As most of you know I like nothing better than looking for positives in an Arsenal performance, I also like to give our players credit where it is due, unfortunately following the display yesterday it is very difficult to do either. That is not to say that we had a strong side out, it was probably the weakest eleven we have fielded at Old Trafford, maybe ever under Arsene Wenger. It was certainly a lot weaker than a side which was roundly dismissed 6-1 back in 2001. That side was Seaman, Luzhny, Cole, Grimandi, Stepanovs, Pires, Viera, Parlour, Silvinho, Wiltord and Henry, admittedly they played a full strength United with exception of Cole and Giggs.
Compare that team to the one that took the field yesterday and perhaps the result looks better. I stated on Twitter yesterday at half time, and maintain now that add Gervinho, Wilshere, Vermaelen, Song, Sagna and Gibbs into that side and put Rosicky, Coquelin, Jenkinson, Arshavin, Djourou and Traore into the squad and the team looks a lot healthier and the squad a lot thicker.
It has often been said that we have lacked a spine in recent years, yesterday it was till absent along with a couple of limbs and very possibly a heart. We took the field with a team that had only two combinations that plays regularly together (Theo/RvP/Arsh and Kos/JD/Sz) around them and in between them were inexperienced or untested at this level players. That side from 2001 was missing one combination (the Centre Backs and Right back) that was painful enough, now take out Pires, Viera and Parlour and you get something like the side we put out yesterday regarding cohesion and familiarity. It is possible to carry maybe one or two players, not at Old Trafford necessarily but it can be done, to carry six is a very big ask.
The game started badly for Arsenal, United were chasing everything at high tempo and forcing the defence and midfield to rush passes which were easily picked off by United’s midfield and defence. To give credit to United they got a feint whiff of fear and went for the jugular.
The warning signs were self evident, after another uncontested long ball was won too easily by their defenders two quick passes later and Wellbeck was racing into space, Koscielny did very well to catch up and deny a clear shooting opportunity, minutes later and Coquelin was forced into tidying up when Young looked poised to shoot.
Despite these moments no one on the pitch in blue was capable of taking charge and just putting laces through the football for ten minutes or so, continually trying to pass and retain possession as is Wenger’s methodology rather than realising that we just needed to fight for possession and do everything possible to quieten their attacking endeavours, if this meant turning their back four and letting Theo chase lost causes then so be it, better than presenting possession in our half every time we lost the ball.
It came as no surprise when United opened the scoring, following more sloppy defending and failure to properly clear lines Anderson received the ball on the edge of the box and lifted a ball over the back four to Wellbeck who outmuscled Djourou and headed in from close range. The worst thing about this goal was the fact that the ball bounced before Wellbeck headed it home, as the ball bounces Djourou is trying to hold off Wellbeck whilst Koscielny is waiting for him to deal with it, I don’t think Szczesny can come and get it as the ball bounces on the penalty spot. He could have dealt with the ball after it bounced better but the fact remains it should never have been allowed to bounce and that is after all the first law of defending.
Five minutes later Johnny Evans pulled down Walcott and gave us a chance to get the match back on level terms. Unfortunately for the team and us fans Mr Reliable became Mr Sitter (sorry). I don’t think I have seen Van Persie strike a ball so weakly from open play let alone from a dead ball from 12 yards out. The penalty was so weak that even if De Gea had waited for the ball to be kicked before deciding which way to go he would have been able to save it.
As all good teams do United punished our profligacy from a nothing ball into the box Traore could only head the ball into the path of Ashley Young, he picked the ball up Coqeulin got close and he shifted the ball and unleashed a super strike from 23 yards out, as expected of a midfielder Coquelin gave Young very little to aim at but he conjured up an impressive strike that no keeper would stop.
The game continued to be very open, in fairness we were looking beaten already. With five minutes of the half remaining Jenkinson trying to compete for an aerial ball was naive. Young ran across his path and bought a cheap free kick. Up stepped Rooney to bend a pearler into the top corner.
Just before the half time whistle was sounded to give us a relief from the pain an uncharacteristically poor clearance from Evra was won in the air by Ramsey, Arshavin played to Rosicky he picked a lovely pass to Walcott who finished quickly between De Gea’s legs.
By half time in 2001 we were already 5-1 down, could Wenger work some magic to make this group of players believe that they had a chance still?
With the Arsenal fans giving a heroically tragic twenty minute rendition of “We Love You Arsenal” at the start of the second half things looked a bit brighter, we enjoyed some possession, and were at times dangerous going forward, the problem was United could now resort to their normal default setting against us of soaking pressure and counterattacking.
In that period Arshavin managed to miss the target when easier to hit it, Van Persie had a fine volley saved by De Gea. Admittedly United were still creating chances and Szczesny was called upon a number of times to keep the score respectable.
Wenger obviously thought Coquelin was looking tired or wanted to try to add something different and introduced Oxlade-Chamberlain for his Premier League debut. Soon after Djourou was deemed to have fouled Rooney off the ball, Rooney picked himself up to curl the ball into Szczesny’s side of the goal from the free kick. This is the only goal I will lay at the feet of our keeper who I thought performed well in difficult circumstances, shifting two paces to his left gave Rooney an enormous target to aim at and he didn’t need inviting twice. That said the wall was rooted to the floor.
Unfortunately that let the floodgates open again and soon United were 6-1 up, Nani cooly finished having found himself in acres of space in the eighteen yard box with Traore and Jenkinson both five yards behind the centre backs to make it five. Number six came soon after when Ashley Young picked Park out and he in turn found the bottom corner with his shot.
Amazingly there was still time for more goals, at least the next was one we could cheer, Arshavin dropping deep played a searching ball that the ever willing Jenkinson ran on to before delivering a good cross which was headed away, Jenkinson was first to the second ball and headed it back across the box for Van Persie to smash home a consolation, if only he had struck the penalty so true.
The task of damage limitation was made harder when Jenkinson received a second yellow for a foul very similar to that in the first half, this time Hernandez cut across him and Jenkinson was over eager, tangled legs and received his marching orders. Jenkinson was found out of his depth today, but I will say one thing in his defence he does not hide, he works tirelessly for the team and I still think we will see better from him.
Walcott was forced into playing right back and was soon nibbling at the heels of Evra and allowing Webb the chance to award the obligatory penalty to United at Old Trafford, Rooney wanted his hat-rick and stepped up and smashed it home.
Unfortunately there was still time for Ashley Young to pick out the top corner again in the ninetieth minute to complete the rout.
So how to summarise?
We were played off the park, as we were in 2001, the blog world was not as prevalent then as it is now, most of us only had dial up modems, but how would todays blog world have reacted to that one? Would Wenger have been demanded out? We would have surely missed out on two more League titles, three FA Cups and a trip to a Champions League final. All achieved after Wenger’s last darkest hour.
Should we expect Wenger to send a team to take the field playing two banks of four and go for the draw? Thats not in our make up as a squad, we fans criticise the big clubs for coming to the Emirates and doing the same, would be a bit hypocritical to encourage him to do it now. Fact remains at 1-0 we could have made it 1-1, at 3-1 we could have made it 3-3, we didn’t.
Some of the players that let the team down today were those more experienced the ones that you need to help the younger players out, but with so many missing pieces of the jigsaw it is almost impossible to expect the side to function anywhere near its best, remember Wigan away last year?
Wednesday certainly seems an eternity ago, are we at rock bottom? Probably in the Premier League.
Can things get better? Most definitely, with suspensions ending soon (Frimpong back for Swansea, Song and Gervinho back for Blackburn away) and hopefully some news about Wilshere and Vermaelen returning to the side sooner rather than later we should be in position to start winning games again very soon. I still remain excited by the possibilities of line ups that our full squad can produce.
Are we as unlucky with injuries as it appears? Definitely
Has ill discipline cost us 6 points? In truth Song/Gervinho or Frimpong/Gervinho would not have made a massive difference today, and I’m not going to be angry at Gervinho for slapping Barton, or Frimpong for being enthusiastic, I will criticise Song for petulance though.
Has Wenger got the desire to do it again? I hope so, if he decides to walk, I have serious doubts over what we as a club will achieve this season, this assembled group will play for their Manager of that I am certain. I’m not sure another manager would get instant results with this group of players so to change now without anytime to bring in players would be madness.
Are our away fans the best in the Premier League? Absof***inglutely and they deserve better than yesterday for their support.
Written by Gooner in Exile