Well this is awkward. We all know how people tend to overlook the performance in the context of the result. Of course, it’s fair to say this is mostly wrong: down the years Arsenal fans have seen good performances aplenty only to see the Gunners consequently lose the match. Many started supporting Arsenal for the entertaining brand of football. Because whatever the opposition and whatever the personnel on the pitch, Arsene almost always tries to take the game to the opponent by exercising an expansive and beautiful attacking approach.
However, you can’t say those who put the result above the performance are ENTIRELY in the wrong: after all, only the results are written down in history books and, even among the most fierce fans, only the result will remain etched in their memory in a year or so. Ask me about a particular performance last season and odds are I will recall how we played on top of how the game ended. Ask me about the 2012-2013 season and I’ll be hard-pressed to recall the performance. Go back a year more and I won’t remember anything.
You probably understand why I’ve written all that: up to 60th minute or so yesterday our performance was simply appalling. It felt like we just forgot to turn up for the game: a fear every Arsenal fan has before almost every game, be it league or cup. This year we haven’t turned up against Monaco at home, for Christ’s sake.
Of course I have to add that such a phenomenon was almost non-existent in 2015 calendar year, barring Spurs and Reading. Yesterday, for almost the entire game, it happened again.
Did City’s result affect our attitude? Was it the fear of Old Trafford, a place where we always have a tough game? Or was it a simple desire to not lose a second game in a row? Your guess here is as good as mine.
Whatever reason it was down to (or most likely, it was a little bit of everything), Arsenal failed to play football up until the hour’s mark. Then, suddenly, we’ve realised, that we actually had to put in some effort if we were to get anything out of the game. But it wasn’t until 80th minute when we exploded with the substitutes started having an impact. So I’ll start with them.
The actual football
Arsene named an unchanged side for the 6th game running, something he’s done for the first time in his tenure at the Club. Whether he genuinely believes these eleven guys are best-placed to get a result or it was a showing a faith in the side that didn’t exactly deliver a week ago is question we’re unlikely to find an answer to.
These eleven players were pretty listless for the duration of the first half. Apart from Giroud almost finding a way through due to a mistake from Jones, we haven’t bothered United’s defense at all. United, however, found it tough going creating openings with an ineffective Falcao up front. Nonetheless, Mata, Herrera and Young troubled ours defense throughout the first 45 minutes. And it paid dividends midway through the half. Young roasted Bellerin on the right and swung in a cross to the far post. It found a completely unmarked Herrera who smashed the ball home.
Now, this goal was very similar to the one we conceded against Swansea and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. United almost pulled off another move like that later in the game. Fortunately for us, Falcao both couldn’t get enough power in his effort and fouled Koscielny on top of that. Arsene should take note we are susceptible to this move.
Apart from the goal, United weren’t particularly efficient at creating chances. They did demonstrate some slick passing, but not much came of it.
In the second half we upped our game and United dropped their urgency levels a bit. It wasn’t up until Wenger decided to change things around that we really started creating chances.
The substitutes and their impact
Around the usual 70 minute mark Arsene went all in. Bellerin and Cazorla left the field and were replaced by Walcott and Wilshere. Coquelin took up the mantle of a right-back and Ramsey shifted infield to give way to Walcott and boy did the changes worked.
I’m concentrating on this for two reasons: in comparison, Van Gaal’s changes didn’t work (Blackett for Rojo and Van Persie for Falcao) and Arsene should be given credit where it’s due. He did what most think he’s unable to do: he adapted during the game. His subtle changes worked, his gamble paid off, so hats off to the Frenchman.
After our initial trio of Coquelin, Cazorla and Ozil was changed to Ramsey, Wilshere and Ozil our game transformed. The effervescent duo of Jack and Aaron played through Herrera and Fellaini as if they weren’t there at all. This led to a) a beautiful goal by Walcott. Yes, Walcott. I know it counted as an own goal, but in my book a deflection is not an own goal. Blackett made no conscious action which led to the ball ending up in the net, so it’s a goal by Theo in my book. However, the preceding 40 yard diagonal pass by Ramsey was a thing of beauty in itself. It greatly reminded me of Cazorla’s assist against Hull b) a completely different dynamic, one which could have easily allowed us to snatch the victory right at the death, had Giroud not wasted two brilliant moments. We probably didn’t deserve to win the game, but hey-ho, United didn’t deserve to win at the Emirates.
As I’ve stated on numerous occasions, I love the Frenchman. I love how he upped his game, I consider him one of the best back-to-the-goal strikers there is. However, I can’t help but wonder whether a more technically able forward would have buried one of the chances Giroud was presented with. I think that even Giroud himself would have scored at least that late chance had his confidence levels been higher. They won’t, he hasn’t scored from any of his chances (only Ozil presented him with 3) and this gets us back to square one.
Do we need a better forward in the summer? Or maybe should Arsene start utilising one of the options already at his disposal, like giving Sanchez or Walcott a go? Both offer different qualities to these of the Frenchman and can become an excellent plan B. Such a shift will require us to sign another winger (especially in Sanchez’s case), though it’s a topic for another day.
Simply put, he was gorgeous. When Aaron was shifted inside he became godly. The Welshman provided an assist, he destroyed Herrera and his overall contribution in the last 20+ minutes could have been that difference between a draw and a win. It wasn’t, but not because Aaron didn’t do enough.
Coupled with a several below-par performances from Santi (is the Spaniard just exhausted?), I think Wenger should consider playing Rambo in his natural position at least in the remaining league games. We all know Ramsey has a wonderful understanding with Ozil, so I can see the triquestra of him, Coq and Mesut working quite well. Of course, on the basis of what I’ve seen from Wilshere I firmly believe the Englishman is also due a start, especially after he dovetailed with Rambo nicely yesterday. Tough call for the manager on who to drop here, but I think as 3rd is almost assured, he can experiment with a Ramsey-Wilshere-Ozil trio against Sunderland.
A below-par performance on the whole, one that could have seen us rip off United for the second time in one season nonetheless. However, I was mostly struck by how bang average United were. Herrera, Mata and De Gea aside, this United side is not much to look at. Alright, count Rooney in. Who else was good yesterday? Blind and Young?
Let’s be honest here: it’s Arsenal who have performed below-par. Had we turned up, we would have won. When a Club wastes 150 million on transfers and subsequently benches the likes of Di Maria and Falcao to play Ferguson left-overs like Jones, Valencia and Young, you know the Club is in trouble. The scariest thing is that De Gea is on the brink of leaving. Falcao hasn’t performed and will likely be returned to Monaco, while Di Maria hasn’t adapted, plain and simple.
United’s problems aren’t ours, luckily. Our main concern right now is to beat Sunderland midweek to guarantee direct qualification and then focus our efforts on strengthening the very good spine we already have. Rumour has it, Brian McDermott was at Lyon vs Bordeaux yesterday, with Lacazette, Fekir and Umtiti the mooted targets. Good to know.
Right, enough said. Back in a day or two with the customary preview.