I’m writing this as soon as I woke up with the memories of the match still fresh in my head. It wasn’t a good night’s rest I can assure you.
Let’s get straight into to the game review:
1 – Arsenal were the better team and led at half-time.
After a brief midfield tussle at the start of the game where both teams began cautiously but at a very high pace, trying to get a grip in midfield possession, Arsenal settled faster than the home side and dominated proceedings as the game wore on.
2 – Cesc’s absence was not really felt.
The midfield trio of Denilson, Song and Diaby covered the absence of Cesc well that none of the Football Channel pundits nor the commentators mentioned about his absence during the course of the game. I thought Song and Denilson worked really hard in the centre allowing the more offensive-minded Diaby to lend more physical support up front to our target man Van Persie.
This midfield trio is a bit different from our previous games when Cesc was around when all three midfielders were more positionally disciplined and the workload was shared between the three of them. In this game, Diaby was thrust a bit more forward with the attacking flankmen Arshavin and Eboue returning to the flanks to create a 4-4-1-1 whenever we lost possession. This is working well as we have 4 midfielders instead of 3 whenever we are in defensive mode and we soon made United lose their possession easily. This allowed the quick counter-attacking, passing style of Arsenal to thrive. Everything in the first half worked except for 2 things. We didn’t finish well enough, and it soon became clear we were playing against 12 men.
3 – United’s 12th man and most influential man-of-the-match is Mike Dean.
Let’s be objective here. United committed 22 fouls and received 2 bookings. Arsenal committed 16 fouls and received 6 bookings. That tells you who is the Man Utd star man of the game.
When Arshavin pulled the ball back in the box and Darren Fletcher slided in forcefully, he did not get the ball at all, the only part of his body which touched the ball were his arms. Double foul, if there is such a thing. What did Dean do? Wave play on.
At the other end, Antonio Valencia upended Clichy several times during a game in which he was obviously exposed to be not good enough to replace Ronaldo, he was not even called up for a single foul.
Then Van Persie won the ball in forceful style outside of the penalty box, Dean booked him and gave a free-kick. Please be objective and look at all the above incidents in replay and you will see I did not make any of it up. Freaking ludicrous!
The only correct decision I remember him making was the penalty given to United when Aumnia DID commit the foul. He wasn’t the last man as Gallas was on the same line as him when the tackle was made so the booking and penalty was an accurate one.
But throughout the game, and with every 50-50 decision going the home side’s way. There is no doubt Arsenal must do something really special to bring the points home. Am I blaming the referee squarely on his shoulders for this defeat? No, but one cannot argue that he did play an influential part.
In big games like this, a good mentally-strong referee who is not influenced by the home crowd is needed. Dean is definitely not such a referee.
4 – Almunia could have done better with the second goal.
Although it is hard to determine if it was better if Almunia stood his ground when Rooney came charging in having beaten Gallas for speed when he gave away the penalty, I felt Alumnia could and should have done better with the Diaby own goal.
It remains unclear as to what Diaby was thinking when he chose to thrust his head towards our goal instead of towards the opposite side (maybe he thought he had put in enough power to head the ball above the bar), you can see from the slow-motion replays that Almunia wasn’t looking at the ball when it was floated in as soon as players begun to jump for the ball. He had taken it for granted that it would be cleared since it looks clear that an Arsenal player was going to win it.
Given his agility and quick reflexes (which again was shown late in the ball when he denied Nani with a stupendous save), I believe it is well within his own ability to push that away and save Diaby some embarrasment. We need our ‘keeper to b 100% focused even if we look like we’re controlling the game and Alumnia was good for that in the first games of the season but here, his switch-off for a mere 2 seconds was all it needed to consign us to defeat. I still trust him of course, we make mistakes all the time but this is yet another reason why we shouldn’t have lost.
5 – Arsenal defended well despite the scoreline.
Let’s not take the defensive performance of our back 4 away from them as I thought they were absolutely outstanding yesterday. Vermaelen showed really good anticipation to nip a dangerous looking United counter with just one foot. Gallas was lively throughout, looking as good as when he was a Chelsea player. Sagna and Clichy worked really hard yesterday as well.
Both goals cannot be attributed to them as it was a really good pass that put Rooney through for the first, and it was an unfortunate own goal for the second. Diaby was distraught and although in the past I had been continually frsutrated by Diaby’s play, I thought he did well in this game. To put the blame on him for our defeat would be unfairly harsh. After his own goal, Van Persie who was captain for the night, was the first to console him and gave him encouragement. Diaby then nearly redeemed himself by beating 3 United defenders before slotting wide. Van Persie is proving to be quite the captain material as I’m sure everyone remembers he was the only player who consoled Gibbs following that horrible slip against the same opponents in the Champions League last year.
6 – Van Persie the captain.
Following the absence of Cesc, Van Persie stepped in as captain and I think he did really well to lead by example. He could easily have gotten the second goal for Arsenal when first Arshavin did really well down the left flank and sqauring the ball to a sliding Van Persie and I thought he had scored if not for a quick reaction save from Ben Foster, his best of the game. If he had scored that one, we would have been 2-0 ahead and it would have turned out to be a completely different game.
Van Persie then smashed a freekick against the crossbar having beaten their weak 2-man wall. If he had scored that one, we would have been 2-1 ahead and that would have sunk United hearts.
Then he finished well late into the game before it was ruled out correctly for an offside on Gallas, who nodded the ball which became loose until Van Persie slided the ball past a well-beaten Foster.
With much critism leveled at our attackers for not scoring enough, Eduardo had scored in midweek against Celtic and Arshavin had scored with a cracker in this game and Van Persie could have scored his first goal of the campaign in this game. This shows the signs are good and that our attackers are slowly getting into goal-scoring positions themselves instead of just creating chances.
7 – Arshavin is a big part of our attacking plans.
The pint-sized Russian is fast proving to be a real important component of the Arsenal attacking machine. Although he had a few stray passes early in the game where United were stifling his creativity, he quickly learnt the best way would be to run around those players and be in an open, dangerous position. He could have scored following a corner when he stabbed a loose ball towards the far post and it whizzed so closely past the post. That was world-class technique which deserved a goal, and from nowhere at that.
He then produced a stunning cracker with a small backlift that Foster had a touch to but it was way to powerful for any ‘keeper to stop it from flying into the top corner. It must surely be the goal-of-the-week and a goal-of-the-season contender. It is heartening to know we have him for a full season this time round.
Overall – Yes, we have lost the game due to many factors. We didn’t utilise the chances we had created. Mike Dean. Luck. But we didn’t lose because we are not good enough. That was the case when we played them in the Champions League semi-finals last season when we were really not good enough. It is clear that Adebayor, who was invisible in the tie last season, is outshone by a more willing and more talented Van Persie who is currently in the same role and that can onl be good news for Arsenal.
Three more points to note. We have lost a game but it is still very early in the season and it was an away game. Another point is Chelsea is the only big 4 who hasn’t lost a game. The last point is United won the league last season despite a poor head-to-head record against the big 4.
Yes, it hurts to have lost to a major rival and with such a strong performance we really should have sent a true warning to the rest of the league with a complimenting result. But it is not all bad, and let’s see how well this team will respond to a defeat. City comes next and it would be good to bounce back against them and show the ex-Arsenal duo that we are better off without them.