Monday, January 23, 2012

Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2

First of all, I have to admit that I only watched the last 5 minutes of the first half and the whole second half, so I might not be in a position to do the post mortem of the game. Also, I did not have time to discuss the game afterwards with the members as I usually do. Therefore, this review here does not necessarily reflect that of Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club. However, I was compelled to write something positive amogst the doom and gloom surrounding a large section of Arsenal fans following the defeat.

I will not go into the details of the match apart from the brief comments on each player's performance in the usual Player Ratings section below, but I am going to pick several talking points from this game.

The biggest talking point was arguably the substitution, which Wenger admitted as a "tactical mistake" according to Sky Sports. His decision to replace the best player on the pitch in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with out-of-form Andrey Arshavin met with the fury of Arsenal fans and even the dissent of RVP (He later denied any rifts with his boss, but all the fans would agree with his instant reaction). Although it turned out that the sub played a part in conceding Man U's winner, what disgusted fans more was the fact that it was none other than Chambo who was taken off the pitch rather than Arshavin replacing him. The Russian could have come on the pitch in place of Walcott or Ramsey, but not Chambo, who looked most dangerous to Man U defence. This notion was confirmed by the fact that Sir Alex Furguson replaced the substitute defender, Rafael, with an attacking player, Ji-Sun Park, only 3 minutes after Chambo left the pitch.

Wenger defended his decision, by stating "I can understand that the fans are upset about the substitution, especially when it doesn't work, but he (Oxlade-Chamberlain) had started to fatigue, He was sick in the week. Arshavin is captain of the Russia national team. You have an 18-year-old kid making his first Premier League start and a player who's captain of his country and they are querying the substitution? Let's be serious." The explanation of the substitution looks a bit feeble to me.

Obviously the result was disappointing and fairly devastating to Arsenal's aspiration for the top four finish (it was fortunate that Tottenham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Stoke all lost, while Chelsea only drew this weekend), but we have a lot of positives to take from this game.

The biggest positive of all was the outstanding performance of Chambo, which convinced us that he is now capable of coping with the intensity of the Premier-League games. After the disappointing first-half performance, Arsenal responded well in the second half, creating enough chances to win the game. Especially, the quick counter-attack leading to RVP's equaliser was something lacking in Arsenal's game for a long time. Hopefully, they will do it more often. Indeed, the second-half performance was encouraging. Following the two Premier-League defeats at the hands of the mid-table clubs, Arsenal showed that they have quality in the team who were capable of matching or even beating Manchester United if they played to their capacity. Vermaelen, whose fitness was a big doubt prior to the match, came through the game without a hitch. Nico Yennaris was useful in stopping Man U players attacking our right flank freely (although there is a lot of room for improvement offensively) after he had come off the bench to replace Djourou.

I still have belief in Arsene Wenger and think there is nobody better than him as an Arsenal manager, but his faith in underperforming players sometimes frustrates me. Look at Fergie. Bébé is now on loan to a Turkish club (and currently injured) only a year after the signing with a permanent deal in sight, while Obertan was sold to Newcastle after 2 years of service. Keeping on the payroll players who do not live up to expectations undermines the size of the squad under Wenger's strict financial policy. Shouldn't we be more ruthless about players?

Hopefully, more player will come back in the next few weeks. It looks like Coquelin is the first, who may be available the next game against Aston Villa. Sagna and Gibbs are two to three weeks away, both Jack Wilshere and Carl Jenkinson a few weeks away. Keep fingers crossed on the speedy recovery of Henry and Arteta. As Arsene Wenger seems to have no intention of reinforcing the squad in January on loan or otherwise, all we can do at the moment is to wait for the return of the injured players.

Our Man of the Match is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I suppose nobody has objection to that.

Player ratings

Szczeny: 7
Some good saves.

Djourou: 4
He was beaten every time Man U players attacked our right flank. Nightmare. Largely at fault for the first goal by not closing down Giggs despite Ramsey's instruction to mark him. Subbed apparently because of his inefficiency (as we haven't heard any injury report on him).

Mertesacker: 7
He did very well to clear the ball off the line, after he was outpaced by Welbeck. He is not as slow as people think. Although we conceded two goals, our defenders should be given credit for keeping Roony quiet.

Koscielny: 8
He showed determination to win the ball and the game.

Vermaelen: 7
We really needed him back for this game. Although he was partly guilty for Man U's opener by letting Valencia head Gigg's cross home, he worked hard.

Ramsey: 6
Created chances, but missed several goal-scoring opportunities. He has been the subject of a lot of criticism recently, but I think he has talent and skills to become a quality player, but he needs more time after the setback in his career through the horrific injury. Losing Fabregas as a rolemodel and Arteta as a midfield partner now through the injury has not helped his progress. Replaced by Ju Young Park in the 84th minute.

Rosicky: 7
Played a large role in setting up for RVP's goal.

Song: 7
Had a quiet game, but did his job.

Walcott: 5
Messed up some chances.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 9
Spiritted performance. Always looked dangerous. Set up a goal for RVP.

van Persie: 8
Scored goal, but missed an easier chance. Happy 91st birthday to his grandad Wim!


Yennaris: 7
The Leytonstone-born England youth international, who was apparently a team mascot in 2000, came on at half time to replace struggling Djourou. Although his crosses left much to be desired, his defence was fairly solid and much more reliable than Djourou. According to Arsenal player profiles, his position is described as midfielder, although his Carling Cup debut was as the right-back (if I remembered correctly). So he is another full-back played out of position, then! Aresenal are asking fans who should start at right back against Aston Villa in this weeks' Fan's Forum Online Poll  and Nico Yennaris is currently leading the poll with 62% of the total votes.

Arshavin: 4
He was partly blamed for Man U's winner by not being interested in defending.

Park: 4
Except for just one good interception and run, he was not involved in the game.

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