Monday, 29 April 2013

Arsenal 1-1 Manchester United: Paradise Lost

Arsenal played at home to the newly crowned Premier League champions yesterday knowing that they needed a win to keep a hold of third place. Spurs were still behind them after drawing at Wigan on Saturday, but Chelsea were already 2-0 up on Swansea and were set to overtake Arsenal. With both of those teams having a game in hand on Arsenal nothing less than a win would do.

Arsene Wenger had to decide who to pick at centre forward with Olivier Giroud suspended after his red card at Fulham last week. His choices were limited but he played safe and opted for Lukas Podolski. The only other change from last week was Kieran Gibbs coming in at left back as he continued to rotate that role with Nacho Monreal.

The Arsenal players gave United a guard of honour before the game, but the fans made their feelings known by booing them. The biggest jeers of all were reserved for ex captain Robin van Persie on his first return to his former club. Those jeers continued for the rest of the game every time he touched the ball.

Arsenal got off to the best start possible when they took the lead with less than two minutes gone. Tomas Rosicky played Theo Walcott in on the right and he finished from a tight angle past David de Gea in the United goal. Replays showed Walcott was slightly offside but the assistant missed it and the goal stood.

Arsenal got stuck into United and had the upper hand as the champions struggled to get their game going. There weren't too many chances to increase that lead, but one glorious chance was missed.

Arsenal broke quickly after winning the ball in midfield and Aaron Ramsey advanced into their penalty area. As he was closed down he had a choice between Podolski on the left and Walcott on the right to pass to. He chose Podolski and his shot was saved, but Walcott was in a much better position and would surely have scored if Ramsey had passed to him.

United had a couple of chances of their own on the break with Van Persie and Phil Jones both missing with headers. Jones should have scored and Wojciech Szczesny managed to get his face in the way of Van Persie's effort. Both crosses came from the Arsenal right as Bacary Sagna was found wanting in his defensive duties.

Shortly before half time it was Sagna who handed United their equaliser on a plate. He tried to pass the ball back to Per Mertesacker but he could only play it to Van Persie who advanced into the penalty area. As Sagna tried to get back to retrieve his error his tackle was mistimed and he took him down to give away the penalty.

The league's top scorer got up to take the penalty as Sagna's name went into the referee's book. He made no mistake from the spot kick and the teams were level with half time approaching quickly. After all of their effort it was very disappointing for Arsenal not to be leading at the break.

The second half was a more even affair with Arsenal struggling to create chances for the most part. United looked dangerous on the break, but Arsenal defended well enough and their chances were very limited too. The closest Arsenal came was a Santi Cazorla effort which De Gea pushed away late on.

The boss made changes as the game went on with Jack Wildhere, Gervinho and Alex Oxllade-Chamberlain coming on for Tomas Rosicky, Podolski and Ramsey respectively. It was to little avail though as they failed to find the goal they needed.

The team worked very hard throughout the game but they didn't show an awful lot of quality in the final third. Far too often there was nobody in the penalty area when Arsenal got the ball into wide areas. The balance of the team wasn't right with Cazorla on the left either as he came inside at every opportunity.

It meant most of Arsenal's wide play was on the right and Sagna was usually the player trying to deliver the ball into the area. He has been a good servant to Arsenal for a long time now but he hasn't had a good season and yesterday was a bad day for him. He made a poor challenge in the second half which should have earned him a second yellow card, but thankfully the referee decided otherwise.

His defending was at least better in the second half and he made a couple of good tackles and interceptions. I have no doubt that he has been affected by breaking his leg twice last season and also that he has just over a year left on his contract with Arsenal. I would be very surprised to see Sagna in an Arsenal shirt next season.

A point at home to the champions wasn't a bad result for an Arsenal team that has struggled against other teams in the top five this season. The consequences of the draw were that Arsenal lost the mastery of their fate and must now depend on other teams to finish in the top four. They will probably have to win their last three games to qualify for next season's Champions League.

Those games are all winable as they are against teams struggling at the wrong end of the table. QPR are up next and they are already relegated with three games to go and that's followed by a home game against Wigan a few days after they play in the FA Cup final. The final game is away to Newcastle and hopefully they can play like they did against Liverpool last Saturday.

Despite the setback of no longer being in control of their own fate it was equally important that the team didn't lose on Sunday. They have kept their unbeaten run going and the defence managed to hold fairly firm against the best attack in the league. My real worry at the moment is the lack of decent goal scoring opportunities the team is creating.

They need to find their creativity again for those last three games as they are all against teams with a poor defensive record. If Arsenal can stay solid at the back and add justa  little more creativity I feel confident that a top four place is still well within their grasp. I have no doubt that it will come down to the last game of the season as seems to be the Arsenal way at the moment.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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