Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 0

When fixture lists are published every year, there are four dates we check straight away: a set of two games are north London derbies of course, and the others are clashes with Manchester United. There was a debate prior to the match whether Arsenal vs Man U is still one of England's biggest rivalries. Yes, it is still for us Gooners. We didn't care how Arsenal would win, but we just wanted them to beat Man U. So the narrow defeat was bitterly disappointing for us.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side which started in their famous win at Dortmund merely 4 days ago. Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky travelled to Manchester only to be found ill in the morning and were sent back to London. Captain Thomas Vermaelen and a fit-again Mathieu Flamini came in their places. Mikel Arteta and Serge Gnabry were also sick before the match, but the former started, with the latter on the bench. The rest of the squad may have been fit enough to take part in the game, but they looked tired with the mid-week game taking a lot out of them.

The formation with double "pivote" in Flamini and Arteta may have looked a bit too defensive, but it is very difficult to drop either of them, when they are both fit. Besides, we didn't have much attacking option with Rosicky fallen ill, Wilshere only fit for the bench, and even Gnabry only half fit.   

While Wenger didn't use the illness that struck the camp as an excuse, he cited their poor record at Old Trafford as one of the reasons behind his side's nervousness at the start of the game. We know Man U have only lost once in their 9 encounters with us, but we were going into this match with an excellent away form of 15 unbeaten games, including the confidence-boosting win against Dortmund. Last season's Champions League finalists are arguably a stronger side than the current Man U team. We were 5 points clear at the top of the league, while Man U were 8th in the table. Man U were under massive pressure as a loss would have opened up the gap between the two teams to 11. We, Gooners, had reasons to be optimistic, going into this game. It's difficult to understand why the team were so nervous. Our record against top 6 teams last season was disappointing. One of the reasons was that we started a game poorly against those teams, paying too much respect to them, and paid a heavy cost of a lot of catching-up to do in the second half of the game. Later on, when Arsenal rectified such a tendency, their impressive form of the late season began. We hope that this is not the return of that bad habit.

After the match, we were bracing ourselves for the media reaction the next morning. We thought they would rip us apart and write us off completely as title contenders, but surprisingly their reaction was much more sympathetic than expected. The loss was widely regarded as a one-off result and didn't seem to have done a permanent damage to Arsenal's title credentials. The biggest reason was the fact that the game was closely contested. The two sides were only separated by one goal from a set-piece. In the second half, we were clearly the better side, being in control of the game for a long spell. In fact, Man U supporters were greatly unhappy with the media, claiming that they gave the Manchester side little credit. Although Rooney deservedly won plaudits for his man-of-the-match performance, the press were not much impressed with the way the reigning champions won the game. It's safe to say that we were not outplayed or outclassed as a team. Man U didn't beat us as convincingly as we did Liverpool.

Maybe we have done just enough over the past week to convince the media that we can challenge for the title. Also, this weekend's results demonstrated that the results of so called "big games" may not necessarily decide the title tilt. Chelsea were extremely lucky to get a point against a mid-table West Brom side at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Tottenham were beaten 1-0 by Newcastle at White Hart Lane earlier on Sunday, while Man City suffered another away defeat at the hands of a struggling Sunderland side on the same day. These outcomes suggest that titles are won through consistency. Prior to this past massive week, pundits and journalists alike said that Arsenal hadn't played big clubs yet, but now they must be feeling how little those "big games" can prove.

Arsene Wenger thinks that the international break is not welcome as you want a next game straight away in order to move on from a bitter loss. However, some players will benefit from two weeks off from the gruelling fixtures. Those who go on the international duty should have a change of scenery and can come back to the Club mentally refreshed. Keep fingers crossed for Giroud, Koscielny, and Sagna to come back unscathed and healthy as they have two tough World Cup play-off games against Ukraine.

According to the last update given by Arsene Wenger on Walcott's injury, the Englishman should be back soon after the international break. The Özil-Walcott combination is another partnership we have been looking forward to since the German playmaker's arrival. It showed its promise in the Sunderland game, in which only Walcott's poor finishing prevented Özil from bagging more assists than just one for Giroud's goal. Hopefully, we will see the partnership finally take off and more width and pace added by the England winger to the Arsenal attack.

The next Premier League game will be against an in-form Southampton side, who currently lie third in the table. People are talking about their attacking force at the moment as their attacking players, Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana, have earned their first call-up for the England squad alongside an already capped striker, Ricky Lambert. Although they scored 4 goals against Hull this weekend, their strength undoubtedly lies in defence, which boasts the best record in the league so far with only 5 goals conceded in 11 games. Against the Southampton defence, Arsenal may face a toughest test of the season. Hopefully, we will be at our best, when the two sides meet, and get back to winning ways.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
With Man U only registering 2 shots on target, he had little to do.

Sagna: 8
Delivered a couple of brilliant crosses. His crossing is getting better and better.

Koscielny: 7
Made 3 tackles and 10 clearances.

Vermaelen: 7
Did well on his rare start. Made 1 tackle, 4 interceptions and 11 clearances. Went forward and had 2 shots. The absence of a flu-stricken Mertesacker may have cost us three points, but every cloud has a silver lining. Vermaelen's positive comment 
regarding his future at Arsenal came up after the match. Captain stated that he wants to stay at Arsenal and will be ready to help the team anytime he is called upon. He may not be a regular starter, but he is still a quality defender.

Gibbs: 7
Made 3 tackles and 4 interceptions. Unlucky not to get on the end of one of Sagna's perfectly-weighed crosses.

Flamini: 6
Shown his 4th yellow card of the season to miss the next game. Replaced by Wilshere in the 62nd minute.

Arteta: 7

Made 4 tackles, 2 interceptions and 51 passes, including 11 long balls, with an impressive 94% passing success rate. Gave way to an attacking option, Gnabry, in the 83rd minute.

Özil: 6
Not at his best. 80% passing success is well below his average. Made 2 key passes, though. His attempt for goal excited us at Rendezvous bar, as well as those travelling fans at Old Trafford, only to hit the sidenetting.

Ramsey: 6
Covered more ground than any other player, including Wayne Rooney whose workrate was highly praised. But a 75 % passing success is very poor by his standard. Guilty for not blocking RVP's run in the set-piece leading to the goal. Had a good chance, breaking away, but he rushed his decision. They say that the Welshman didn't have shooting boots on this day. My advice to Ramsey and 
Özil is never try out new pair of boots in a big game like this. (They both showed off their new Adidas boots on Facebook Pages prior to the game).

Cazorla: 6

Quiet game by his standard.

Giroud: 6
Worked hard for the team, but his touches let him down. Outjumped by RVP in that particular corner.


Wilshere: 7
62nd-minute substitute for Flamini to add creativity. Made a difference as soon as he had come off the bench by getting behind the Man U defence, which no other Arsenal player was able to do before then.

Bendtner: 2
Replaced Cazorla in the 78th minute. Made 6 passes with a 50% success rate. Failed to make a connection with Sagna's excellent cross in the dying minutes. After his recent remark that appeared on a Danish newspaper about his disappointment in having been unable to leave the Club this summer, it will be very difficult for him to regain Arsenal fans' support.

Gnabry: 7
Came off the bench in the 83rd minute to replace Arteta. Looked sharp and was effective on the right wing.

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