I’ll get this out of the way first: we were crap. The performance scraped the bottom of the barrel. In fact, it was almost a negative number on a scale of 1 to 10. We were utterly abject, insipid, completely disinterested in getting a result. There was no urgency to our play, no desire, no drive. In fact, the only way in which yesterday’s game was different to the one in February is the result.
The part which causes me most grief, however, is that United were hardly inspiring. They produced a very, very bleak performance and would have been blown away and severely punished by any big team worth their salt. Yes, Cech was the busier of two keepers, he saved well from Mata and Martial in the first half, but the simple fact remains: the only bit of quality football we produced led to a goal. Had we been at least marginally better, we would have won. But somehow, inexplicably, we managed to turn up with an even worse showing than the hosts.
Let’s try and make sense of this … can’t call it a performance, would be a sacrilege … can’t call it a mess either, we haven’t lost after all … game of football.
Starting with this bit, because it will be a small one. The only players who deserve any praise are Petr Cech, for the saves he made in the first half, Laurent Koscielny, for being a defensive rock, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, for turning Rashford inside-out and swinging in a perfect cross, and Olivier Giroud, for being in the right place at the right time.
As you can see, a short list, and half a sentence quite enough to describe the respective achievements of the players. Oh, one small thing, before I get to section №2. Olivier Giroud has become the first Arsenal player to score a goal past a Mourinho-led side since Gilberto Silva (9 years), the first Arsenal substitute to score against United at Old Trafford in the Premier League and our record impact sub, with 10 goals from the bench, which is one better than Nicklas Bendtner and Nwanko Kanu. Well done, Ollie.
What didn’t work
Pretty much everything else didn’t work. When I saw the starting XI, it became obvious Wenger wanted to try and play Mourinho at his game. That is, parking a bus and playing rope-a-dope style. The Frenchman made a complete bollix out of it. We still ended up with more possession (55% to 45%), yet with only one shot on target (ha) to United’s 5 and 5 attempts to 12 overall.
The game plan didn’t work, so it’s not surprising the players tasked with executing it also didn’t shine. Jenko looked nervous at right-back and I was just as nervous every time Rashford or Martial picked up the ball on our right wing. Monreal had another below-par performance, though I suspect constantly pairing him up with an incapable wing-partner hardly helps.
Coquelin and Elneny were tidy in possession and decent at regaining it, but were absolutely useless in moving the ball forward and breaking the lines. I understand why Wenger went with the pair, and Xhaka’s late yellow confirms my suspicion, however the simple fact remains: we need another passer in midfield. Alongside someone more defensive-minded.
Cazorla is injured, Wilshere is loaned out and Ramsey today showed quite how horrible his long-ball distribution is, so I imagine we can’t entrust him with being a deep-lying playmaker. We also know how the Welshman doesn’t dovetail well with Coquelin. Xhaka remains our only solution here, unless Wenger wants to try something a bit more radical, like shifting Iwobi infield.
We need another playmaker for two reasons: Ozil can’t cope on his own (something yesterday’s game showed) and we need Sanchez to stay higher upfield to provide a focal point. The Coquelin – Elneny pairing doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, so introducing Xhaka seems the most logical step.
While our front three yesterday … Well, for starters, Ramsey is not a winger, especially not a left winger. He was completely and utterly useless there. Not much better centrally too, to be honest, but absolutely invisible and ineffective out wide definitely. Stop this madness, Arsene, I beg of you.
Walcott looked much more like his last season self and that’s a transformation I don’t enjoy in the slightest. Perhaps down to not having Bellerin behind him, the pair has good chemistry and time their runs to great effect, but Theo still didn’t offer much. It can’t be down to missing Hector so much.
Finally, Alexis Sanchez. Passed and declared fit to everyone’s unrestrained joy, the Chilean looked pretty toothless. And look, when you have
10 9 individuals behind you not doing their job properly, it’s hard to see how you can do yours too. I even understand Alexis dropping deep constantly. He felt Ozil wasn’t coping, he got involved in the build-up to help out, but all it led to, on the rare occasions we did something meaningful, was that there was no one up front to finish the move or bounce the ball off of.
I suspect the time has come to give Giroud a couple of games up front. Not only because Alexis was pretty anonymous for the last two games, but also because of the huge bandage(s) strapping his hammy to the rest of his leg. Either give Alexis a breather, if his health condition requires it, or try him wide with Giroud central once again.
The last word
In the cold light of
day night table lamp a draw away at Old Trafford against a Mourinho side hell-bent on not losing is not that bad a result. Bottom line is, it makes the Special Nonce unhappy, and as someone rightly noted “his happiness is inversely proportionate to mine”.
Teams will drop points at Old Trafford. Spurs are yet to go there, as do Chelsea and Liverpool (the Scousers even drew at home with United), while City remain the only big side to get a win away. So in isolation, this result, like the NLD result, is not the end of the world.
But the wider issues are there still and they need to be addressed urgently. Issues like another mental collapse of a team capable of far better, lack of balance in central midfield, continuous leaking of goals down the left wing.
The draw leaves us in 4th. City’s late win means they are now 2 points ahead, just like Liverpool, though at least Klopp’s men dropped points too. However, Spurs didn’t (screw them) and are a solitary point behind us, while Chelsea are yet to play, which means we can find ourselves 5 points behind potential league leaders. Hardly ideal, but there you go. No one asked us to drop points in two consecutive games, and ultimately, only the players are the masters of how they perform. Their performances didn’t merit much more than two points in the last two games.
I’ll sign off here. Hopefully back for the PSG game, but if not, then definitely back next weekend. Have a good one.
Russian Gooner. No, it’s not always cold in my home country 🙂
A staunch Arsenal supporter since 2004. Started writing about the Gunners in 2013.
Currently in London to get a degree in journalism.