Saturday, November 03, 2012

No Longer a Rivalry: 14 Thoughts on Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1

Another trip to Old Trafford, another defeat. The site of some of our greatest victories, is now becoming the place where we no longer seem to put up a fight. Thoughts as follows:

* How many times over the last few years have you looked at the respective team-sheets for Arsenal vs. Manchester United and thought, "Y'know what, they aren't actually that much better than us?" only to see us promptly beaten. I think there is a lesson there about tactics and management ability, and I'll get onto that later.

* In the history of probability, van Persie's goal was perhaps the closest to a sure thing that you could ever imagine. The only question was how and when, and it was disappointing to see us give him such a helping hand. As we know, he doesn't need one. He's the best out-and-out striker in world football, and as recently as a few months ago he was doing that for us. Still, £24 million in the bank is much better, as Gazidis et al. will all tell us.

* The goal was marked by another profound defensive error from Vermaelen. I don't know how many times I can say this in one season, but the decision to make him captain was a blunder. Vermaelen should not be an automatic starter in our defence, owing to the large number of mistakes that he continually makes. Koscielny has been forced to the bench because of Mertesacker's form, and has lost his own form in the process. Central defence is now a mess, and it's a mess largely of Wenger's own making.

* A word for our other defenders. I can't believe I'm about to write this, but a fairly convincing argument could be made that Mannone was our man of the match. He pulled off a number of great saves, including one from van Persie that was genuinely world class. He's obviously not the answer in the long-term, but credit where credit's due. Sagna was solid without being spectacular. Santos was predictably pilloried on Twitter, but I thought he was far from being our worst player. None of the fault for United's goals can particularly be attributed to him, he did his best to be involved with our attacks, and Valencia was actually relatively quiet for much of the game. Swapping shirts with van Persie at half-time, though, while still on the pitch perhaps sums up a lot of the frustration fans have with this current bunch of players. They often don't seem to "get" it.

* In total we created very little. Untied barely had to break sweat to contain their lead, and we didn't get a shot on goal until the stoppage time at the end of the game, just like against Schalke. A big part of this was United's effective stifling of Arteta, who only complete around 60 passes - around 2/3rds of his normal amount. The fact that Mertesacker made over 100 passes shows that United were happy to let us have the ball in non-dangerous areas, knowing that we would do very little with it. We actually finished the game with the majority of the possession, but did so little with the ball when we had it.

* I tweeted in anger that Cazorla was overrated today, and I only stand by that remark in terms of what Arsenal fans expect of him. He has two assists from ten premier league games - he's not exactly pulling the strings in the way I thought he might after the first few games of the season. A huge creative burden appears to have been placed on him, and it's not clear that he's fully up to the task - at least with the current personnel.

* That said, Arshavin created as many goalscoring opportunities as Cazorla did all game in his ten minutes on the pitch. Is a recall for the little Russian beyond the realms of possibility? Yes, he's lazy, and drifts out of games. But he has the ability to create something in a manner that very few other players do in the current line-up. His performance against Reading showed that he can still change games against Premier League opponents on his day.

* The not so subtle elephant in the room is the form of Podolski and Giroud. The latter may have had a barnstorming game against Reading on Wednesday, but did very little today. He should have scored at least one of the chances that he was presented with, and, I hate to say it, but Robin would have gotten at least one goal from the service that Giroud received. Podolski is now a problem. Shoved on the left he provided Santos with almost zero coverage again, while also producing nothing of note offensively - no shots on goal, and no key passes. I worried about Podolski's flakiness before he signed, and I really hope he shakes off this current poor run of form, because he is still the best hope for goals that we currently have in the squad.

* Of course, at half-time there were no substitutions. Despite a performance almost entirely lacking in redeeming features, there were no changes, as ever, until Ramsey appeared to be forced off with injury. Why would Wenger change the habit of a lifetime? He obviously knows best. Ramsey again came in for a lot of flak before coming off, but does anyone know his role in the team? Stuck out on the right of our attacking front-three, I struggle to find the tactical rationale for his deployment in this position, other than defensive solidity that would seemingly waste his main creative strengths. After a great 120 minutes against Reading, Walcott did nothing after coming on - perhaps a sobering reflection of the level of his ability.

* At 1-0 we were still in it, somehow, and after Rooney missed another penalty against us, there was a small feeling that we might be able to walk away from Manchester with a point. Unfortunately, we decided to let Evra head the ball in, unmarked, from the six-yard box. Again, whatever the wider problems at the club, the fact we CANNOT MARK is down to coaching. Our consistent propensity to self-destruct defensively comes down to Arsene, ultimately. It's he, more than anyone, who decides how important defence is to our team, and how we defend. And I feel that until we have a coach that cares as much about not conceding as scoring, we ain't going to win many trophies.

* The red card could have been prevented. The fact that Wilshere was still on the pitch was a reflection of the total desperation in terms our squad options. After totally overplaying him in his first full season at the club, Wenger looks set to run Jack into the ground again. It was a tired challenge, born from frustration that was totally foreseeable, especially after he'd already been warned by the ref. Cleverley was lucky not to go in similar circumstances for a rash tackle when he was on a yellow. But let's contrast the reaction of the two mangers. Ferguson immediately removed his youngster, recognizing that he'd become a liability. Arsene left Wilshere on when it was clear he was tired and frustrated, and he was sent off. Yes, the player has to take a huge chunk of responsibility. But this is the essence of MANAGEMENT. Ferguson is a better manager of his players than Wenger is, and has been for a very long time now.

* The late goal was a great finish from Cazorla, coming almost immediately after Giroud should have scored. Having not bothered to get out of first gear, United had failed to kill the game, and the goal did little than completely flatter us. The final score may have been 2-1, but United's domination was almost as complete as in the 8-2 last season. And at least on that day we had a wreckage of a team on show. This was ostensibly relatively close to our starting XI, and we did not compete at all.

* I do wonder how much of this season's strategy hinged on Diaby's fitness. Since he disappeared at the beginning of September, we have slumped. I'm by no means Diaby's biggest fan, but he brings something a bit different to our midfield that is otherwise composed of midget passing machines. If Diaby was meant to be Song's replacement, this strikes me as insane. Whatever his talents as a footballer, Diaby has now proved beyond doubt that he can't be relied upon to stay fit. On the long list of new players we need, I would argue something different in the centre of the park is needed as well. A big bid for Fellaini would not go amiss in January, even if it will obviously not happen.

* Since 2004 - which now seems like a generation away, let alone eight years - we have only beaten United four times in the league. This used to be a great rivalry - it isn't anymore. United have effortlessly pulled away from us for a variety of reasons. They have a better transfer policy than us, without having the resources of an oligarch. Fundamentally, they have a better manager and better coaches than us. To go back to my opening point, Ferguson gets more from his players than Wenger does. He is tactically flexible. He doesn't coddle his squad. While van Persie's decision to move there may hurt tremendously, it's completely understandable. We are no longer at United's level, and we will not challenge for the league title, again, this season. Our greatest chance of silverware appears to be the league cup, but given how we've cocked things up in recent years, that's far from being in the bag.

I tweeted at the end of the game that we have the highest paid manager in the league, the highest paid CEO (especially thanks to his ample bonus), and yet we have a team that is quite clearly not the best in the league. Why does there appear to be a recognition that you have to pay for quality at a management level, yet not among the playing staff? If United had consistently sold their best players for the last eight years, and replaced them with others of lower quality, while refusing to pay top wages, I'm sure they would be where we are now. Instead, they don't reward potential too soon, and they pay their top players, top wages. Until we make the myriad repairs that this squad requires, which have now been needed for years, this game no longer constitutes a real rivalry. United are simply better.



Anonymous said...

Nothing will change until Wenger leaves

Copernicus said...

Excellent post, spot on Gb.

Breezy said...

Agreed, at no point did I ever feel we were in the game. We looked toothless in attack and vulnerable in defence.

Now I was never part of the Wenger out brigade, but I'm having serious doubts if we will ever be able challenge for the major honors with Wenger in charge. On paper we have a very good team, but Wenger is simply not getting the best out of them.

It groundhog day all over again.

Anonymous said...

Sorry guys but i am laughing myself to a pulp reading some of these comments, and i know it is not a laughing matter. We have all the AKB’s (that’s the ARSENE KNOWS BEST brigade) coming on and commenting about how he should have changed his line up and who should have started the game and who shouldn’t be in the team and how the team lack’s motivation and determination. But i realize that they are to embarrassed to put the blame on Wenger. In case you didn’t know Wenger changed from coach to politician and economist. Hence the fact that there is no one to motivate the players, work on their technical abilities,choose the right formation when facing different teams, draw up a game plan,choose the right inform players. No his to busy dreaming about his post match brainwashing session with his IN ARSENE WE TRUST brigade (that would be the post match interview)after we lost of-cause. They come on here complaining about things we have been warning them about for the past three seasons and they still don’t get it!!! HAHAHAHAHA!!! I didn’t know they still brainwash people in this day and age. IN ARSENE WE TRUST sounds politically motivated. I just wonder who is gaining from this???

Anonymous said...

When you have a manager that is under no pressure from the board because he's made them money. Has an Economics degree and knows his wines (As PHW once stated), there will be no fear. The problem is Peter Hill-wood. He has utter contempt for the fans.

Bt62 Gooner said...

Profit before Victory!!

him said...

I must say I agree with your post but I don't agreed with that of cazorla being over rated, cazorla isn't ovearrated he should have had so upto at least 8 assist if all the forward players had converted all the chances he created for them he is not to be blame for his low count of assist after all he has the same or more goals than our strikers in the squad but I agree wenger is a shit and the board are pigs they have forgot football is not a business game but a glory game . We fans that truly support this team and swear and vow to be gunners for life should stand up against them, we can't even brag among other fans with full confidence , Chelsea did not have the quality of player we have player to player but they have a great team spirit and their coaches and manager are always under pressure from the boss so the players too need to perform well maintain their position in that squad ...

Prince said...

Wenger has been a manager for more than 10 years..he made a lot of money but little victory..the boards dont apply any pressure on him as long he delivers money.. its pathetic to us as vry disappointed with arsenal rite now.if wenger to become chrlsea's manager i wonder how long he will last without success.6months? I never liked wenger & the boards..i love only arsenal & the players & their football style..