It was arguably the most anticipated match of the season. Like the return of Van Persie to Emirates wasn’t stressful enough, it happened that he was supposed to receive a Guard of honour alongside his team-mates just before the kick-off. Tension between Arsenal and Manchester United have always been high despite the fact that there is a huge gap in quality and results between them.
Arsenal have been haunted by poor results in big matches this season winning just one match against any of the Champions’ League spots’ rivals Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Everton. In ten matches against those teams Arsenal won only 7 out of a possible 30 points. Luckily for the Gunners, the three remaining matches are against teams that are closer to the bottom with at least one of those opponents being destined for the Championship next season.
Since Spuds managed only a draw against Wigan, the pressure of victory over champions Manchester United was a bit relieved. Sure, the players and manager knew that a victory over United would make our Champions’ League spot 99 percent secure but even with a draw we would still have two points more than the Spuds who have a tough game in hand – Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Wenger had some problems to solve ahead of the United match. The red card to Olivier Giroud against Fulham meant he had to pick between Podolski, Walcott and Gervinho for the centre forward position. Wenger decided to go with the German striker who received his first start since January and the first time he was selected as a centre forward since Week One. There was only one more change to the team that managed to win against Fulham despite the poor performance – Gibbs starting on the left side of the defence at the expense of Nacho Monreal. Lukasz Fabianski could turn out to be only player this season that has 100 percent record of victories as his injured rib prevented him from being among the candidates. It is still unknown whether he will return before the season ends.
Arsenal needed points from this game much more than United who have had nothing to play for since they secured their 20th title win against Aston Villa on Monday. And, we were given a huge boost at the very start of the game.
Van Persie lost the ball and our counter-attack commenced. Rosicky sent a through ball on the right wing for Walcott who was just offside. The linesman didn’t see it so Walcott was able to run into the box and sent it past De Gea to make it 1:0 after 2 minutes.
That was the impulse our team needed and Cazorla could have doubled our lead but his attempt was saved by De Gea. However, the next chance belonged to United. We lost the ball in the midfield and United started one of countless attacks on their left flank. Van Persie crossed for Jones who went forward but the versatile Englishman failed to send the header home as it went wide. That was a warning for us that United can never be written off.
We had another counter-attack to extend our lead a few minutes later. Ramsey was leading the break away from the center and had Podolski on the left with Walcott on the right as support. He decided to pass the ball to Podolski although he should have sent the ball to Walcott who was totally alone. Podolski fired a shot from a tight angle but it was saved comfortably by De Gea.
The next counter-attack was from the Red Devils. Nani went for a run on the left flank and made an excellent cross in the middle. Van Persie connected with it but Sczszesny made a brilliant save with his nose.
The third dosage of sloppy defending for the day was too much for us. Sagna made a wayward back-pass that was picked by Van Persie. The Dutchman ran with the ball into the box where he was rashly fouled by Sagna. It was a clear penalty and yellow card for the Frenchman. Van Persie took the penalty himself and fired it into the left corner. He opted not to celebrate it, just like he did in the reverse fixture despite earlier boos from the crowd.
It was a shocking end to the first half for the Gunners. However, we all put our hopes in the second performance as we have been really good this season after the break.
Rosicky had the first attempt of the second half after he combined with Cazorla and Ramsey. On the other side of the pitch, Van Persie sent a low cross that went untouched through our six-yard-area. United were getting more and more dangerous as Evra centered to Rooney who wasted a header straight to Szczesny. Evra next made a decent burst through our meek right side of defense but his touch was too heavy and Szczesny managed to pick the ball. We had our chance from a free-kick in the next attack. Valencia hand-balled just outside the box. Cazorla took the shot but it went wide – another waste opportunity.
Wenger introduced Wilshere and Gervinho for Rosicky and Podolski respectively and that gave some balance to Arsenal’s game and they heavily attacked. After one of the resulting corners Koscielny sent a half-volley just over the bar. The French defender did well on the other side of the pitch, though, when he, Mertesacker and Sagna stopped Nani from connecting with Rooney’s pass. Oxlade-Chamberlain later came in for Ramsey. It became an end-to-end match with Gibbs having his penalty appeal denied after Ferdinand’s challenge. It seems Dowd didn’t make the right call as there was plenty of contact.
Cazorla then had a very good attempt from outside of the box but De Gea produced a great save to deny his compatriot. The best chance for victory was the one for United – Rooney’s through ball released Giggs who had all space in the world on the left flank. Luckily, he didn’t have the pace to make something out of it – all he got was an attempt with his weaker right foot.
All-in-all, it was not the best performance. Of course, it’s better to stay undefeated against United than to lose but it’s painful to admit that United – without motive and with their foot slightly off the pedal- controlled the game for the large part of the match. We can’t say that referees ruined it for us as we had two major decisions in our favour – Walcott’s goal came from an offside and Sagna should have been sent off for second bookable offense in the second half. On the other hand, we should have had a penalty when Gibbs was fouled by Ferdinand in the box.
Right now, our destiny is connected with the match at Stamford Bridge between the Chavs and Spuds. A draw in that match – given that the Chavs have to play at Old Trafford – could raise our hopes for direct Champions League’ qualification. Nevertheless, we have to play all our remaining games like they are Champions’ League Finals and none of our opponents – QPR, Wigan and Newcastle – won’t just strip their pants in front of us. QPR players will play for their future transfers in the summer as I highly doubt any of the big names want to stay at Loftus Road, Wigan still have a chance to stay in the league while Newcastle have had poor results recently including the 6-0 thrashing to Liveroool which has put their survival in the Premiership in doubt.
on the match…
It was a quality game with a lot of intensity. I believe we were on top in the first half and it was disappointing to concede the equaliser the way we did. Why? Because it put us in a position in the second half where we had to completely open ourselves up and throw everything forward, and sometimes [we did that] more with energy than technique. We opened ourselves up for the counter-attacks where we could have lost the game. I feel that equaliser played a big part in this game because it put us in a difficult position. Overall I can only praise the players for the effort, the dynamic and the desire we put in. Let’s keep it going like that and we will have a chance to be where we want to be.
on the value of the point…
If we win our other games it will be enough. I am convinced we will be there but there is no room for dropping points. But the other teams are in the same position.
on Sagna’s part in the penalty…
No [he didn’t tell me what was going through his mind]. He is very disappointed tonight, he is a boy who gives absolutely everything in every game. I think he made a bad pass, that can happen, and maybe after he panicked a little bit and maybe wanted to repair too quickly what he did, but he had time to tackle. He has saved us so many times that unfortunately it happened today.
on a fast start…
Our mental preparation contributed to that more than the guard of honour. If that would help us I promise you we will do one every week!
on the fans’ reaction to Robin van Persie…
A little bit, yes [it is “disappointed love”]. Because when he was here he didn’t get this kind of reception, they loved him. So today it was a bit disappointed love.
on Van Persie scoring on his return…
I don’t think he scored, he scored a penalty! It counts, but it is not completely the same. When you buy a goalscorer you look always how many goals he scored on penalties, how many he scored in open play. But he took his penalty very well. I knew when he decided to take the penalty that there was an 80 per cent chance that he would score. He was our penalty taker and I know that he does that very well, he does a lot of things very well, Robin van Persie.
on speaking to Van Persie afterwards…
He is in our dressing room at the moment. Because our food is better in our dressing room than in their dressing room! People who play together for five, six years [get on with each other]. They fight, I think our defenders didn’t make life easy for him at all, we played with great commitment. I feel our two central defenders played very well.
on Van Persie’s non-celebration…
Yes, that has become basically another way to behave for the football players in England. I wouldn’t be shocked if a guy celebrated because internally he is happy anyway.
on respect before and after the game…
We are rivals. Look, at the end of the day we decided to sell him. We are rivals. You want us to make a guard of honour and to respect the champions, then you have to accept as well that respect exists after the game. You want to give absolutely everything during the 90 minutes and after the game you can still talk to each other.
on the race for a top-four finish…
[We have] no room for dropping points. We are in a position where we cannot drop points, we know that.
on Sir Alex Ferguson’s transfer plans…
I don’t know but he will not sign them from us!
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Gibbs
Arteta (c) Ramsey