Arsenal Fail To Deliver & Get Nothing As A Result
Manchester United 1 – 0 Arsenal
1 – 0 Park (41)
A familiar feeling this morning. Arsenal travelled home from Old Trafford with nothing to show for their efforts, a single goal defeat ending their brief reign at the top. Whilst they were not outclassed, Arsenal cannot really feel aggrieved at losing. Rarely over-run; rarely threatening. It was a performance which never threatened a goal and United will be happy with the points but also with the manner of victory, containing Arsenal with relative ease.
Quite simply, this match was there for the taking and the Arsenal players never rose to the occasion. Not that they were overawed, more that the level of intensity that was expected never materialised. Too many gave comfortable performances, few took the step further.
Before kick-off, Manchester United were expected to swamp midfield with numbers, a successful tactic from recent encounters and they duly delivered. Either by design or default, it led to a higher number of long ‘passes’ towards the centre of the Arsenal defence.
Overall, the formation and tactics were not pretty but for United they were effective. Defensively, the quality of clearances from the visitors was poor. Too many lacked power and direction, sometimes both; too many ended up ceding possession cheaply.
Arsene chose to highlight the quality of the pitch as a factor in the defeat. Nothing more than a diversionary comment from the manager, seeking to deflect attention from his own team’s shortcomings. Technically proficient players such as those in his squad, will be able to overcome any surface conditions.
Wenger credited United for defending well but in truth their back five had little to do. That state of affairs arose because of the poor quality of Arsenal’s attacking play combined with United snuffling out chances (with relative ease, it must be said) and some appalling officiating.
Humourous comments beforehand about Howard Webb’s allegiances have a hollow ring this morning, certain United players will be thankful for the laxity of his standards. How Bacary Sagna’s shirt being shredded was not as the result of dangerous and reckless play, only Webb knows.
The first half was largely forgettable. Wojciech Szczesney dealt with an early Rooney effort comfortably, as he did with an Anderson free kick. The young Pole had an impressive night. Unable to stop Park’s header, he dealt confidently with everything else United threw at him. The only concern was his distribution which perhaps betrayed his nerves, not that his defenders helped him in this aspect by some appalling back passes.
With half an hour passed, United had a penalty appeal turned down, one that was a clearer offence than that apparently committed by Gael Clichy later on. Marouane Chamakh in meeting a cross, allowed the ball to strike his hand, something over which he had more control than the full back. The actual penalty was baffling and yet unsurprising.
Clichy’s arm was supporting his body weight as the ball bounced off it, hardly stopping any United pressure as the cross was not powerful enough to have gone into the Arsenal area. But the pressure of the Stretford End was too much for the Assistant Referee to bear and he signalled the spot kick to be given. Howard Webb did not need much encouragement. Rooney blew his chance spectacularly, his Waddle-sque kick matched only by the bizarre waddle of his run-up.
The game’s only goal came as the interval approached. United pressed and the defence failed to clear the initial danger adequately. Regrouping and attacking once more, Nani delivered a cross which ended in the net through a mixture of luck and good technique. Park shifted his position and body weight to cushion the header and at least direct it goalwards.
Luck entered the equation as it looped over Szczesny and into the net, close to the post. Some believe the young Pole may have done better but even being closer to his goalline would have made a save extremely difficult, such was the ball’s proximity to post as it entered the net.
The second half saw Arsenal begin with more attacking energy. Rosicky’s cross shot went wide whilst Nasri saw his effort saved by van der Sar at the near post. Not a major threat from either but more than Arsenal had managed in the first half.
United were not without menace themselves; Song headed over the Arsenal bar whilst Rooney was once more denied the Arsenal’s young goalkeeper. Arsenal’s best effort though came when Nasri’s shot was parried by van der Sar, Chamakh failed to get any lift on his rebound, allowing Vidic to slide in and prevent an equaliser.
Overall, it was a performance which gave nothing and received the same. Is there a mental block on the players or manager in these encounters? Fabregas, van Persie and Walcott were unable to influence the outcome, the former pair returning from injury and not at their best. Theo at least provided width, something that had failed miserably to happen with an out-of-sorts Arshavin, Rosicky and Nasri. That trio worked well at Villa Park but it was obvious that it was not effective last night. Perhaps Arsene should have taken an earlier grip and switched them positionally to garner more attacking bite?
First place can be recovered this coming weekend with a home win over Stoke and may not be temporary either, United’s bluster about being able to beat both Arsenal and Chelsea may turn out to be just that unless they improve significantly in their next game. As it is, Arsenal must look inwards and define the qualities lacking last night, the solutions necessary if title-winning consistency is to be developed.