Monday, November 5, 2012

Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1

One thing we knew before the match was that it was not going to be an 8-2 again. The scoreline of the last season's corresponding fixture was exaggerated due to Arsenal's weakened line-up and a sending-off. An Arsenal side last season was reduced to only a few first-teamers and inexperienced understudies as a result of the illness of Sagna, injuries to Vermaelen, Wilshere, Diaby, and Gibbs, and the suspension of Song, Frimpong and Gervinho, following the departure of Fabregas and Nasri. Since then, Arsenal added five new signings on the transfer deadline day last August and three quality signings this summer, while they saw RVP and Song leave the Club over the summer this year.

Among Arsenal's starting XI on Saturday, only Ramsey had started in the last season's defeat. Arsenal's starting line-up looked much stronger than the last season's, but our worry was that the team hadn't played to their full potential since the international break.

A certain Dutchman was naturally in the heart of media attention, after his move from the Club he served for eight years (which some says was virtually only one good year). However, at Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club, this wasn't really an issue. We have moved on. Some criticise Arsenal FC for selling their star striker, but our view is that Arsenal had no option but to let him go after the Dutchman published his intention not to sign a new contract on his official website, which was not a commendable way to repay the faith and patience the Club had had in him during his injury-ridden eight-year service.

We may have been lucky to end the game with a reasonably respectable scoreline of 2-1, considering the fact that the Old Trafford was a difficult place to come away with points (and even more difficult to get favourable decisions). On the other hand, we were unlucky to get Jack Wilshere sent off, which virtually killed off any chance of the visitors' comeback. It was Jack's ball to start with and also it was not as bad as Tom Cleverly's earlier foul, which the Manchester United player got off with. There was no consistency in Mike Dean's decisions.

Following the defeat which marked Arsenal's worst start to the season in the last 16 years, some fans have started calling for Arsene Wenger's sacking, but you cannot blame a manager for players' individual mistakes, such as Vermaelen's slip. In fact, our captain haven't had good games this season. He doesn't look very confident. His commitment and determination to win a game earned him a nickname "the Verminator" among fans a few years ago. He started showing his leadership quality from the early days in his Arsenal career. Arsenal have been criticised recently for the lack of characters on the pitch, but the Belgian showed his character and led us to victories last season, most notably against Newcastle. We really need our captain to find his confidence again, although fortunately we have another leader on the pitch in the shape of Mikel Arteta.

Arsene Wenger cannot be faulted on individual mistakes which could have avoided losses (Mannone's goalkeeping error against Norwich was another example), but he needs to address a problem we have been facing for the last three weeks. The problem is that our attacking has not been clicking. Manchester United's defence has been suspect this season, shipping 14 goals so far in the league games alone. (Incidentally, Arsenal have conceded fewer goals than any other Premier League club with 8). If we had mounted pressure on their defence like we did relentlessly against Reading midweek, we could have scored more goals. However, we didn't look dangerous in the final third and failed to threaten Man U defence.

Another underperforming player these days is Lukas Podolski. His recent drop in form coincides with Gibbs' absence. The Germany international is a proven goalscorer and world-class player. We must get the best out of him again. If Gibb's return is not imminent, tactical changes may be required.

On a positive side, Cazorla scored a stunning goal in the last second. He hasn't been at his best for a few weeks because of the opponents' close marking, but in this game, he was pulling the strings once again in the heart of Arsenal attack when he had the ball. He managed to find more chances to get on the ball in this game than in recent games. Unfortunately, there was nobody in front of him to produce end products. The Spanish playmaker showed that he is capable of creating chances when he is given spaces to operate in. His goal also highlighted that Arsenal still have a player who can create a goal out of nothing.

Another bright spot was the performance of Per Mertesacker, who was outstanding in our defence. He reads the game well and his positioning sense is excellent. He is always where he should be. Prior to this game, there was a debate among the fans which centre-back should form a partnership with Vermaelen. Some thought Koscielny was a better option against Man U's counter-attack, but we cannot drop in-form Mertesacker and his performance on Saturday confirmed this.

We have another massive game on Tuesday night. We already know how good a Shalke side is and this game could be a crucial one for our qualification. Hopefully, Arsene Wenger will come up with solutions and improve the team's performance quickly.

Player ratings

Mannone: 7
He might have done better to deal with RVP's goal, but he made a few superb goals to keep the goal margin as small as possible. He went for the right direction for Roony's penalty and he probably saved it even if it had been on target.

Sagna: 7
Kept Ashley Young at bay reasonably well.

Mertesacker: 7

Vermaelen: 5
His mistake cost us dearly. After giving away a cheap goal to Manchester United or RVP of all players so early, the game was always difficult.

Santos: 5
He actually did better than expected (perhaps only because our expectations were low), but struggled to cope with Valencia and Rafael. He just hasn't got quality at a required level as an Arsenal player. His swapping shirts with RVP at half time caused a controversy. Arsene Wenger put it all down to cultural differences, but he was clearly not happy with the Brazilian left-back's conduct and assured it would not happen again.

Cazorla: 7
Had a better game than the last few games. His goal showed his class.

Arteta: 7
He was in the heart of Arsenal midfield as usual, but was allowed little space to influence the game.

Wilshere: 7
He was one of our best performers, when the whole team performance was below par. In the post-match review, Wenger admitted that he had thought about taking the England midfielder off in order to protect him from a second bookable offence, (like Sir Alex Ferguson did to Cleverly) but limited options on the bench did not allow him to do so. (After Ramsey, who could have moved to central midfield, came off the pitch, only Coquelin was a recognised central midfielder on the bench and he was not an attacking option.) Wilshere's sending-off was a blow without doubt, but it may be a blessing in disguise. Jack's premature departure from this game resulted in saving him for Tuesday's Champions League game, for which he is eligible. He will miss the Fulham match, but it is probably a good thing for him after playing Tuesday night.

Ramsey: 6
Apart from making a good run to the byline in the first half, struggled as the right-winger. Replaced by Walcott in the 52nd minute. At the time, we thought this substitution was a part of plans as Walcott was always expected to come on as an impact sub, after his heroics against Reading in midweek, but the truth was that a groin injury forced the Wales midfielder's withdrawal.

Podolski: 5
Anonymous. Did not help Santos very much defensively, either.

Giroud: 6
Had two of our best chances, but could not take them. Looked tired towards the end of the match.


Walcott: 5
Came off the bench in the 52nd minute for Ramsey to take the right-wing position. Made little impact. After played in by Cazorla's delightful pass, he blasted the ball high. Those who demanded that Arsenal should give him 100k a week after the Capital One Cup tie, where are you now?

Arshavin: 5
81st-minute substitute for Podolski. Made little difference.

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