Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Man Utd 0-1 Arsenal: Trossard’s ‘Freddie’ goal takes it to the final day

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The title of yesterday’s blog was ‘Just win’, and Arsenal did exactly that. They won, just. A single Leandro Trossard goal was enough to take all three points and ensure the destination of the title goes down to the final day.

I said in that blog I thought it was a difficult game to write about beforehand, and I think it’s a difficult game to write about afterwards too. This was, on paper, the worst Manchester United line-up I’ve seen in a very long time. They probably put out League Cup sides with more quality than this one down the years. Arsenal, meanwhile, were unchanged, packed full of quality, and a team that had won 14 of its last 16 games going into this one. It should have been no contest.

But that’s not how football works. We didn’t play anywhere near as well as we can, and United weren’t completely hopeless, so it was all quite even. It’s hard to put your finger on why. From their perspective, reacting to a 4-0 hammering by Crystal Palace was probably part of it. Save some face in front of their home fans. From ours, it could have been the pressure of the title race, the impact of Man City’s result against Fulham, our record at Old Trafford, or just an off-day. It was probably a little of all of them.

Sometimes what you need on a day like this is a bit of luck, and while there was nothing fortunate about the execution of our goal, it was lucky for us that United’s injury list is so bad that Casemiro was playing at centre-half. He has clearly decided that running is not for him anymore, and the way he lazily ambled out from the back left space for Kai Havertz to exploit as the Brazilian played him onside. The German took it into the box, the low cross was perfect for the superb movement of Trossard, who tucked home to make it 1-0. His run of goalscoring feels very Freddie Ljungberg, and let’s hope the scoreline from this game – which reminds you of Marc Overmars in 1998 and Slyvain Wiltord in 2002, is a good omen.

Honestly though, it was so bad from Casemiro. All this nonsense about how, because he’s played as a central midfielder his whole life, he doesn’t understand that a centre-half needs to push out quickly. It’s garbage. Of course he does. It’s one of the first things you learn when you play football, it’s not some secret knowledge that only defenders possess, he just couldn’t be arsed, and I thank him for it.

Did the goal settle us down? No, not really. I thought it was interesting that Mikel Arteta said afterwards the goal had the opposite effect you’d imaging on us, saying:

The goal affected us in a negative way, especially with the things that we had to do on the ball. We were playing too safe, and playing backwards, and playing in areas where it wasn’t progressing our play and creating the threat that we wanted. We started to give a lot of balls away because of that and then the game became open but it’s true that on the same hand, we defended so well again.

To be fair, if the performance from an attacking perspective was lacking so much of what we’ve seen from this team this season, we weren’t found wanting at the back. That solidity, with those four big lads across the backline was too much for United. They huffed and puffed, trying to blow the house down, but they were repelled due to the quality we had back there – coupled with their complete lack of quality in the final third. As for blowing the house down, the wind and rain seemed to do that to Old Trafford at full-time.

Was it pleasant? Absolutely not. I’d have paid good money, or sacrificed a toe, for another Arsenal goal, but it didn’t come. For all United’s ‘pressure’ we looked the team most likely to score. Onana had to make some good saves in the final stages, whereas Raya – to his credit I should add – had little to do but make the ball stick when they slung in hopeful crosses. I enjoyed his yellow card.

They brought on Antony to do nothing, ten Hag tried a couple of Hail Mary subs at the end, and I did wonder why we didn’t bring Jorginho on to add some calm to midfield, but in the end a 1-0 was all that mattered. Analysis of this performance seems a bit pointless really. I’m sure if we hadn’t taken all three points we could pick the bones out of it all week long, but on the penultimate weekend of the season to go to Old Trafford and win, I don’t think it merits anything more than happiness, relief, and growing excitement about what this week could bring.

Afterwards, Arteta said:

They are all buzzing. We really wanted to live that moment, so we say, okay, now we have to earn the right to go to the last day and live that moment. That is part of our journey and to have a big chance of winning the Premier League and we’re going to experience that. We’re going to have a normal preparation, like every week, to try to be in the best space to compete and try to beat Everton and then live the occasion as well.

I’m sure you all understand the permutations, what we need to happen in other games this week, so let’s not waste time with that now. For me, the sense of dread – which I tried to elucidate on in the new Arsecast Extra recorded after the game – was about not having that opportunity at home. If we beat Everton on the final day, winning 15 of our last 17 games, and lose the title because Man City haven’t lost a league game since December, I can compartmentalise that much more easily than falling at the final hurdle against a United team who aren’t fit for purpose.

We’ve done that, and whatever happens this week and next weekend, I love the fact this is where we are as a club now. I love that this team continues to progress. When we missed out on Champions League football a couple of seasons ago, so many pundits said ‘That was their chance, and they blew it!’. Last season, when the title challenge crumbled, they said, ‘That was their chance, and they blew it!’.

Think again, dickheads. No Arsenal team has ever won 27 Premier League games before. We have more points than we did last season. If we win on the final day, only the Invincibles will ever have garnered more points in a single campaign. We keep going, we keep getting better, and this team is no flash in the pan. I don’t know how it ends up this season, but we’ll be challenging against next season for sure.

But, let’s live in the now. Let’s enjoy this week. Let’s keep fingers crossed for the right results elsewhere, and see what the lie of the land is on Sunday. Enjoy this team, these players, this manager, and the fact where we are now is night and day to where we were not that long ago. Being good and being on the brink of success does bring its own challenges in terms of stress and pressure, but they are far, far preferable to the alternative.

Thanks lads, and onto Sunday (for us!). For more on the game, and what it means, the Arsecast Extra is below. Happy listening.

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