Hold your horses Gooners
MANCHESTER UNITED 2 ARSENAL 0
THE CHALLENGE, I think, for all of us is to try and stop the utter despair we feel over going out of three cup competitions in a fortnight from clouding our analysis of what we have seen.
By that I mean that the Gooners I spoke to immediately after the United game possessed a negativity that could only in part be explained by events at Old Trafford.
I think there are significant issues that need addressing after tonight’s game. But equally I do think we have to realise that going out of three cup competitions in a fortnight is not easy. And by that I literally mean that logistically, it takes some doing because the only time the cup games come so close together is when you’ve progressed into the latter stages of them. Look at it this way: nobody is analysing how Houdini managed to tumble out of one competition 4-1 at home in the first round and another one 4-0 away in the second round. That’s because he had the good sense to separate them by four months. Granted, he’s still in Europe, but I think my point is valid: had we lost Spurs back in September and got United in January and lost 2-0, things would look very different.
So I do think you have to acknowledge that much and the fact we went out 4-3 on aggregate to Barcelona and lost at Old Trafford today in a quarter-final, missing as many first team players as they were. In themselves they are not terrible defeats.
But on the flip side this was depressingly familiar. I actually thought we lost the game in what some people will say was our best spell: the opening 25 minutes. Yes, we dominated possession. But if the experience of previous Old Trafford encounters had taught us nothing, the Fabio header over the bar should have served as a warning: they were destined to create chances and so it was crucial that we did too. Unfortunately we showed no interest in forcing the play. It was all technically very nice around the box but there was no forcing and we didn’t have a single proper goalscoring chance.
The goal duly arrived – not surprisingly from a Gibbs error. He, if we’re honest, had as bad a game as he’s had for Arsenal. I could see it happening. We simply had to go for the opener and we didn’t.
One thing that got me immediately after they scored was how Arshavin suddenly burst into the box with real purpose and drove the ball across goal with real meaning. Where was that before?
It is true that after that we were more ragged, but at least we forced the play and created chances. RVP came close and so did Nasri. But when you’ve got a lead life is so much easier.
And yes, we came very close to equalising through Koscielny before more dopey defending gave them a second. We kept going and I think on balance we probably merited getting one back. But when you’ve let in the opening goal without creating even one of your own chances, there can be few complaints.
This kind of thing does seem to happen again and again and when you look at it, we’ve scored something like three goals in 12 games at Old Trafford. So goalscoring, quite clearly, is our problem there and yet we didn’t go for the opening goal with anything like the thrust that we should have.
Performance wise, Almunia (8) made one great save, Djourou (6.5) was (I think) slow to react for the second, Koscielny (7) had that Adamsesque moment and generally did well but might have been slow for the first, Sagna (6.5) was ok but the crossing was no better than that and Gibbs (5) was poor at both ends.
Wilshere (7.5) again showed the drive we need, Denilson (6.5) didn’t do that badly, Diaby (6) struggled to actually make a telling impact, while Nasri (7) offered as much hope as anyone.
RVP (6.5) ultimately didn’t score and that’s what we needed him to do.
Arshavin (3) was appalling in the moments before he got taken off. Let’s not pull our punches here: he is fat and he is lazy. His behaviour was a disgrace, his body language atrocious and frankly, he shouldn’t be near the team with an attitude like that.
It was good to see Ramsey (7) back, Rosicky (6.5) was interested and Chamakh (6) should have scored with the header.
Djourou’s injury is just unbelievable. Seriously, someone is conspiring against us. I know there are those who will say Arsene should have bought in January but I’m not convinced how many players he could have bought in that would have been picked ahead of Squillaci for the rest of the season.
The series of Paul Scholes tackles at the end were just extraordinary when you consider there was a guy on the pitch making his first appearance for Arsenal in over a year after being victim to just one of those Scholes’ tackles. One thing that is worth noticing is that for all the grief that the pundits have given Arsene over the years when he has moaned about tackling, the sands have shifted massively towards what he has been saying. Nobody was sticking up for Scholes today.
That he didn’t get sent-off was no surprise. I’m frankly no fan of conspiracy theories and I don’t believe there is one that exists with United. But watching their game against City a few weeks ago and watching them again today, I have to say that I do think subconsciously referees often favour them.
There were early tackles from Rooney and Evra that could very easily be bookings. There was the corner that was never a corner and there was the time when Evra was judged to have fairly dispossessed Nasri down by our corner flag despite being all over him. And then there was Scholes.
In fairness, there was one Denilson tackle near half-time that should have been given as a free-kick, but on balance I swear they get the decisions. And I’m not convinced the same is true of us at the Emirates: we’ve had five red cards at home this season and a fair few penalties too…
Anyway, getting back to the point, there is no denying that all the ingredients are in place for the end of season collapse that we’ve become accustomed to in recent years. We’ve been hit by cup defeats, we’ve got some bizarre injuries (both our first choice keepers and two centre backs out for the season over two months before it finishes) and we’ve got the likes of Cesc struggling for fitness.
Nobody would be surprised if we capitulated from here on in.
And yet, infinitely stranger things than us going on to win the league have happened. Had you said in August that come this time we’d be out of the cups but so involved in the league, most of us wouldn’t have just taken it, we’d have been pleasantly surprised.
So hold your horses. Let’s wait and see. I saw some people judging the season after we lost to Barcelona. Then was not the time and nor is now.