By God we were awful against Man Utd. It was probably the most insipid and uninspiring performance of the season so far, I mean I know Liverpool could well have stuck eight past us on the opening day but we at least looked menacing going forward and probably could have had four or five ourselves. We just looked a little rigid, with square pegs in round holes all over the park. This blog, largely through the pictures within it, will be an ode to big Olivier Giroud due to his game saving goal. What a man.
Even before the game began we as fans felt unsure and uneasy with the team selection. Wenger had gone with a defensive and cautious approach with Coquelin, Elneny & Ramsey forming the base of our midfield, albeit with Ramsey operating from the left hand side. When you consider that Ozil is also a part of that midfield we only really had Walcott as a natural wide man creating a slightly lopsided team. Even though Ramsey is our transition man, he wasn’t allowed to be able to operate in that function because both Elneny and Coquelin were taking that space. He also had to fill in defensively so couldn’t venture too far from the left. Added to this we had both Elneny and Coquelin playing safe passes rather than penetrating ones meaning that the burden was quite heavily left on Ozil to create everything. On top of all of this having a half fit Alexis Sanchez leading the line it made a recipe for an under cooked performance. This meant that we weren’t at our fluid best, but with the personnel available you can understand why Wenger went this way. The risk was that if we went with a more attack minded side we could be left open in the way we were last season. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the positive that we can take away is that the system was tried and it well and truly failed so it’s likely that it won’t be seen again. There’s also the Ramsey debate that rages on. He’s clearly being shoehorned into the side purely because he can be the difference maker, however he and the team are suffereing because of where he plays. If he is to play it has to be in the centre of the park to get the best out of both him and those around him. The right hand side wasn’t too bad at times, the left didn’t seem to work at all, so all that’s left is the centre. Hopefully Wenger will find him a partner that works going forward as he’s one of our more gifted players and can do it in big games given the right surroundings.
The game itself began with Utd in the ascendancy, just, and we looked a little slow getting out of the blocks. They had a free kick that went just wide and we then had the chance of the half with Alexis mistiming a free header from which he really should have scored. There was some more pressure from them and the first half petered out without too much incident. One thing I will say is that Ander Herrera is a little tosser. He committed 3 or 4 fouls that were no different to Alexis Sanchez’s ‘bookable’ offence and was not even close to the book. Darmian was then let off with a clear second yellow, and while these have no bearing on our performance, they could well have had an impact on the result. Alas the refereeing decisions don’t always go in our favour (or anyone’s) at Old Trafford. They will point to the ‘penalty’ that ‘should’ have been given, however on the analysis everyone agreed that it wasn’t a penalty, apart from Ryan Giggs of course. Regardless of the refereeing, this was a game that we fully deserved to lose. Cech was called into action on a few occasions to keep them at bay and but for some poor finishing and good defending from us they should have been out of sight. As it so happened they didn’t and a gamble from Arsene Wenger paid off. Now don’t get me wrong, we were terrible, but to get a last minute equaliser against Mourinho was a good feeling for two reasons; one – we kept our unbeaten run going, two it casts further doubt onto his credentials after having spent an absolute bus load of money (pun well and truly intended). How many times has this type of result happened to us? How many times have we outplayed the big guns and come unstuck on the counter, or with their only meaningful move? Too often we’ve been on the end of one of these and this season it seems to be a little different in that we’ve dug out a result at the death. For that we can only be pleased. For any other team in that situation it would have been considered resilient, the mark of champions, the never say die attitude, however as it’s Arsenal it’s all about focusing solely on the performance. We all know it wasn’t good enough and it hasn’t been the first time it’s happened but there are a couple of reasons as to why it occurred this time around.
I think that due to Wenger not quite knowing how to balance the midfield we have played a few games in ‘discovery’ mode as it were. The only combination left to trial is that of Ramsey and Xhaka as the base. The reason he’s refrained from it so far this season is due to Coquelin’s form and his ability to win the ball back. Couple this with Xhaka not being the best tackler and Ramsey being one of the most dribbled past opponents last season and you can begin to understand why Coquelin is the immovable DM in our team. One of our best performances in recent Champions League history was our 2-0 home win vs Napoli, where we had a midfield base of Ramsey and Flamini, which is something like what Wenger is trying to eke out of our midfield and it will be interesting to see how he goes vs PSG. One thing I definitely think we will see is a start for Olivier Giroud. The man has been nothing but flawless when called upon and scored yet again with a towering header to save us a point. I think Wenger is focusing on the league as priority one and Europe as secondary. But having to beat PSG to claim top spot increases the value of his decision making and Giroud’s form arrives at the perfect time. Alexis looks to be running on empty and the team needs some freshening up, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a front three of Iwobi, Giroud and either Walcott or the Ox. I wonder whether as punishment for his only lapse in concentration in recent weeks to cost us the Mata goal may cost Walcott a starting place v PSG. Lots of key decisions to make and a potentially massive week coming ahead where following our European exploits we play Bournemouth at home at the same time as Chelsea play Sp*rs. Like I said, a massive week that could shape our seasons trajectory, lays ahead.
All in all a terrific result considering our performance and the timing of our goal. The mental block of Old Trafford still seems to exist, but Mourinho’s obsession with Arsenal and moreover Arsene Wenger eases that particular pain point.
Giroud will be in our dreams this week, I just wonder whether he’s made it into Wenger’s. Lady luck favours the brave and our late goals this season have proved that we can create our own luck so long as we don’t feel sorry for ourselves in games, which is something we haven’t done so far this season. Long may it continue.
Have a great week folks.
Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.