Three conclusions from today’s match
1. There is a reason why this clash was dubbed ‘men vs boys’
In all honesty, by half-time today, a neutral could compare this contest to that of a toddler trying to get a toy back from his father. The little boy constantly beats his Dad but never gets the toy and when he finally tires and stops, his father only has to give him one tap on the cheek and he will start crying.
That is not necessarily the difference in ability between United and Arsenal, but just like against Chelsea, Arsenal began the game more than the energetic side. The tempo was so high that even with just 10 minutes on the clock, free-kicks and goal-kicks were quickly taken like we were in injury time.
Arshavin was at the sprints while Fabregas and co breezed forward. Gallas and Clichy were making one-touch clearances – not to waste too much time in defending and set up attack fast.
They were that enthusiastic.
It was inevitable that the up-and-down running had taken a lot of energy, and by the half-hour mark, you could sense Arsenal were beginning to look a bit leggy. That was the spell in which United bossed and as we sat back to defend, they always had a way to find the break-through. 33 minutes on, Nani rolls past two men and bam!
We had to recharge the batteries again and get back into the game, but Rooney’s sucker-punch sure did not help it.
2. We were NOT playing 4-3-3 but 4-6-0 today
Arsenal’s problem is not a big man in defense, not a big man in midfield, but a big man in attack.
All slick, skillful attackers play off headed balls from tall strikers who partner them upfront. We were witnesses to what Arshavin is capable of when deployed on the left wing today. But seeing him play in that position meant no one played through the middle for Arsenal.
That meant typical midfielders like Nasri and Rosicky were forced to be Arsenal’s front men and when the Russian – who did prove a bit selfish sometimes – occasionally made those mesmerizing runs on the left, he only had two choices which were to either cross to dwarfs or simply go for goal himself. Clichy and Sagna – who seem shy to enter the box and often send deep crosses from the flanks – were simply swinging at the ball in vain.
And ask yourself; why do Gallas and Vermaelen occasionally charge forward? It is because of the lack of physical presence we have upfront and if there was a gangly striker leading the attack, there would have been little need of those contributions our center-backs were trying to make. That said, they would never be caught out of position when the opposition counter-attacks.
The fact that Song was fancying chances from 12 yards out tells you how many people who were bold enough to get into the penalty box and test Van der Sar.
The strength to untie the knot is missing.
3. Substitutions went wrong
Considering what I have pointed out above, Nicklas Bendtner was the only man Arsenal could turn to. But it took going down 0-3 with 18 minutes to go for him to be introduced. The fact that he was omitted from the starting line-up in the first place was rueful. And perhaps that was a reasonable move by the manager due to fitness concerns, but Wenger’s first substitution after 60 minutes should have been Bendtner and not Walcott.
Walcott only has pace and carpet footballing to offer. Those were traits we already had in Arshavin, Rosicky, Nasri and Fabregas. Thus, we were still lacking the Plan B of physicality or aerial threat and when Bendtner came on – despite looking less fit than a butcher dog – his presence was noticeable.
Even though the Dane did not grab the consolation goal or spur any unlikely comeback, it was his presence in the box which helped disrupt the United defense into sixes and sevens for Vermaelen’s strike to go in.
OTHER CONCERNS (other than Almunia and Denilson)
Thomas Vermaelen and perhaps Song seemed like the only MEN with hearts today. There were dropping heads everywhere on the pitch and the Belgian not only came up with vital interventions which denied an even more embarrassing final score but gave us something to cheer about.
Clichy is looking no different from Traore game to game. He is constantly bullied by both pace – which he already has – and strength.
Ashley Young, Nani and who’s next? Joe Cole? Anelka?
With the transfer window nearly shut, this is a tough nut to crack. But in times like this, you can only hope and look forward to what follows.
And that will be Stamford Bridge.