Reaction: Manchester United (H)

Rosicky and Walcott celebrates only to be undone by Sagna.

Rosicky and Walcott celebrates only to be undone by Sagna.

The hotly anticipated match between the two former rivals ended in a 1-1 draw. It was a fast paced game decided by goals in the first half. The match yielded good entertainment but the result meant that both teams could not do what they had initially set out to. Arsenal faces a nervous three weeks while United will not be able to better the league’s points record.

 

 

First Half

It took just two minutes for Arsenal to open the scoring. Rosicky laid off an accurate ball to Walcott who rushed in from the right. Walcott made no mistake from a tight angle. However, the goal was offside. Walcott was a foot ahead of the last defender when Rosicky released the ball. Some Arsenal fans will talk about the many offside goals United have scored but I don’t buy that. Many wrong calls don’t make a right. The goal was what we needed but there’s no contention about it being offside.

 

The goal was what we needed but there’s no contention about it being offside.

 

Arsenal played with a high tempo and pushed pretty high up the pitch. Walcott seemed to be buoyed by his early goal, chasing up and down relentlessly. Rosicky and Ramsey charged around the midfield, getting stuck in while harrying United players when they had the ball. It was interesting to see Arteta and Koscielny push up to make a tackle / interception instead of the routine falling back. Such moves opened up avenues of attack for Arsenal but nothing went through as United played a flat back four with three in the middle when they were on the back foot. As such, most attacks went towards the right as Sagna was tasked with providing proper crosses and passes. In what is becoming a worryingly consistent display, his crosses were terrible and the only ball retention that occurred was when he passed backwards or poked it towards Theo or Cazorla next to him.

Arsenal had the early momentum going for them. Chances were not exactly flowing but the game was becoming rather disjoint with plenty of misplaced passes from both teams. Phil Dowd seemed to be card happy with United, dishing out 4 yellow cards before Theo was the first Arsenal player to be booked. In my opinion, his cards on Rafael, Evans and Theo were harsh. The incident between Evans and Theo was an unnecessary flare up.

United looked sharp in counter attacks with Van Persie, Rooney, Nani and Jones critical in their attacks. Van Persie had a goal bound header saved by Szczesny’s face resulting in a nose bleed. Jones dived too early and his header ‘limped’ out.

With all the industry and promise of the first half, the half ended ugly for Arsenal as Sagna made two critical mistakes. His weak back pass was gifted directly to Van Persie who cut into the box. The Frenchman rushed and slid in, missing the ball and catching Van Persie’s feet. It was a stonewall penalty. Sagna only had himself to blame for that. He could have gotten a red for a professional foul as the last man but Dowd handed out a yellow and Van Persie converted the penalty without fuss. The half ended even but Arsenal would have felt hard done after pressing hard throughout and fashioning more chances.

 

 

Second Half

The second half started like the first. United continued their usual quick one twos that Koscielny and Arteta managed to handle pretty well. Mertesacker was often caught off pace by Rooney and it did feel as if our right side of the defence was going to be United’s favoured point of attack.

Counter attacks on both ends continued to flow in this high pace game. Rosicky had an excellent chance to put the Gunners ahead after Ramsey found him in space. His outside foot shot was skewed wide. Rooney and Van Persie began focusing on the right hand side as a good one two saw Rooney missing an accurate cross. Sagna and Mertesacker were not coping at that point.

United began to take control of the match. Their passes were sharper and more direct. They seemed to be physically stronger and won most physical duels. It was quite frustrating to see Arsenal being the smaller and yet slower team. You would expect our smaller players to be quicker but we were outpaced in multiple races for the ball. Rosicky was replaced mid-way due to this with Wenger preferring Wilshere to lead the midfield triangle. At that point, Rosicky was probably our best player but he was slowing down.

 

Counter attacks were being traded. Arsenal had a few opportunities that went away due to hesitation in play. United were more direct but their crosses from the left were rather poor.

 

Counter attacks were being traded. Arsenal had a few opportunities that went away due to hesitation in play. United were more direct but their crosses from the left were rather poor. Sagna continued his rather poor form, misplacing passes and creating some heart stopping moments for the Arsenal defence.

Wenger brought Gervinho on for Podolski and Oxlade Chamberlain for Ramsey to inject more pace into the game. It was done in hope that United would tire out. Arsenal regained some control of the game but frankly it was just end to end stuff with attacks falling apart when it counted at each end.

In the closing minutes of the game, Arsenal piled on the pressure without any real shot on target. United defended in their box and none of the many corners Arsenal had throughout the match amounted to anything.

 

 

Defence

I thought Koscielny, Ramsey and Arteta did really well. Per had an off and on game. He was caught out of position a few times but did make key interceptions that kept us in the game. Sagna was off both defensively and offensively. It is a pity that we had to face United twice with off form wingers (read: Santos in the first match). Koscielny, Arteta and Ramsey limited United’s central options and restricted them to going out wide. Many tackles were won in the middle that resulted in promising counter attacks. This is a major improvement as compared to the constant fall back we saw earlier this season.

 

Many tackles were won in the middle that resulted in promising counter attacks. This is a major improvement.

 

WS1 had a good game. He saved two point blank headers, one with his face (or nose) and the other from Rooney. He was commanding in the box and dealt with aerial threats well.

 

 

Hesitation

I think we were a lot quicker in this game as compared to our previous matches such as those against Fulham and West Brom. Our midfield moved quickly and some of the passing and tackling was a joy to watch. However, the moment we entered the final third, everything slowed and grinded to a halt. Hesitation has been the mark of our attacking play in the final third.

This was seen clearly in contrast to United’s direct play. We take almost double the amount of passes to get into their box as compared to them into ours. You can put this down to our players still learning and understanding each other. After all, United has been able to keep their team together and their current crop has been mostly together for at least two seasons or more. Time will tell, but our play in the final third has to improve. We’re giving too much time for any opposition (even relegation candidates) to reorganize and defend.

 

 

Podolski as CF

I was surprised to see him upfront considering he has never finished 90 mins for us (bar 1). While he is arguably one of our better finishers, he was not able to get in the game. Poldi dropped too far back at times and was not playing off the last man to use his pace as an advantage for the midfield to pick him out. While it is hard to knock a semi injured player who has almost never played as a lone CF, it was clear that Gervinho is our only “tested” CF option next to the suspended Giroud.

Gervinho did eventually come on for Podolski. He managed to get involved quickly with his trickery giving the United defence problems but nothing came out of it somewhat expectedly. I think Giroud is rightly our number 1 choice for CF. Yes he is slow (really slow) and his finishing is nowhere close to what Theo and Poldi can do but he knows how to play the role. There was no real central focus for our attacks today and it was down to missing Giroud. We need a big pacey CF and I am not sure that the rumoured Jovetic is the answer.

 

 

Fair

The result was fair. Arsenal fans will feel hard done by Sagna’s stupid mistakes. United fans will feel the same by Theo’s offside goal. Arsenal displayed more industry and possession but United were more direct and had the more dangerous chances.

Both teams were fighting for three points and the result did not do either much favour. United’s hope of beating Chelsea’s points record is all but over. Arsenal will need to win all their final matches (3) to put themselves in frame for a CL spot and hope for other results to go their way.

To be frank, most of us considered the United match as a lose case in endless scenario calculations. A point is a good result but one that leaves a sour taste because we had chances and were in position for a win.

 

Improving the team is not a case of solely buying new players and replacing duds / aging ones. Wenger has to look at strategic side of things.

 

Improving the team is not a case of solely buying new players and replacing duds / aging ones. Wenger has to look at strategic side of things. Arsenal’s attacking play is too slow and hesitant. He needs to keep the team together and make the team more efficient going forward. Yelling about how many passes we pull off in a match is not very flattering in this context.

The final weeks will be telling. Here comes the roller coaster.

 

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