly overhit the ball and caught Evra late as he chased it.

The referee had no choice other than to send him off and he will miss next Saturday's game against Fulham as a result. At least he will be back for the game against Spurs a week later. It was obvious to just about anybody that Wilshere's red card was imminent and I thought he should have been substituted before it happened.

Arsenal had 20 minutes left to play with only 10 players and a two deficit. It could have got worse but the Arsenal players eventually began to find their feet towards the very end. They didn't have a single effort on target in normal time, but that changed in added time.

Olivier Giroud had hit the post earlier in the second half and his effort from a Walcott pass was well saved by David de Gea just after 90 minutes. Maybe Giroud should have done better and it could have been an interesting few minutes if Arsenal had pulled a goal back at that stage. As it was the consolation goal came with the very last kick of the game.

After some sustained pressure from Arsenal the ball came to Cazorla just inside the United box. He curled a fine effort into the corner and it put a slight shine on a very disappointing result for Arsenal. There wasn't even enough time left for United to restart the game as the referee blew up immediately.

If Arsenal went into the game with a game plan it was obviously ended early on with the goal and they looked devoid of ideas after that. The team looked lost and the lack of movement off the ball was very worrying. Since the players returned from the last international break the team has been in free fall.

League defeats against Chelsea and Norwich were followed by yesterday's toothless display. The Champions League defeat to Schalke was probably the worst display of all and they are Arsenal's next opponents. The league win over QPR was a real struggle and it was a second string team which had that remarkable win over Reading.

I could take a defeat to United a lot better if Arsenal had played well and made United work for it. Sadly United had to do very little to take the three points and were from impressive either. An Arsenal team with any confidence could surely have gotten a result from that game.

It's a sad day when Arsenal can lose away to United and they don't have to resort to cheating and diving to win. They didn't even need any help from the referee who did little wrong apart from giving them a slightly harsh penalty. United have been vulnerable in defence this season but Arsenal couldn't do enough to test that defence properly.

Last season's start may have been disastrous for Arsenal, but they managed to turn things around after the first seven league games. Arsenal actually had more points at this stage last season than they have now and this is the fewest points the team has at this stage of the season in 18 years. What's worse is there are very few players who can come into the team and make a difference to how the team are playing.

The team has no proper wide players and they have become too easy to defend against. There were plenty of chances to get good crosses into the head of Giroud yesterday but the quality of the crossing was pathetic. When teams close Arsenal down they just cannot find another way around them at the moment.

Besides the overall ineptitude of the team there were some particularly bad individual displays. Thomas Vermaelen is the club captain and as I see it that's the only thing keeping him in the team. He was at fault for United's first goal yesterday and he did his best to give away more goals too.

Laurent Koscielny may not have been overly impressive when he has played this season, but I think he should be given his chance to play. The partnership between him and Per Mertesacker is the best central defensive one for me and it needs to be given a chance. What is abundantly clear is that Mertesacker is head and shoulders above either of them at the moment in more ways than one.

Lukas Podolski settled into the team very quickly, but he has really gone off the boil. Surely he cannot be picked in every single game when there are others who should be given a chance. At least Andrey Arshavin can cross the ball which is something no one else in the team seems capable of doing.

I feared for Mannone before yesterday's game but he did very well to be fair to him. He made some good saves at crucial times to keep Arsenal in the game. I haven't been overly impressed with him in recent weeks but he deserves praise for yesterday's performance.

Arsenal still have the best defensive record in the league. If it wasn't for the bluntness of their attack they would be looking an awful lot better. It's very unusual to see Arsenal struggle to create anything under Arsene Wenger.

The club have sold their best players season after season and it looks like it may have finally caught up with them. I may have an intense dislike of van Persie but he did get Arsenal out of jail very often last season. There is nobody in the squad who has the individual brilliance to change the game when things aren't going wrong.

It seems too easy for teams to stop Arsenal playing at the moment. Obviously other teams are doing their homework and working out how to stop the Arsenal engine from working. I would love to know if Arsenal are doing the same thing to work out a plan to negate their opponents because it doesn't look that way to me.

The top three teams are streets ahead of Arsenal in terms of squad strength. Arsenal's only realistic target is fourth place and that's very difficult to take with 28 league games still to play. Their season will probably be decided in their battles with the other teams chasing fourth place.

I'm not sure how things can change between now and Tuesday but they have to. The general malaise in the squad has to be halted before the season is lost altogether.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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