Monday, 11 November 2013

Arsenal Lose To United But Still Top The League

Arsenal went into yesterday's trip to Manchester United on top of the league and knowing they would remain there no matter what the result was. The only question was whether they would increase their lead on those of the chasing pack who had not lost and would make up some ground on them. It's never an easy task to play away to United and so it proved on the day.

Arsenal weren't helped when both Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky were taken ill and could play no part in the game. Others in the team were apparently not feeling the best either and that's no position to be in going to face the reigning Premier League Champions. The game also came at the end of a very tough week which had seen a league victory at home to Liverpool and a Champions League victory away to Borussia Dortmund.

Maybe those games took a lot out of the Arsenal players and combined with the illness in the squad their performance probably suffered a little. Arsenal might have lost to a headed goal from a corner but they certainly weren't outplayed, but they lacked the creative spark which has been such a hallmark of the season so far. I think their lack of options in the wide positions due to injuries had a real impact on their ability to hurt United.

Serge Gnabry came on late in the game and looked capable of making things happen and who knows how they might have fared with Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the team. The Arsenal team could certainly do with an injection of pace at times and those players offer an abundance of it. Hopefully they will be back in the team very soon with a lot of big games to come once the dreaded international break is over. 

I can't say I was overly impressed with United and besides the goal they only looked like scoring when Wayne Rooney dragged a shot wide in the first half. They worked very hard and Rooney received all the plaudits afterwards for his work rate rather than anything spectacular he did in the game. They might well have got themselves within five points of Arsenal, but they still have a lot to do if they are going to retain the title.

Despite all of the tiredness and illness Arsenal still had almost 60% of the possession and on another day I think that would have been more than enough to win or even get a draw. When they needed to find that extra spark it just wasn't there and they over played the ball too often and failed to shoot when opportunities seemed to present themselves. A few of the team look like they need a rest at the moment and hopefully this international break won't take too much out of them.

There were still some positives on the day and the performance of Thomas Vermaelen was one of them. He has hardly had a look in since the partnership of Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny has blossomed, but he still gave his all and played to try to claim a place in the team. We can ask no more of a player who is left out of the team than to see him try his best to get a permanent spot when he gets a chance to play.

There was much made on TV of how Mertesacker may have been missed at the corner from which United scored, but it was just one of those things. The ball came off the shoulder of van Persie rather than his had and looped over Kieran Gibbs who hadn't wandered far from his position at the far post. The performance of Vermaelen made up for Mertesacker's absence and the defence were pretty solid.

The problems were at the other end where Arsenal failed to score for the first time this season except in the Capital One Cup game against Chelsea which I don't really count. Even though I didn't think Rosicky was going to start I think he was sorely missed as he's a player who can make things happen by running at the opposition. If he hadn't picked up that illness then he might have been the man to add the spark Arsenal needed so much.

When the season started I would have been thrilled to have seen Arsenal on top of the table with eight wins in their first 11 games at this stage. They're top of their Champions League group too and in a very good position to qualify for the knockout stages from a really tough group. The season has an awful lot of promise and one loss away to United won't change that.

After United both Chelsea and City are being cited as the next big challenges for Arsenal to prove whether they can keep pace at the top or not. There's a few games to go before then and if Arsenal can get to the week where they play those two teams still in contention then surely they will have to be taken seriously. It has to be remembered that both Chelsea and City have had their troubles in the league this season and were lucky to get one point between them this weekend.

I think this Arsenal team has the class and the bottle to put in a genuine title challenge and they will last the pace. Whether they can keep it going at the very end of the season when the chips are down is another thing, but I'd love to see them get a chance to do so.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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