Arsenal 1 (Giroud 95) – Manchester United 2 (Gibbs (O.G) 56, Rooney 85)
Man of the Match – David de Gea (Manchester United)
It’s taken me a day to conjure the match report for last night’s game, and in those 20 hours or so, there’s little apart from the match that has been replaying itself unconsciously in my mind. It’s not for the lack of having nothing else to do, but rather a sinking feeling. And it’s a sinking feeling which I haven’t felt earlier and one I really cannot shake off.
Yes, I have read thousands of blogs lambasting the team, the manager et al, on losing to the ‘worst Manchester United team in 25 years’. That phrase has been repeating over and over the internet over a gazillion times now. And even after almost a day, I cannot fathom how Arsenal threw away this game.
Some of the issues at the club have become so chronic. Some of the goals conceded so repetitive. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel nervous everytime United forayed forward. And they forayed forward like 10 times in the course of 90 minutes. That’s how jittery the defense has become. There is that feeling of deja vu when a dangerous cross comes in from the opposition. You somehow know Arsenal are going to concede now. Take for example, the 3rd goal by Anderlecht in the 3-3 draw, or Chadli’s goal for Sp*rs, and Valencia’s chancy shot which deflected in off Gibbs. You just knew when the player hit the ball, circumstances would contrive against Arsenal.
To lose to a United side that had two Academy graduates (Blackett and McNair), a shaky centre-back (Smalling), a young promising left-back (Shaw), who later went off to be replaced by a half-fit diving skunk (Young) and an Ecuadorian winger pulling the strings at right back (Valencia) is one thing. But the manner in which the game was lost. Long periods of domination, missed chances and one calamitous own goal, definitely does leave a bitter taste. And it’s that bitter taste which I have been trying to get rid off since the match got over last night. I am not sure if an Arsenal win over Dortmund would help ease the nerves, because come the next weekend, it will be the same jangled nerves that will be put to work when Arsenal travel to West Brom.
Arsene Wenger started with his strongest possible 11. The team was boosted with the timely return of France striker Olivier Giroud, who was named on the bench. David Ospina, Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott remained sidelined. Jack Wilshere started in midfield alongside Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey, while there was a pacy 3 pronged attack up front with Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck, who had a point to prove to his former employers, after recent comments from Louis van Gaal, calling him just a sub.
Manchester United were reduced to the bare bones, and named a back 3 of McNair, Smalling and Blackett, with full backs Valencia and Shaw. Marrouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick started in midfield, while Rooney, di Maria and van Cunty upfront.
Arsenal started the brighter of the two sides. Slick passing, quick movement, high pressing and putting United’s inexperienced defense under discomfort. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was at the centre of everything good Arsenal were producing and was giving Blackett and his former Southampton teamate Shaw a torrid time. Danny Welbeck began towards the left, while Alexis was playing more centrally, and it was the former who had a great chance to score against his previous club, when he was at the end of a Chamberlain cross, but had his shot blocked by McNair.
Minutes later, the pair combined again. Chamberlain’s cross being met by the head of Welbeck, but he skied his effort, despite being unmarked. Arsenal were causing the United side a lot of problems, and the Red Devil’s were struggling to cope with the pressure, making silly mistakes in the process. Wilshere’s fine driving run didn’t end up in the back of the net, before Welbeck made de Gea work from distance.
The best chance of the match came in the 15th minute, when de Gea was made to scamper across and haphazardly clear a ball, after a backpass from Blackett, who was under pressure. Danny Welbeck set up Wilshere beautifully, and the English midfielder looked like he would open the scoring, but with Alexis to his left unmarked, and the imposing frame of de Gea upfront, he decided to shoot, and the Spanish keeper averted the danger. It was a golden chance for Arsenal to take the lead, and Wilshere’s effort was mediocre.
Manchester United’s injury woes continued when Luke Shaw had to be taken off after being caught by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the ankle. A half-fit Ashley Young came on in his place. United’s first attempt came in the 21st minute, when Aaron Ramsey fouled Angel di Maria outside the box. Wayne Rooney’s free-kick went sailing over the bar.
There was a flashpoint immediately afterwards, akin to, but not comparable to Arsenal-United encounters of the past. Jack Wilshere was incensed when Fellaini seemed to fall over too easily near the United penalty box. He leaned his head against the Belgian right under the nose of referee Mike Dean, and it could possibly have been a red card, given it was Manchester United. Wilshere escaped with just a warning.
Alexis tested de Gea, but the Spaniard was equal to the shot on his near post, before a rare United attack almost bought a goal for Manchester United. Angel di Maria’s curling effort from the right wing, had Szczesny diving towards his far post, but the shot just skimmed past the post. Aaron Ramsey then saw his curling effort go over, before United launched another attack, this one being more dangerous than the previous one.
di Maria played in Rooney, and the England striker’s shot deflected off a diving Callum Chambers for a corner. This was the visitor’s best spell, as they won successive corners, without really causing the Gunners’ defense any serious problems. Arsenal had another chance to take the lead, with a corner late in the first half. Aaron Ramsey played in an Alexis corner across the goal, and Welbeck’s cheeky backheel went way wide.
Arsenal began the second half just like they had started the first, with much attacking desire. Per Mertesacker had the first effort on United’s goal, with his header, under close scrutiny from Fellaini, before Welbeck forced de Gea into a close range save, despite having Wilshere to play to. Arsenal were then dealt a blow, as Wilshere couldn’t continue following a challenge from Paddy McNair. He tried to run it off, but was replaced by Cazorla in the 55th minute.
And then, predictable calamity. Szczesny and Gibbs collided under pressure from Fellaini following a cross, and it fell to Antonio Valencia, who unleashed a shot across goal, which was off target. It struck the foot of an outstretched Gibbs, and right into where Manchester United wanted it. The back of Arsenal’s net. The collision between Szczesny and Gibbs resulted in an injury for the Polish goalkeeper and he was replaced by Premier League debutant, Emiliano Martinez.
Arsenal looked undaunted and continued to pepper the United defence with attacks. de Gea was on hand to foil an effort from Alexis Sanchez, from a Chamberlain cross. A long ball from Nacho Monreal was taken down by Welbeck, and set up on the plate for Cazorla to shoot, but the Spaniard’s effort was straight at his compatriot, resulting in an easy save. Alexis curled a free kick over from a good position, before uninfluential Aaron Ramsey was replaced by the returning Olivier Giroud.
He almost scored soon after coming on, with a header from a corner going just over. Arsenal continued attacking and pressing, committing players forward, but just couldn’t find that killer pass, or killer cross, or to sum it up, that killer instinct. A Cazorla shot was cleared from the edge of the box, before an exhausted Alexis Sanches gave away possession. United countered, and with almost no players back defending, Wayne Rooney showed the Gunners how to finish, as he calmly slotted away the visitors’ second goal, with only Martinez to beat, in the 85th minute.
Arsenal looked down and out, but when the board for extra time showed 8 minuted, there was renewed vigor. It could have gone from bad to worse, as Angel di Maria found himself in a situation, similar to that of Rooney’s, but his effort went just wide. Mikel Arteta played in a hopeful long ball for Olivier Giroud, and he lashed at it with his left foot, leaving David de Gea absolutely no chance as the ball flew into the top corner.
It was too little, too late, as United resorted to cheap tactics to kill time. Angel di Maria inexplicably fell in a heap in front of the away end, as it resorted to another melee, Olivier Giroud receiving a yellow card for displaying his anger. Arsenal lost their second Premier League game in a row, their first at home this season, Manchester United won their first away game in 7 attempts, while Arsenal still remain without a win against the Red Devils since a sunny afternoon in May 2011, when Aaron Ramsey scored in a 1-0 win.
Yes, that sinking feeling is back again. Dortmund on Wednesday and West Brom on Saturday, up next.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
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