Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Arsenal 1 Mancester United 1

Our end-of-the-season beach party on this day had been moved from the Playa Flamenca beach to our bar, Las Mimosa Bar, due to uncertain weather. By the time the match kicked off, we were already in the party mood despite the weather outside.

Several issues regarding this match grabbed the headlines in the build-up. We welcomed the Club's decision to form the guard of honour because it is part of English football tradition and doing things properly has always been Arsenal way, especially in light of the fact that Man U did the ceremony for us in 1991. As for the reception of our former captain, who returned to the Emirates for the first time since his departure for our old rivals, we were not much bothered. We cheered for his misses, but no more than for other Man U players. That said, it was amusing to see RVP getting booed at the Emirates. The newspapers try to blow this issue out of proportion. Some players still get booed when they come to the Emirates only because they have once played for Tottenham.

Much more importantly, our focus of pre-match talks was on who would replace our main striker, Olivier Giroud, in the wake of his three-match ban. We suspected it would be either Poldi or Theo. After some experiment, we doubted that Gervinho would get another chance. The boss's choice for this day was Lukas Podolski. This was his second start in the central striking role since the very first game of the season against Sunderland. The other change was Kieran Gibbs replacing Nacho Monreal. Since the last game against Fulham, Nacho has fallen out of our favour slightly as a first-choice left-back, so we were happy with the selection.

Our hope was that Man U might have lost their focus and will to win after securing the top spot in the table on Monday night. They didn't play exceptionally well all through the season, but their desire kept earning points for them, when it mattered. Sir Alex Ferguson also suggested that he would rotate his team to give his young players a run-out before the end of the season and rest a couple of players who played through injuries on Monday night. The papers even speculated that RVP would start from the bench to avoid unnecessary jeering from the home supporters now the Manchester club had won the title. So much for the rotation. SAF kept his star players in the starting XI.

Arsenal started the game strongly, pressing their opposition high up the pitch, led by Rosicky and Ramsey. Our midfield was superior. In the second minute, Theo Walcott was clinical in a one-on-one situation with De Gea after having been released behind the Man U defence line by Rosicky's incisive pass. With their superb record so far this season for holding on to leads, this was a great start for Arsenal. Arsenal were clearly the better side for half an hour, but a second goal never arrived. We all knew that you have to score when you are on top. Arsenal had a great chance when they broke away against outnumbered Man U defence, but Aaron Ramsey chose to pass left to Poldi, when Walcott was unmarked on the right.

Then, the pivotal moment of the game came in the 44th minute. Sagna dithered on the ball, inviting pressure from a Man U player. As a result, he opted for a back pass to Mertesacker. Van Persie intercepted the poor pass and continued his run towards the box. Some blame Mertesacker for not doing enough to prevent it, but it was always obvious that Sagna would foul Van Persie from the time he made that mistake.

We are very disappointed to concede a goal in the way we did. We thought Arsenal eradicated this kind of mistakes since they found new defensive stability.

A 1-1 draw wouldn't have been a bad result against the champions under normal circumstances. In fact, quite a few of us expected nothing more than a loss, unlike those pundits who predicted that the newly-crowned champions would be already on holiday. We would have happily taken a draw against Man U before the match or any day, but after seeing us so close to get all three points and Man U nothing better than mediocre, the result felt like two points dropped to us.

On the positive side, our performance certainly suggested we could match the champions and this will do no harm to our confidence, going into the remaining three games. Chelsea's win over Swansea earlier the same day sent us down to fourth in the table. Fortunately, Tottenham dropped two points against Wigan on Saturday (In fact, they were lucky not to drop the whole three points as they scored an equaliser in the 89th minute from a free-kick which shouldn't have been). As a result, we remained two points clear of them, but with a game played more.

Technically our fate is not in our hands anymore. If the other two London clubs won all of their remaining games, but Chelsea lose to Tottenham, we will miss out on Champions League spots. However, Chelsea have tough fixtures to play with one eye on the European League glory, while Tottenham's performance against Wigan raised a lot of questions as to whether they have the steel to finish in the top four. Time will tell whether we dropped two points or earned a point from this match, but our performance and commitment this day and our recent form suggest that we can finish in the top four.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 7
His save of Van Persie's point-black header was arguably a match decider. He was brave and didn't put foot wrong throughout the game.

Sagna: 5
His mistake cost us the points. Lucky to stay on the pitch after his lunge at Evra in the second half.

Mertesacker: 7
The two centre-backs combined kept Van Persie and Roony quiet to limit their shots to just 5 (4 on target) between them.

Koscielny: 8
Superb display. He kept Rooney very quiet and tried to win the ball as high up the pitch as possible. Arsenal fans' Man of the Match with 34% of total votes.

Gibbs: 7
Good going forward. He should have been given a penalty for Rio Ferdinand's body check on him in the box. Also, his run into the box earned a free-kick just outside the Man U box (Resulting Santi's free-kick was rather disappointing, though). Although Valencia was allowed to exploit on that flank, Gibbs coped with it relatively well (or he just got away with it thanks to Valencia's poor crossing?).

Ramsey: 7
His final ball (whether a shot or pass) let him down, but a good box-to-box performance. If Phil Jones is Sky Sports' Man of the Match, we think Ramsey did as well as his counterpart did (Jones was equally wasteful in front of goal), if not better. According to Arsenal.com, he was a runner-up in the Man of the Match poll after collecting 21% of votes. 

Arteta: 7
As reliable as usual, but his passing success rate was a mere 84%, rather disappointing by his high standard. (Lower than Sagna's 86%, believe it or not). In fact, the team's overall success rate was lower than usual at 80%. He was excellent alongside his fellow midfielders in the first half.

Rosicky: 7
Set up a goal for Walcott. His curled effort just missed the target, but showed his technical ability and class. His withdrawal raised many fans' eyebrows as he was one of our best players on the pitch. It just goes to show that Wenger's substitutions lack imagination and ruthlessness. He just slotted another player into the place of an interchangeable player. On the other hand, SAF took off his underperforming right-back. The Czech midfielder came third in the Arsenal.com's Man of the Match poll with 19% of votes.

Cazorla: 7
Came close to score goals on several occasions. One of his attempt was denied by a good save from De Gea.

Walcott: 7
Scored the opener in the 2nd minute. We admit that he was in an offside position, but his finish was exceptional.

Podolski: 6
Helped the midfield by dropping deep in the first half. Became ineffective in the second half, hence substitution. 


Wilshere: 6
61st-minute substitute for Rosicky. Didn't change the game, but wasn't a downgrade from excellent Rosicky.

Gervinho: 6
Came on in the 72nd minute to replace Podolski. Looked dangerous at times.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6

79th-minute substitute for Ramsey. Booked for his challenge. Made a crucial touch on Giggs' late attempt to divert it.

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