This game was very important in both teams’ seasons today. It was the 40th battle between the two managers (Ferguson’s so far won 16, Wenger 15 and Drawn 9) and it was at Old Trafford, where Arsenal have not won since 2006. Plenty of players in the Arsenal line-up would be taking part in their first Manchester clash, with Szczesny making his Arsenal debut and Squillaci and Chamakh with their first visit to the Theatre of Dreams.
We started with a back four of Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy and a midfield and attack comprising of Wilshere, Arshavin, Nasri, Rosicky, Chamakh and Song. Not the strongest lineup by any means but United had Berbatov out and Park in. To the non-football following viewer it may have seemed odd but Park has a good scoring record against Arsenal. Anderson was another surprising inclusion in United’s lineup.
As the game began both teams played tentatively, with not a whole lot of chances created, but the better ones were constructed by the home team. As the game wore on it became very clear that United only contributed one attacking man- Rooney- who, when receiving the ball, held it up for the rest of the team to catch up and to instigate a pass. It worked well against the Arsenal defence today that were sluggish and lacked a real sense of urgency throughout the match. Adding onto this was the gap between the Arsenal defenders and midfielders that was probably pivotal to the result of the match, there simply was not enough numbers defending. And when we did take the ball United’s high line of defence quickly took it away and very few chances came to Arsenal throughout the first half; we were forced to pass it around the box and hope for a gap.
Nani gave our debut goalkeeper Szczesny a great scare about 20 minutes in with a venomous volley that flashed wide to his right, if it had gone in he would have been well beaten. Chamakh meanwhile was about to give away a penalty in this game, and penalties aren’t rare in this Arsenal-United fixture- in three of the last five matches there have been penalties in the game.
As for Arsenal’s attack they were basically as sluggish as the defence. Chamakh and Arshavin had a poor game so far; because of Rosicky and Nasri’s wider positions they didn’t provide much of an impact to the game. Meanwhile for Wilshere and Song they had a better game than their counterparts but didn’t contribute much to the attack either.
Arsenal’s luck ran out just before half time, where Nani’s cross deflected off Clichy, which found the head of Park who chipped it over Szczesny for the first goal of the game, and the first time our No.4 goalkeeper had been beaten while playing for the first team. To his credit though he was one of the better players in this half, and ultimately the game.
Arsenal fans all around were hoping for a complete opposite of the first half and for us to pull our game in. However it didn’t happen that way, but we also didn’t fall to the second half demise that seemed to haunt previous games, notably Spurs.
At the beginning of the second half Rosicky and Nasri seemed to cause a few more problems for the United defence but Vidic was calling the shots and defended really well. Again and again United attacked through Nani, and then Anderson burst through and with the keeper to beat, but he blasted it at Szczesny who blocked it off well; possibly the save of the game. A minute later Arsenal had their own chance where Nasri’s shot deflected off Van Der Sar, but Vidic put Chamakh off enough for him to place his shot straight at him and out for a harmless corner.
Arsenal were looking desperate now, and Wenger quickly subbed on Van Persie and Fabregas for Wilshere and Rosicky. Personally I thought Arshavin should have gone off but Walcott would go on for him just over 10 minutes later. The presence of the experienced and skilful Van Persie and Fabregas swung the pendulum in Arsenal’s attacking favour a little but not for long, as United held possession Arsenal would love (70% in the last 10 minutes) before a penalty came against Arsenal’s favour- another penalty in this fixture.
Rooney was the candidate for this, as he hoped to double his magnificent goal tally this year of ONE. He stepped up, made a Ronaldo-esque approach and shot, and blasted it well over the bar! Rooney hung his head in shame knowing that if Arsenal scored he would probably be blamed for the loss of points.
However, it wasn’t to be. Arsenal’s valiant but poorly crafted attempts were taken apart by the vultures of United, leaving Wenger’s men again with a loss against members of the so-called Big Four. Arsenal had not taken three points in a game against this elite group in a while, leaving Arsenal searching for answers, fans leaving again empty handed, and the players to take a hard look at themselves, again outclassed by the Red Devils at Old Trafford.
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