Friday, February 14, 2014

Arsenal 0 Manchester United 0

The stakes were high for the both sides. Three points would take Arsenal back the top of the table thanks to Chelsea's draw with West Brom the night before.  Both teams needed a positive response to their latest disappointments. Arsenal had to put the heavy defeat at Anfield behind them and get back to winning ways as soon as possible. Man U were in the position where they couldn't lose any further ground on their European competition rivals. Although a few pundits predicted that it would be a cagey affair as both sides could not afford to lose this game, most of us expected only one winner. We were second in the table, 14 points clear of the seventh-placed Manchester club and they were at the lowest point of their campaign so far (that's official by Moyes' admission after their late slip-up against the bottom-table Fulham). This Man U side is arguably the weakest we have ever faced (even with RVP and Rooney fit again and Mata added to the squad). This was our best chance in recent years to beat our old foes.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side that started in the 5-1 defeat to Liverpool on Saturday. As widely expected, Kieran Gibbs replaced Nacho Monreal who struggled to contain Liverpool's pacy wingers. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was dropped to the bench, while Tomas Rosicky rightly earned his place in the starting line-up on the right wing. There has been an argument whether out-of-form Mesut Ozil should be dropped from the starting line-up, but Wenger kept him in his side and his faith paid off. The German playmaker had a much better game on Wednesday night. Yaya Sanogo was declared match fit after completing 60 minutes in Arsenal U-21s' 0-0 draw with Southampton on Friday and the young French striker was on the bench.

Arsenal were a better side in our opinion, taking control for most of the game and restricting Man U to just two chances. We had the best of chances with 17 shots, of which 5 were on target. All the more, coming away with just a point is disappointing. Arsene Wenger talked up the quality of the Man U team in his post-match conference. Quality attacking players, the likes of RVP, Mata and Januzaj, always posed counter-attacking threats, which maybe restricted our game going forward. The experienced players, such as Vidic, Ferdinand, and Carrick defended resolutely, limiting our chances to very few. This was Wenger's view, which is a bit different to ours.

Man U didn't offer very much going forward. Wayne Rooney was the embodiment of their frustration (Mark Clattenburg must have more patience than other referees, who would have shown him a yellow card). In contrast, we had enough goal chances to win this game. Giroud had a free header but failed to convert the chance. The French striker had another chance later on, but he couldn't make a meaningful contact with a low cross from Sagna at the near post. Koscielny's goal-bound header was cleared off the line by Valencia. But what frustrated us more was the way the Gunners played. Their attack was toothless. What's more worrying is that this is likely to remain as a problem because that's the way Arsenal like to play. Even when they manage to break quickly, they stop in the final third and wait for the rest of midfield to arrive. Since the loss of Theo Walcott to a long-term injury, we have no Plan B. Podolski could play up front, but the team would still play the same way as they do with Giroud as a lone striker. We have to find another way to attack when passing football cannot find a way through the resilient defence lines.

Obviously we are all disappointed with the result. This was definitely two points dropped rather than a point earned against this Man U side. Wenger and his players seemed to be happy with the point as they pay more respect to their opposition than we do.

We were crying out for substitutions for the last 30 minutes. Our wish was partly granted in the shape of the Ox, who had little time to make any impact when he came on in the 74th minute. However, our call for Poldi was never answered. In the post-match press conference, asked about using substitutes, Wenger answered that they had plenty of offensive players on the pitch. He could have replaced a player or two without upsetting the defence-attack balance of the team. Any other striker would have been worth a try when Giroud was having such a bad game.

On the positive side, the Gunners showed their determination. It was a much improved performance from the weekend on the mental side. They were more energetic, tracking back, hustling their opponents, and trying to win the ball back. The result was not quite what we wanted, but a clean sheet has probably restored their defensive confidence. After the hefty loss, defence was the first thing to be addressed. Now they've had their confidence back in the defence, hopefully they can shift their focus to their attacking side.

A point from the possible 6 points was hardly the result we hoped for, but we are still in the thick of the title race. Unfortunately, our performance this night was not convincing enough to remain as genuine title contenders. To be honest, many of us were disheartened by Arsenal's attacking display. But we hope that a positive result this weekend will lift all the fans.

Players rating

Szczesny 7
His save of RVP's late header was arguably the save of the season. Apart from his pass to Arteta in the 3rd minute (we blame him for the nearly costly mistake, rather than Arteta being robbed of the ball by RVP), his performance was reassuring. 

Sagna: 7
Solid defensively. Delivered a fine cross for Giroud. Helped the attack going forward.

Mertesacker: 7
Made a vital interception to Rafael's cross to get in front of RVP. Didn't give much space to the Dutchman.

Koscielny: 8

Unlucky not to score. Solid defensive display.

Gibbs: 7
Kept the right wingers at bay. Nearly scored with the head.

Arteta: 7

Made 5 tackles and 5 interceptions.

Wilshere: 6
Worked hard, but made no tackles nor interceptions. We badly miss Ramsey in this role. Released behind the defensive line by 
Özil's pass and beat Vidic, but his shot was blocked by Smalling for a corner.

Cazorla: 8

His late two efforts forced good saves from De Gea. Had 5 shots in total, of which 2 on target. His defensive work was impressive, too.

Özil: 7

The big-money signing who is currently under pressure from his critics had a good game. His assist stats may have dipped recently, but it's not entirely his fault. The whole team's goal tally has dropped since they have lost two goalscorers, i.e., Walcott and Ramsey. He still creates chances, with 7 key passes in this game. Led a quick counter-attack, but he only had Giroud to finish it. We hope he will have more shots, though.

Rosicky: 6

Always drove the attack forward, but his passing left a lot to be desired in this game.

Giroud: 5
Missed two clear-cut chances. 



Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
74th-minute substitute for Rosicky. Made little improvement to the team, when he came on.

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