Arsenal fell to a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford on Saturday after a disappointing display against Manchester United. All the talk before the game was about Robin Van Persie and his first game against his former club since his summer move to Manchester. Before the game it was all hugs between the former Arsenal skipper and his old team-mates. It was reported online that Jack Wilshere didn’t hug him and I totally agree with Jack’s decision to blank him if true.
At that point I was disgusted with my team. I thought back to the likes of Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane fighting in the tunnel and the Martin Keown and co vs Ruud Van Nistelrooy incident and realised how much Arsenal have fallen in less than ten years. Could you honestly imagine any Arsenal players from that Invincibles side hugging it out with the United team. If any Arsenal player had left for United back then, Vieira would have probably headbutted him in the tunnel!.
Van Persie made Arsenal pay instantly. Arsenal fans were giving him abuse from the kick off, but the Dutchman scored with his first shot of the game after pouncing on a Thomas Vermaelen error in the third minute.
After the goal, it was genuinely a very quiet game. Again I thought to myself that just 10 years ago, there was never a dull game between these two. They were games that decided the title winners or help swing the race in one team’s favour. Now Arsenal are a team that settle for mediocrity. The have the resources to be successful, but don’t use them. That has resulted in them fighting it out with Spurs for 4th spot and the final Champions League spot instead of fighting it out with Manchester United and now the new rivals that have emerged thanks to money in Manchester City and Chelsea.
United were fairly cautious in their approach after their early goal and the Gunners struggled to get into the game as they couldn’t get their passing game going at all. Van Persie had a good chance midway through the first half that Vito Mannone batted away as United tried to kill Arsenal off before half time.
Arsenal’s best chance came through Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman took a cross-shot when Olivier Giroud had made a clever run. Perhaps Ramsey didn’t see him or he felt that he had a better chance himself. Ramsey’s shot was saved by De Gea in the United goal and cleared to safety by the United defence.
Andre Santos continued his poor defensive performances of late as Antonio Valencia continued to have joy against the Brazilian. Valencia crossed and found Rooney, who saw his goal bound shot terrifically saved by Mannone.
As half time approached, United had a golden opportunity to extend their lead. Ashley Young’s cross was handled by Santi Cazorla and the referee pointed to the spot for a United penalty. Rooney stepped up and sent his penalty wide of Mannone’s post. Arsenal were extremely lucky to go into the break only 1-0 down.
Arsenal started the second half just as slowly. Vermaelen again slipped and Van Persie was in again. The former Gunner crossed for Antonio Valencia, who scuffed his effort wide. Michael Carrick then hit a shot well wide seconds later as United looked to add to their lead.
Arsene Wenger sent Theo Walcott on for Aaron Ramsey as the Gunners searched for an equaliser. Giroud hit the side netting as Arsenal started to come into the game a little more. However, after a brief moment on top of the game, Arsenal conceded a second shortly after. Mannone denied Van Persie a second goal, but Evra headed in from the resulting corner. What I want to know is how one of the shortest men on the pitch in Evra was allowed to climb high enough to head in from a corner, when you have someone as big as Per Mertesacker in your defence. I’m not blaming Mertesacker for the goal, I just want to know how such a short player can climb high enough. Whoever was at fault, should take a long, hard look at themselves and how they defend.
Arsenal were reduced to ten men when Jack Wilshere was sent off for a second bookable offence. Whilst I didn’t disagree with the decision to send Wilshere off, I do question why Tom Cleverley stayed on the pitch as he was lucky to avoid a second booking on a few occasions. Also, Robin Van Persie was lucky to avoid a straight red for an awful challenge in the second half, I believe on Wilshere.
Van Persie and Anderson both put the ball in the back of the net as the ten men struggled to cope defensively, but both goals were flagged for offside.
In the later stages of the game, Arsenal were searching for a consolation goal. In stoppage time, Walcott fed Giroud, who saw his shot saved by De Gea. The away fans were terrific once again, singing many songs loudly throughout the game. At the start Van Persie was the target for abuse. Once Arsenal were well beaten, they sang “we want our Arsenal back”, a song being sung a lot at the moment. Then Ivan Gazidis and Arsene Wenger both were targeted in songs by some fans. You also heard “there’s only one Arsene Wenger”, so the fans are torn right now and don’t know who to blame. For the last few minutes the game was played out to “we love you Arsenal we do” for all to hear.
The team continued to search for a goal late on and found it as Cazorla curled in a beauty with the last kick of the game. Honestly, the scoreline flattered Arsenal. If you look at the scoreline you’d be thinking Arsenal were competitive for most of it, but in truth, they were crap. They weren’t as bad as last year when they lost 8-2 or the side that lost 6-1 there back in 2001, but they offered so little going forward that De Gea could have fallen asleep for the majority of the game and it wouldn’t have changed the scoreline at all. I give credit to Mannone who played very well in goal and didn’t let anyone down at all.
It doesn’t get any easier for Arsenal as they face Schalke away tomorrow and then have two London derbies in a row with Fulham and neighbours Tottenham visiting the Emirates in consecutive weeks.
One thing fans also picked up on was how United fans don’t get as much joy from beating us as they once did. You saw half of Old Trafford empty in the closing stages on Saturday. 10 years ago if Arsenal were playing United, if United were winning, they’d stay until the end to celebrate, especially at 2-0 entering the last minute. Now we are just another team to them and like most that visit Old Trafford, we come away with nothing every year. It is sad that it’s come to this, but even the most die hard Wenger fan can’t have been happy with Saturday’s display. I see online that a lot of Wenger fans in the past few years are now beginning to ask questions.
I don’t expect a change of manager in January, but I want Arsenal to take action next summer, whether it is getting rid of Gazidis or/and Wenger, I’d like to see it. Us fans have to realise that it isn’t going to get better this way. The best we can hope for is 4th place and maybe the League Cup if lucky. The Champions League could be bleak also. I can’t see us even drawing tomorrow and with that it opens up an opportunity for Olympiakos and Montpellier. Arsenal could finish third and enter the Europa League or finish bottom and not even get that. We normally get ourselves out of tough places and work it out (last year for example finishing above Spurs after looking impossible in January), so I will give it time. But I don’t want to have to settle for 4th place anymore. I want Arsenal to compete. I want us to win trophies. It comes to something now that I’d be delighted if we could win the League Cup. As much as I respect the competition, if ten years ago you had told me I’d be hoping for us to win just the League Cup and that we’d be happy finishing 4th every season, I’d have laughed at you for a very long time…