With a lot of pre-match banter and self-motivating chit-chat, Arsenal travelled to Manchester to bring about a change to their monotone of failures against the Big Two. The End Result – Another ‘they were just not good enough’ saga!
We’ll take a look at each Arsenal player – how they fared, what was good about them, and what was the missing element which led to the below-par show at the Theater of Dreams.
The league debutante was nervy as far as his work with his feet was concerned. He had the obvious butterflies in his stomach, playing against the mighty Red Devils at their backyard. He compensated that with his work with the gloves, which is more important. He made a fantastic block off an Anderson shot by ‘making himself big’ in front of the United man. To add to that, he flung himself to tip off a Wayne Rooney chip, which was goal-bound. The Pole can improve with more match-practice and prove to be a top keeper for Arsenal in years to come.
The French Full-Back was good in attack as well as defense. Manchester United didn’t have a particular threat from the left hand side, so Sagna’s work wasn’t that difficult compared to his other Full Back’s work. All said and done, Bacary needs to improve his crosses drastically. If ‘Route One’ is not working, his crosses would be really vital for Arsenal, with top European games to come at the end of the season.
The Frenchmen were solid at their respective positions and even their distributions never lacked creativity. However, we can put some blame on Squillaci for the only United goal; he should have ideally closed down on Ji-Sung and not let him bent his body to make that sort of ‘improvised header’. Both the defenders need to work on their ‘handling of aerial balls’ ability, as Rooney won most of the aerial balls and found ‘lots of space’ to shoot. Along with that, the defenders need to ‘close down’ on strikers and not give them chances to shoot.
The biggest flaw in Arsenal’s game was the combination of Clichy and Arshavin. They never complemented each other. Clichy was hardly seen overlapping the Russian on the wings, while the diminutive Arsenal striker failed to fall back and assist Clichy during attacks involving Rafael and Nani. Clichy fails to take care of nifty-footed wingers; he struggles against Nani, Lennon and others from the ‘same tribe’. His excellent pace helps him recover from poor positions, but he lacks the temperament of Ashley Cole to deal with top quality wingers.
Arshavin, on the other hand, lacked the composure in the ‘final third’ and gave away too many balls from ‘dangerous positions’. He started off well, showing a lot of intent, but fizzed out as the game went on.
While the Englishman was very agile throughout the game, his Cameroonian partner looked quite ‘out of sorts’. Alex Song, without any competition for his place in the team, has become a little more ‘adventurous’ this season, bombing forward every now and then, but failing to give those ‘eye-of-the-needle’ passes which can make or break a game. It is quite understandable that he lacks creativity, but Arsenal doesn’t need him to be creative. They have plenty of ingenious heads in the team to take care of that aspect of Arsenal’s game. His tackling was wayward and he lacked a lot of poise in handling the movements of Fletcher and Anderson.
Playing under huge expectations can be a bonus as well as a detriment for a football player. Nasri, in the absence of Cesc, had the responsibility of the chief playmaker to take Arsenal through. He failed to do so, simply because he stayed isolated in the wings for most of the game. The only time he had made an incisive run into the box, Arsenal came closest to scoring a goal.
Rosicky, sporting the captain’s arm band, is a player too timid for such a grand occasion. He might be an exceptional talent, but he lacks that ‘extra edge’, that little bit of ‘intelligent insolence’ that changes the nature of a team’s performance. When Patrick or Tony wore that arm-band and played Manchester United, the Red Devils feared Arsenal; they could feel the ‘presence’ of these Arsenal leaders, and they got intimidated. Tomas Rosicky will probably never have that kind of physical presence to ruffle the opponents, and that will hurt Arsenal in big matches.
Chamakh is a fantastic footballer with all the ingredients of a support striker – he can fall back and help his defense, and even ‘hold the defender’ to make space for Van Persie to strike. But, he lacks the ‘killer instinct’ of Thierry Henry or even the incredible football brain of Dennis Bergkamp. He’ll do all the basic things correctly, but he won’t ever do an exceptional ‘out-of-the-blue’ thing and win you a big match on his own.
It is quite unusual to see three top quality players unable to make any sort of impact on a big game like this. Cesc was clearly not 100% fit, as he sprayed wrong passes all over the pitch. Van Persie was falling back too much and it didn’t help the cause. Theo was in a hurry to make an impact and cement his place in the team; he lacked decisiveness.
Wenger employed the same strategy as he did for most away matches, except for the ‘Play Safe’ part. The Arsenal team didn’t want to force into an attack; nobody made incisive runs into the box – not even Nasri and Arshavin. The team was playing within themselves and refused to take their chances. Both Arshavin and Nasri, Arsenal’s creative focal points, stayed in the wings and failed to combine with the central players.
The Arsenal manager could have ideally engaged Nasri in the middle of the park, pushing Rosicky to the wings. He could have kept Wilshere and Song just behind Nasri, to feed him when required and also run back to help the backline upon danger. Both Nasri and Arshavin needed to track back and help the Full Backs during attacks, which was not the case. Chamakh and Rosicky weren’t influential enough, as they failed to trouble the opponent keeper throughout the match.
Can Arsenal still win the league?
It has been a strange season, with Chelsea and Manchester United not at their best while Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have managed to spring quite a few surprises. It is certain that a ‘flawless’ team won’t win the coveted Championship. The team with the best record while playing top teams might end up lifting the trophy at the end of the season. Arsenal, even with their tactical flaws, can still win the league if they can win some ‘critical’ matches and keep their composure till the end of the season.