Monday, May 18, 2015

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 1

Arsenal took a step closer to a top-three finish by holding fourth-placed Manchester United to a draw. We could have won the game if we had started the game in the way we finished it, but a point was the fair result. Although we were not able to achieve a feat of two wins at Old Trafford in one season, the way we played in the last 30 minutes gave us some confidence that we may have finally lifted the mental block against our old rivals.

Arsene Wenger fielded the same 11 starters for the sixth league game in a row. If Danny Welbeck had been available, the Frenchman would have been tempted to set up a counter-attacking unit centring around the England international, which proved successful in the FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford. However, the Manchester-born 24-year-old had been ruled out after failing to recover in time for the chance to face his old club.

Despite the absence of Welbz, Arsenal adopted the same gameplan in the opening stages. We expected the hosts to hold the large share of possession before the game, which was part of our gameplan, but our ball retention was very poor, with an overall passing success rate well below our standard at 77% (even after the more positive second-half). The Gunners struggled to find their own players as they were stretched all over the pitch. We were frustrated with the lack of sharpness in our team. After the match, Nacho Monreal confessed that the first half was arguably the worst 45 minutes the team had played this season and that the boss was unsurprisingly angry at half time. Ander Herrera took his goal very well, but it was a very disappointing goal in our point of view. Coquelin's failed attempt to intercept the ball to Fellaini triggered the movement leading to the goal. After receiving the ball from the Belgian, Young escaped Bellerin, allowed to deliver a cross over to the far post, where Herrera was waiting in acres of space as Monreal was drawn to Fellaini in the centre of the box. At the other end, Arsenal failed to muster a single shot in 45 minutes, the first time since November 2004.

Arsenal improved as the game went on in the second half. Ramsey had a great chance after Alexis' through-ball found him. He did well to beat De Gea with the lofted ball only to be denied by Rojo's last-ditch tackle. Wenger introduced Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere in the 73rd minute. The latter injected intensity into the game, while the former made a big contribution by taking his chance, which led to the Gunners' equaliser. Some match report describe the England forward's effort as a "cross" deflecting off Blackett, but according to Theo himself, it was a goal attempt. He deserved the goal by being direct when other Arsenal players were reluctant to be so. Unfortunately to him, the goal is likely to be recorded as Blackett's own goal, subject to the dubious goal panel's decision.

Wenger's substitutions were late as usual, but they were untypically reactive. The Frenchman took Bellerin and Cazorla off, both of whom were struggling in this game. Francis Coquelin was moved to the right-back, while Aaron Ramsey was shifted to his preferred more central position. True to his words after the Swansea game, the French tactician replaced Alexis with Mathieu Flamini in the 90th minute as he settled for a draw.

As for the referee, it was a usual Mike Dean, our bogie referee. Chris Smalling nearly stripped off Giroud's shirt, but no penalty was given, which came no surprise to us.

Prior to the game, some of us were confident that we could repeat the feat in our FA Cup quarter-final encounter with Man United despite the north west side going into the game as favourites on their home advantage. However, Old Trafford is still a tough place to go, with Chelsea claiming just one point and Man City losing 4-2 there this season. Although it was a depleted Man U side without Roony or Carrick, a point was not a bad result by any means (Wenger suggested that a draw would be counted as a positive result they were targeting prior to the game) and our players seemed to be happy to go home with it.

Arsenal's first-half display may not have completely eliminated our concerns after the Swansea game, but they can build on their performance in the last 30 minutes. Another point will almost see us secure automatic Champions League qualification as we have a superior goal difference over Man U. As a point will also be enough for Sunderland to guarantee next season's top-flight football and the last thing they want is to lose emphatically to further worsen their goal difference over 18th-placed Hull, a tight game is expected on Wednesday night. We have a chance to put things right where we were at fault against Swansea. As we only need two points from our two remaining games to mathematically secure the third place, Wenger may well be tempted to tweak his starting line-up this time around, which is not a bad idea as we need to keep our best players fresh for the Cup final and give some players much-needed game time.

Players ratings

Ospina: 6
The goal was unstoppable (although it was his near-side) and Man U's other 3 shots were fairly comfortable saves.

Bellerin: 5

Had a hard time against Ashley Young. Made a good recovery and rescued the team from potential danger on one occasion, but his passing completion rate of 69% was poor. Rightly replaced by Walcott in the 73rd minute.

Metesacker: 6
Made no tackle, no interception and 4 clearances, but won 5 aerial duels.

Koscielny: 7
Our best defender. Kept quiet Falcao, who kept him on his toes through his clever runs, and then RVP. Made 3 tackles, 4 interceptions, 4 clearances, and 2 blocks. Without his heroics, we could have easily lost this game in the first half.

Monreal: 6

He was culpable for Herrera's goal by allowing so much space for him at far post. Made 3 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 6 clearances.

Coquelin: 6
Battled bravely, but he was caught out of position in the build-up to Man U's goal. Made 2 tackles, 6 interceptions, and 2 clearances.

Cazorla: 5

Poor game by his standard. Rightly replaced in the 73rd minute by Jack Wilshere.

Ramsey: 7
Arsenal fans' chosen Man of the Match and our best player according to with a 7.37 rating. His cross-field pass found Theo Walcott, leading to the equaliser. He struggled in the first half like everybody else in the team, but had a good second-half, especially alongside Jack Wilshere at the heart of Arsenal's midfield, which is an encouraging prospect for the club.

Özil: 6
He had a goal-scoring chance for himself after Giroud clearing the space for him, but opted to pass to the Frenchman. On the other hand, he created 3 goal-scoring chances for his team-mates.  

Alexis: 6

His bad habit of holding the ball too long was evident in this game. Replaced by Flamini in the 90th minute.

Giroud: 6
Had 2 good chances in the closing stages, but his poor touch let him down.


Walcott: 6
Replaced Bellerin in the 73rd minute to take the right-wing position. His directness led to the equaliser.

Wilshere: 6
Came off the bench to replace Cazorla in the 73rd minute. He looked ready to start.

Flamini: N/A
Replaced Alexis to shore up the defence in the 90th minute.

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