In the immediate aftermath of the game on Twitter I said that this felt worse than the 8-2 last season. In the cold light of day … I stand by that. Last season was a shambles, an Arsenal squad in complete disarray went there and got taken apart by a United side for whom every single thing went right while the opposite was true for us.
Yesterday, well, that showed the real gulf between the two sides. And why wouldn’t there be? Even with the additions we made this summer we sold a team that missed out on the title by an odd kick of an Argentinian’s boot our best player and, by a long way, the best striker in the Premier League. I’m not really trying to open up that old wound again, and clearly it was a situation off the pitch that was far more complicated, but on it … well, we were always going to be exposed. That scab was well and truly picked yesterday.
United were better than us from front to back, they worked harder, had more desire and really could have won the game by a greater margin. A missed penalty, some spurned chances, some Mannone saves and some last ditch defending prevented this getting out of hand. Meanwhile, we looked as threatening as a kitten in a tutu. Sometimes it’s difficult to put things together coherently, so I’ll stick them down in terms of individual points that are racketing around in my head. Starting with:
I think he should be dropped now. The level of his performance this season has been far below what’s required from a senior player and the captain. Had other centre-halves made the mistake he did yesterday for the van Persie goal they would have been slaughtered. And it’s not the first time this season either, the two goals at Chelsea came free kicks given away by his careless tackles. Mistakes happen, any expectation of flawlessness is misguided, but it’s not too much to expect better and Vermaelen isn’t up to scratch right now.
Coupled with his error prone performances there’s a lack of leadership which is also a concern. Arsenal were half-hearted yesterday, there seemed to be no attempt by the captain to change that. I realise it’s not his job alone but he seems inhibited by his own form and at the moment he’s a weak link. The captaincy makes it a difficult thing for the manager to drop him but he should.
And although Laurent Koscielny’s season has hardly been error free, there’s more heart in the Frenchman. Against Reading he had bad moments but sought to make up for them and always looks to contribute in a positive way. He didn’t go into his shell like Vermaelen appears to have done.
Arsenal’s limp attacking display
Once again it took until injury time for us to have a shot on target. Our best spell of the game came when we were down to 10 men but at that point United knew the game was won and were happy enough for us to have it. Cazorla’s goal was beautiful, like Henry’s during the 6-1 a gem that will be forgotten too quickly, but beyond that we were toothless. Arteta was marked out of the game by Rooney, meaning we couldn’t build from the back the way we like to.
Talk of a Plan B is often a bit desperate – it usually means lump it towards the forward and see what happens – but are we really that inflexible that when our favourite avenue is cut off we can’t make a detour? The front three didn’t work and I know people will criticise Aaron Ramsey, but he was no worse than Lukas Podolski who isn’t having to cope with playing out of position. The German was anonymous, again, and it’s clear there’s a lack of understanding between our forwards. Runs are not spotted, passes are played to a man on his heels, they just don’t seem on the same wavelength.
The manager might say it takes time for players to know each other, to click, to find a way of playing together, and that’s normal, but what we lack are options. We’re unbelievably light in that department, all our eggs appear to be in the one basket and at the moment the basket is made out of piss-soaked straw and the eggs are balut (NSFB – Not Safe For Breakfast).
No complaints about the red card really and I think any attempt to blame the referee on our defeat yesterday is smoke-screening of the highest order. I saw a lot of talk yesterday about how Ferguson, having seen Cleverly get away with a foul that could have been a second yellow, immediately made a change. Wenger, in the same situation with Wilshere (he’d just clattered van Persie), chose not to make a change and thus the sending off was his fault.
For this one I have some sympathy with the manager. The key difference for me is that we were 2-0 down and needed to get back into the game. Had the scoreline been reversed I have no doubt Wenger would have hooked Wilshere for the more defensively minded Coquelin and a manager has to have some trust in his players too. You can’t take someone off every time they get a booking. Wilshere’s challenge on Evra was typical of a man who has been out of the game for a long time, he overran the ball when normally he’d control it without a problem, and the challenge itself was rash.
Again there’s a bigger issue, the lack of midfield depth. It’s not an ideal change but Ramsey for Wilshere would have been an obvious change in those circumstances but the Welshman’s deployment out of position, and subsequent substitution, meant the manager had little to work with. You also have to question the decision to allow ourselves to be reliant on Rosicky and Diaby to provide that squad depth. On their days fine players who can contribute a lot, but their injury records are, frankly, appalling and were always going to be miss lots of games. What price now a Nuri Sahin?
Taking van Persie’s shirt at half-time was foolish and illustrative of the way footballers think very, very differently to fans. Whether it was pre-arranged or spur of the moment I don’t know, but if it had to be done it should have been done out of view of the cameras and thus the fans. You can say it’s symptomatic of issues we have in the squad and that it wouldn’t have happened back in the day but I seem to remember Wiltord doing something similar in a European game and maybe Diaby at Newcastle, so it’s not new.
His performance was really no worse than anyone else’s, the bottom line though is that you can’t convince anyone you’re fully focused on the game when you’re swapping shirts with opponents, particularly that opponent, at half-time. It’s also a bit of a sideshow and the fact is we need Kieran Gibbs back (see note above re: Diaby/Rosicky).
Robin van Persie
His goal was inevitable and the post-game talk of ‘respect’ was pitiful, and insulting, after he failed to celebrate, the faker. The moment that stood out for me though was a horrible challenge on Bacary Sagna, one of the few not to give him a cuddle before the game, and to inflict that tackle on a man who had his leg broken twice last season shows the true measure of the man. Brilliant player, wish we still had him, but that was nasty and something we were quite happy to overlook when wearing our shirt (naturally so, I should add).
Another disheartening day, more proof that our squad is too light in key areas, and another day when the team looked sluggish and not ready for the fight. Defeat I can take, it’s always painful but not that much of a problem if I know the team has given everything to try and win the game. It’s hard not to be worried when you see the team go out there and appear so off the pace, especially given the intensity of the game and the edge it had before hand.
To go down without a shot in anger until second half injury time suggests something is fundamentally wrong with the current team. Whether it’s quality of players, motivation, management, confidence or, most likely, a combination of all those things we’ll have to wait and see, but when it comes right down to it, it’s hard to see where this team is going. Four wins from ten league games isn’t any kind of form to shout about and unless we start winning games consistently we’re going to struggle to keep up.
We’ll hear plenty of talk of January and what we might do, but between now and then we’ve got 11 league games and 33 points to compete for with the squad we have. There’s no point trying to cling to the vague hope we’ll turn it all around with crafty transfer business (What, us spend?! hahaha … urgh), it’s got to be done through hard work and application because otherwise this season is going to go in a direction that none of us will like. If it hasn’t already.