This was on paper always going to be the most tricky game of our run in and chase for a Champions League spot. Added to the normal nerves of entertaining United was the return of Brave Sir Robin, and the indignity of having to give said Dutchman and his new teammates a guard of honour on to the pitch after winning the title last Monday. As a mark of my disgust I did not enter the living room until that silly business had been completed.
On to the match, Arsene had picked the side most of us would have expected before the game. Podolski in for the suspended Giroud and with a chance to prove that his future in the team rests in a central striking position.
I posted the following comment before kick off yesterday:
What do I want today? 3 points obviously…..but more importantly I want us to take the field showing a belief that we can win. Too often this season we have gone out in games against Top 4 competitors with a look of a team destined to lose and given a performance to match.
From the start the team set about United in a fashion we have not seen for quite some time. We pressed the ball, were quick to the tackle and competing for the second ball, so much so that within 1 and a half minutes we got our reward, Brave Sir Robin gifted possession to us in the centre circle, Cazorla picked out Podolski who moved it on to Rosicky who picked a lovely pass in to the feet of Theo, despite the tight angle he dispatched the ball past a static De Gea.
Maybe this would be a good day after all, the best thing about this was that we did not stop or slow down for the next thirty minutes, continuing to press and fight for possession and being quick to block out United attacks.
Cazorla tried a curler to double the advantage but De Gea saved well (although a bit dramatically) and Ramsey breaking fed Podolski who shot from a tight angle when perhaps he should have squared it to where Theo was waiting, perhaps he was trying a little too hard to prove a point. Maybe young Aaron chose the wrong option with Theo looking better placed to shoot.
United started to get in to the game, but in the main were restricted to crosses and deep runners trying to get on the end of them, Szczesny saved well with his face from the Dutchman in the one clear chance they created.
The second goal of the game would be vital and it looked like it was only going to be ours but from half hour onwards we seemed to be paying the price for our frenetic start opportunities to counter attack were being slowed down, a few loose passes appeared when previously we had been precise and quick.
With the half time whistle approaching Bacary Sagna made a poor backpass to BFG, he has played in the same team long enough to know BSR would be looking for it, he picked up the ball and raced towards goal, Sagna worked hard to get back and the angle for any shot was tight but Sagna, red mist fully descended, lunged into a risky tackle, his outstretched studs made contact with the ball but from behind as he was the tackle would be a foul anywhere else on the pitch. In Sagna’s defence he must have been surprised to see BSR as he had been firmly tucked in Koscielny’s pocket up to that point. The Dutchman picked himself up and scored the penalty to level going in at half time.
The goal could not have come at a worse time. With legs starting to tire we needed to go in ahead and to be able to be lifted to push on, unfortunately we went in to the break heads down and regretting yet another individual mistake that have cost us too often this season.
From the restart it was clear United had been given a piece of the managers mind, it also looked like any rebuilding of confidence in the home dressing room in the second half had not worked. United were waiting to kill us on the counter attack, that they didn’t was testament to the defending of Koscielny and BFG and the keeping of Szczesny.
Mertesacker so often taking up positions to deny passes or make a large obstacle to surpass, Koscielny was his normal dynamic self quick into the tackle and clean interceptions, it is a shame that the appointment of Vermaelen as captain robbed Koscielny of so much game time this season. We have sorely missed his pace and power and it has been an important feature of our recent form.
Sagna had some more troublesome moments and most of United’s threat came from that side combined with midfielders struggling to match runs.
Going forward we were toothless, the ball got in the final third but there was no zip around the pitch either passing or running. Podolski appeared to have run out of steam after 55-60 minutes, he was failing to win any high ball or compete meaningfully. We missed Giroud’s workrate and ability to occupy defenders….he is an aerial threat that centre backs have to actively mark, which opens more space for the technicians in the team to use.
By the end it appeared that neither defence wanted to lose it and both attacks wanted to win it, there were large amounts of space from defence to defence and that gave us less chance to create a winner.
Wenger tried to force the issue bringing on Wilshere for Rosicky, Gervinho for Podolski and Ox for Ramsey. This did inject some more pace in to our play but we were restricted to more long shots, one from Cazorla just not carrying enough pace to beat De Gea.
Dowd brought the game to a close with a point acceptable to both. It was a shame that we could not get a winner, but as I have said before you get what you deserve in football and if you make mistakes like Sagna’s you do not deserve to win a game of football.
But the performance especially that in the first half was what I was looking for when I posted my early morning comment, we refused to be bullied, we stood up to the challenge, and we matched them physically man for man.
Only a fool would argue that BSR would not make our team better, but on yesterday’s performance not many of them impressed me enough to think they would make us better in other positions.
Szczesny – 8 some good saves and a confident unflashy performance from the under fire young keeper
Sagna – 4 offensively poor, and cost us the equaliser
Mertesacker – 7.5 another solid performance from BFG, his experience and reading of the game makes him a far better defender than people give him credit for.
Koscielny – 8.5 (MotM) tucked BSR in his pocket where many other top strikers have sat before. Quality performance from the best Centre Half at the club
Gibbs – 7 not his attacking best but kept Valencia quiet most of the game
Arteta – 7 because of the way United play his defensive role was different today requiring him to track runs rather than intercept and clean up loose balls. He didn’t do this to the required standard too many late runners hitting the box untracked. With the ball he was his same reliable self.
Ramsey – 7 looked to tire early, some good passes and touches early on, was getting in good offensive positions all game without always being picked out.
Cazorla – 7 a relatively quiet game but forced De Gea into two good saves.
Rosicky – 7.5 good pass for the goal, lively about the pitch and unfortunate not to get a bit more curl on a well imagined shot.
Walcott – 8 great finish for the goal, and a constant threat to slower defenders. Needs to be much better without the ball. Did Evans a favour by keeping him at arms length when Evans appeared to want to come in and rub foreheads.
Podolski – 5.5 very poor in the centre forwards role, hope he improves over next two games, we will need him to help bring the midfielders into the game.
Wilshere – 6.5 very quiet didn’t really get into the pace of the game
Gervinho – 7 we became much more mobile with him on the pitch but with United defending deep there was little or no space to exploit.
Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7 looked to get hold of the ball and attempt to influence the game.
Written by Gooner in Exile