Thursday morning and the inquest into Arsenal’s latest big match disappointment rumbles on. Arsenal fans the world over are rightly disappointed that we have now gone 11 games without victory against either United or Chelsea. Whilst I find it difficult to say that you can take positives from any defeat, I do think it’s worth noting that we didn’t lose in the same manner as we have in many of those 11 games. This was a game, bad pitch or otherwise, that saw an alarmingly low technical level from both sides. United came away victorious but they did not outclass or outplay as. There is a big difference between disappointment and humiliation.
The reasons given for this defeat have been many although none seem to hit the nail on the head. There have been many criticisms of Clichy, criticisms which I believe are largely valid. There is no doubt that he could have closed Nani down quicker for the goal however, it should also be remembered that he did a lot of good work, on his own, against one of the Premierships best performers. Certain voices have criticised the whole defence, argued that player for player they are not good enough. Even Sagna has come in for stick in some quarters. This seems to be a knee jerk reaction. Whilst I would have preferred Djourou to Koscielny, he and Squillaci actually did well against Rooney. None of the chances we gave away, only 2 good ones to my memory, were the fault of the back four.
Alex Song has come in for his usual criticism. It seems to be received wisdom these days that he, in keeping with our ethos, goes forward too much. This clearly was not the case for him or the rest of the side on Monday. Song joined in when possible but basically stayed at home and, as a result, limited United’s opportunities. In post match anger and disappointment I expressed the view that we should be more circumspect in these games. It seems that tactically, we had tried to be just this. Take Samir Nasri’s comments post match:
“In the first half, we sat back and waited for them a bit. We didn’t want to push too high up, because they always find each other in space, whether it’s Park or Wayne Rooney playing on his own up front.
“We wanted to sit back and wait for them and we held out well until we conceded the goal four minutes from half-time.
So, on reflection then, we were actually set up ok tactically. We didn’t try to blow them away and then get caught on the break which has led to our undoing in so many games in recent years. Effectively we were beaten by a fortunate goal. Without the deflection it would not have found Park’s head and we would most likely have gone in 0-0 at half time. A 0-0 draw would have seen a different response from the media and fans a like. As it stands, we are rueing defeat by a very slim margin.
Whilst I don’t think we should all just smile and get on with it we should also try to look forward rather than back. This defeat was not symptomatic of our usual perceived short comings. At worst, we lacked the invention and creative spark to create an opening but, on balance, it’s not like United carved us open too often either. Defeats are always painful but we must keep our heads, as a set of fans and a club in general. This defeat was not men against boys, it was the sort of result that happens in big games. This may sound strange but had we not been burdened by this awful record we would not be picking over the bones of this defeat with quite so much fervour. Unfortunately, we do have this awful recent record and people are understandably disappointed.
I would argue that we can now put to bed the idea that we don’t have anyone physical enough to stand up to opponents or that we aren’t committed enough. We were just as physical as them and that is not where the game was lost. As I’ve already written, this defeat also wasn’t the direct result of a bad goalkeeper or a fragile defence. I can’t argue that the result could have just as easily been 1-0 to us as we offered very little going forward but, we do have gifted forwards so it’s not unreasonable to claim that on another day we might have done better. The main factor we lack as a team is self belief. The players appear nervous and, in this pivotal season, so do the fans. We need a good result in one of these games soon, to prove that we can do it and the harbingers of doom are not correct. In truth, we were far closer to a positive result here than we have been for some time. What better Christmas present than a home win against Chelsea? In that game we must forget what’s gone before and show togetherness, players and fans alike.