Manchester United 1 Arsenal 0: So Much To Say, Yet What’s Left To Be Said?By: Sairax | December 14th, 2010
I wish I knew where to begin. I apologize for the lateness of this post, but I just could not manage to string a sentence together after the game. Looking at the league table and watching the game, it is hard for me to understand how the two relate to each other. It’s not even just that we looked poor, but that it was against Manchester United and most importantly, it is a performance where we saw those glaring flaws we have been seeing all season. Get ready for some stats:
Arsenal have lost 10 and drawn one of their last 11 games against Man Utd & Chelsea in all comps, scoring only five goals.
Arsenal misplaced 35 passes in their own half against Man Utd, no game has seen them miss more in the PL this season. Wayward.
United out-tackled Arsenal 25-20 on Monday night but were outfouled 9-17
This was Arsenal’s 5th league defeat of the season.
Arsenal have the best record against bottom-half teams this season, but only the seventh-best record against top-half sides
Arsenal have taken just 11/30 points from 10 games v other sides in the PL’s current top 11. All 3 of those wins came v 10 men
Clichy and Sagna combined for 48 of Arsenal’s 144 misplaced passes. 33%
Arsenal 71% passing in the first half, 75% in the second
Forgive the randomness of the stats, but I’m going to be a bit random in my ramblings today. I was actually excited for this match. I thought that we had a decent chance against United, albeit as the underdogs. At least we could grab a draw right? I watched all those old clips and was getting pumped up thinking about getting one over on United, finally, after so long. Did the players not feel the same? Did they not see what a great opportunity this was? Or were we just simply rubbish? I cannot account for the dire display I saw last night, and believe me, it was dire. I feel sorry for the neutral that had to watch that. At least the Chelsea-Spuds game had mistakes and end-to-end action. Between the two big matches this weekend, it doesn’t provide a great advertisement for the quality of the Premier League this season.
The match played out exactly as Fergie would have envisioned before the match. He set out his team to do a job and get three points and that they did. They weren’t magnificent, but they were organized and committed, never looking intimidated. Arsenal, on the other hand, looked nervous. We looked nervous. We came into a big game cautious and afraid to make a mistake. What we saw was a lot of scrappiness and slopiness in the midfield, but more determination from the United team. The first half seemed to have United press Arsenal all over the pitch. It was very effective in the first and last 10 minutes of the half. Everything in the middle was just a bit of a mess with tackles flying in and loose balls all over the pitch. The second half had Man United sit back and hit us on the break. With them having the lead, this was a great plan considering we needed to get that equaliser. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective, and that is what won them the game.
Our problems were not in just one area of the pitch. I’ll start from the back. Szczesny did a solid enough job last night, but his distribution was awful. This meant we struggled a bit to get attacks initiated from the back. As for the defense, it wasn’t awful, but I would suggest that it was not as good as some thought. In the first half, I noticed things were a bit nervy. The passing along the backline was not comfortable, nor were the backpasses to Szczesny. With Rooney constantly lurking, I was worried he was going to pounce on a loose ball. Squizz and Kos were ok, but there were times when they just backed off on Rooney too much. In one instance, Rooney had a long ball sent to him. Squizz and Kos were both on him, yet Rooney was able to take the ball down, turn, and shoot, all while our central defenders were within 2 feet of him. That’s just unacceptable. On the counters in the second half, Rooney was in tons of space and was able to use his pace and power, as well as his ability to hold up the ball, to get at our defense.
It wasn’t even just Rooney. Anderson found space behind the defense on more than one occasion. Nani was enjoying his time out wide right. Clichy got back to cover him well, but there were a few times when Nani just blew past him or drew a foul. Arshavin’s inconsistent defending meant that Nani had lots of room to run at Clichy a few times during the game.
As for our midfield and attack, well, I’ve never seen us so static and yet so shapeless. That probably doesn’t make any sense, but I’m at a loss as to how to properly describe our play. The first half was particularly poor. There was barely any movement. What happened to pass and move? What happened to ‘the player on the ball should have 2 to 3 options’? There were times when a player would be on the ball and there was no one around except 2 United players closing in on him. I don’t know if this was nerves, but it was completely ineffective for our attacking play. United’s defense was very solid, so our fullbacks weren’t able to get in too many crosses. Not that the crosses into the box were particularly good yesterday, even from Sagna who has improved in that area lately. Too often there was no one in the box anyway and Chamakh was being tracked by Vidic and Ferdinand all the way.
Why Nasri was played out wide right I do not understand. Yes, some of his best performances have come from that position, but yesterday he looked completely isolated. He was getting no service from his teammates at all in the first half. He was more involved in the second, but again, United tried to deny him the space to get anything going. Surely Rosicky’s workrate would have been more useful out wide. He certainly was not creating anything in the middle. He harried and got stuck in, but creatively he wasn’t getting it done. At some point I would have thought that Nasri and Rosicky would have swapped positions, but it never happened, and we struggled to penetrate for most of the game.
Oddly enough, it was Song who seemed the most willing to try and slide a pass to open up the United defense. This frustrates me because I still don’t think he has the abillity to do this as well as some of our other players. Jack spent a lot of time roaming in the centre of the pitch and generally did a good job. However, I still think he struggles off the ball in his defensive duties. Fletcher easily got behind him and sometimes Jack was caught losing the ball high up the pitch which allowed Fletcher or Carrick to get the ball to start a counterattack (something that Jack was prone to do at Bolton as well).
It was a very incoherent team performance. Players were not connecting, looked static, and didn’t seem to have the drive to find a goal. Or perhaps their technique just let them down and they could not get anything going. I don’t know. Some more random thoughts: we can’t clear our lines to save our lives. Kick the ball as far away as you can. Good god, I don’t know how many times I saw someone dwell 2 seconds too long on the ball in our own area or clear straight to a Man United player. Also, we suck at tackling. If tackling is an art, well we certainly have not mastered it. This just gifts the oppostion free kicks and earns us needless yellow cards. Speaking of yellow cards, I didn’t have too many quibbles with Webb’s performance yesterday, but how Darren Fletcher is allowed to sprint towards the referee, almost push him, and not earn a yellow card is beyond me. How Rio Ferdinand is allowed to rake his studs across Sagna’s body, leaving a big, gaping hole in his jersey, and not get a caution, is something that I cannot comprehend. On to player ratings.
Szczesny 7 MOTM Good debut for the young Pole. His distribution was poor, as were his clearances, but that was perhaps due to nerves. His hands were safe, he looked comfortable catching crosses, and he made an excellent save one-on-one to deny Anderson. I still think it was a bad idea to throw him into such a huge game for his debut, but I think overall he did well and he can be proud of his performance.
Sagna 6 Had an ok match. Had more to do going forward, but really didn’t get much going.
Squillaci 5 He had the best passing rate of all our players. His clearances seem to be getting worse by the game. At one point he was in the box and headed the ball down directly to Nani (or Anderson, I can’t remember) who took a snap shot just wide of the post. For someone who is supposed to be our most experienced defender, he is doing little to inspire confidence at the moment.
Koscielny 6 He looked pretty solid overall but has a tendency to back off of strikers, give up freekicks in bad areas, and get caught out of position. He was caught out of position on the goal, which basically shifted the entire defense around to somehow allow tiny Ji-Sung Park to head the ball into the net.
Clichy 6 As I mentioned earlier, he did an ok job with Nani, though he had to resort to fouling him the few times Nani got the better of him. What irritated me about him yesterday was his awful clearances. Nani was behind him to jump on his poorly cleared balls quite a few times. Stop dribbling around and trying to turn! Just hoof it as far away as you can! Please!
Song 6 Did what he’s been doing lately, but I still think that Wenger should have him sitting back and focusing on purely shielding the backline.
Wilshere 6.5 Was great at holding off defenders with his upper body while on the ball. I already talked about some of his weaknesses earlier, but he had more fight in him than most of the team put together.
Arshavin 4.5 I don’t really know how to rate him anymore. I just don’t. He does track back on occasions, but then at times falls completely asleep. He’s always looking for that one moment of glory, that one piece of brilliance. He need not try so hard and just allow things to occur naturally. He needs to be more of a team player. You can throw his stats at me all day long, but I am beyond caring at this point. He needs to step up his game or spend some time on the bench.
Nasri 5.5 He was relatively anonymous, partly due to United defending well, but mostly due to no one connecting with him at all. The few times he had possession he looked up to find no one to pass to. Would have been better employed in the centre.
Rosicky 5 A lot of hustle but no real command of the “Fabregas” role.
Chamakh 4.5 Not a good day for the Moroccan. He looked off the pace and his shots were weak. He wasn’t attacking the balls that came into the box with any real power. There were a couple of moments where he could have been more clinical and he didn’t take his chance. Needs to start being more ruthless and decisive.
Fabregas 5 I didn’t think it was possible but I think we played even worse with Cesc and RvP on the pitch. Cesc’s passing was the worst out of the whole team, with him completing only 65% of his passes. I question Wenger’s decision to throw him into the game. He’s clearly still not fit and I keep saying it, but he is doing more harm than good when not playing fully fit. Not a good day for our captain.
van Persie 5 I’m starting to get that horrible sinking feeling in my stomach now. How many layers of rust will RvP need to shake off? I’m really worried that we may not see the van Persie of old again. He is our star striker, and the best man on the pitch if he’s fully fit. If he isn’t on his game in the second half of the season, we are totally screwed. There’s still time for him to find his form, but will he ever return to his best? I hope so.
Walcott 5 Put in a couple decent crosses, but his first touch and finishing were poor. Had a great scoring opportunity that he sent into Row Z.
It’s just not good enough. This is our 5th loss of the season. We had our worst passing rate of the season and misplaced more passes than in the Fulham game. There was no structure to our play and Man United’s midfield were outnumbering ours and working much harder off the ball than we were. We had no ideas. Little individual errors were sneaking in and causing a total panic in the team. We allowed one of the shortest men on the pitch, while having our defenders in the box, head the ball into our net from a really difficult angle. We didn’t create many scoring opportunities, and the ones we did were weak. Man United found it extremely easy to rattle our defense, particularly with balls over the top, and enjoyed plenty of space in the second half to break. We still leave both of our CBs up the pitch on set pieces. We look lost and unmotivated at times. When Rooney missed his penalty in hilarious fashion (never a penalty by the way) I thought that would lift the team to go and snatch the equaliser, but it never happened.
What is it? What does this team need? All season we have been putting in performances like this. Sometimes we have gotten away with it, and at times like these we have been punished. We’re not playing our game. The only time we’ve looked remotely in control is against 10 men, and even then we haven’t totally convinced. I refuse to believe that there is not enough talent in this squad. I am always having a go at managers like Benitez or O’Neill who bemoan their lack of transfer funds. “Make the most with what you have,” I deride. “It’s called coaching!” Well, the best is not being brought out of this team. What I see are jangled nerves and a lack of self-confidence and ambition. Wenger needs to bring out the best in this team and I don’t think he has so far. We have been too predictable and easy to contain and it’s just not good enough.
By some twisted fate we find ourselves in 2nd place, 2 points behind Manchester United who have a game in hand. We move on to Stoke and then Chelsea in our upcoming games. We still have the Carling Cup semifinal next month. All is not lost. I just get the feeling that there is something wrong. Something wrong in this squad mentally (or even tactically) that is just not going away. We keep making the same mistakes over and over and over. The other teams use the same methods to nullify us over and over and over. We keep disappearing in the big games. I need more. I need to see more from our players. This is a Premier League season where it seems no one wants the trophy. When are we going to stand up and be counted? When will we learn? Come on Arsenal.
Don’t forget to follow the Arsenal Offside on Twitter for the latest news, links, and updates: www.twitter.com/arsenaloffside