Manchester United v Arsenal
Barclays Premier League
Kick off: November 10, 2013 4:10 PM BST
Last night and this morning I was full of confidence for the clash with United, but when I heard that the squad had been hit by a virus, I was suddenly filled with the fear that has often accompanied the trip to Old Trafford. When you get news like this, you can’t help but feel that it’s not going to be your day. And you have to wonder if this is a feeling that affects the players too.
When the squad was announced before the game, there was no Mertesacker, no Rosicky, and news that Arteta, Özil and Gnabry had all been affected by the virus; although they were fit enough to make the team. The defensive partnership of Koscielny and Mertesacker has been absolutely dominant this season, and I felt he was a player we were really going to miss, no matter how well Vermaelen did in his place. There is an old adage that says ‘You can’t lose if you don’t concede’, and it’s totally true. If your forward players aren’t firing on all cylinders, or the luck just isn’t going your way, you can struggle to get goals. But if you defend resolutely and keep a clean sheet then you’re guaranteed a point, which is something we’ve been doing fantastically with the Mertscielny partnership.
The game kicked off, and almost immediately we looked on the back foot. United were pressing us well and possession was difficult to come by. But we were no strangers to this, we had suffered the same treatment from Dortmund. The difference tonight was though, that we were being very wasteful when we did get on the ball. Ramsey and Gibbs were the first to throw away possession with poor passes, Cazorla, Özil and Giroud quickly following suit. Just like in the Dortmund game, we weren’t really creating any chances or getting any shots on goal, but we didn’t look quite as solid defensively this game, which was slightly worrying. Not to say we were leaving ourselves open, but we certainly didn’t look impregnable. United weren’t playing particularly well either, but they seemed to want it more in the early goings.
Just before the half hour mark, we conceded a corner from a Rooney cross, and questions were obviously raised about whether we would miss our gangly German centre half. Could he have prevented what was to come next? Impossible to say really. But I certainly would have liked him in the box. The corner was swung in, and of all people it was Robin Van Persie that got his head (or possibly shoulder) on the ball. He met the ball at the near post and looped the header towards Keiran Gibbs on the far post. The ball dipped just over the Englishman’s head and into the back of the net. 1-0 United. I didn’t feel they had done a huge amount to earn their lead, but we had looked so poor that it was hardly surprising.
Our performance didn’t improve in the remainder of the first half, and we went into the break looking uninterested, lacking determination, and a goal down. The only major talking point of the first half other than the goal, being the fact that both Szczesny and Vidic were knocked unconscious on different occasions in the last five minutes.
We kicked off the second half with the Polish keeper back on the pitch, while the big Serbian centre back was substituted. Arsenal were looking slightly sharper, but still not showing enough desire I felt. The players looking tired and lethargic, probably a combination of the virus and being overplayed in recent weeks.
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Sagna was magnificent in the second half, putting cross after cross in, driving dangerous balls across the face of the goal. It was a travesty that no one was getting on the end of them, Giroud in particular on a couple of occasions, hesitating when he should have thrown himself at the ball.
With many of the players looking tired, this was one of those times when we needed the scrappy goal, as you could tell the perfect Arsenal goal just wasn’t going to come. We looked a lot better when Wilshere came on for Flamini, Jack driving forward into the area and showing an aggression and desire that the rest of the team were lacking. But we needed a couple of big impacts from the Bench, and our lack of depth was once again displayed when Bendtner and Gnabry came on for Cazorla and Arteta. The big Dane was fairly ineffective, missing a good chance from another Sagna cross. But the young German, to his credit, was fantastic despite his short period on the pitch. He was taking on his man and cutting balls back into the box, and just like Sagna’s, his balls deserved a better end product.
We were a lot better in the second half overall, keeping possession better and threatening De Gea on occasions. But I never really felt we did enough to snatch an equaliser, United again creating the more clear cut chances. The final whistle went, and we saw our lead over last years champions slip to five points, instead of extending to eleven like so many had hoped. That said however, we are still top of the table, and many of our rivals also dropped points this weekend.
This game, while being quite a big six pointer, and one we would have loved to win, should be seen as nothing more than a blip. Our form this season has been stellar, and our next run of fixtures are ones we really should be winning, and thus cementing our place at the top.
on the defeat…
It’s disappointing to lose the game the way we lost it. I felt that we were a bit nervous at the start of the game and didn’t play our game against a team of Manchester who was nervous, a bit insecure and we gave them a little bit of comfort by making the mistake at the first set-piece – or the second. After that we lost too many balls and we rushed our game in the first half. In the second half when we played our game we played in one half and they counter-attacked a few times but we didn’t find the opportunity to equalise. We had the opportunities but we missed always a few inches to push the ball in the net and they were well focused to defend and defend and then try to catch us on the break – that happened once or twice in the game. Overall it’s disappointing to lose the game like that because I think we had the opportunity at least to get a draw out of this game.
on the sickness in the camp pre-match…
Look I don’t want to speak about that because that can happen the whole season – it doesn’t mean that you have to lose the game.
on it affecting the players who did play…
No I don’t think. They declared themselves fit so when you play, you play so there is no excuse. I felt that physically we were alright, maybe we lacked a little bit. I just think we were too nervous in the first half but until the end we looked like we could score. We were always dangerous but we lacked a little bit of quality in our final ball or a bit of sharpness maybe to finish on crosses but the opportunities were there.
on what he puts the nervousness down to…
Maybe the fact that we haven’t won for a long time here [Old Trafford] and that it was a big game. Once again it was a tight game that has been decided by a set-piece. That’s what we will keep from this game. We knew that could happen but after that we had a go and we gave absolutely everything until the last minute. This team has a great heart so I feel sorry for my players tonight.
on Jones’ challenge on Szczesny…
I didn’t see it honestly because there was so many people there. I just saw that Szczesny got the ball out. Anyway, it’s down to the referee to make the right decisions – I think he got a few wrong today but it was not the only one.
on whether he considered substituting Szczesny…
I listen to the doctor, if he says to me he has to come off then he comes off no matter. Even if we have seven players on the pitch I do it. You have only one life and you have 60 games per year.
on if the doctor said Szczesny was fine…
No nobody told me anything about him. If he had said there was trouble I would have taken him off.
on any particular decision he was unhappy with…
I don’t want to talk too much about that. I need to buy some Christmas presents and all these statements cost too much money now.
on whether the international break will be an advantage…
The international break is not welcome because when you lose a game like that you want to play straight away again. We have some players who go to play massive games, under massive pressure and will not come back after the break refreshed – they come back maybe exhausted because France plays against Ukraine – we have a few French players. All the other countries it’s a bit better.
on six points separating the top eight teams…
Six points is not too bad after 11 games. What we have learnt again today is that not only that Man United could beat Arsenal but everybody can beat everybody in this Premier League. Sunderland beat Man City and that shows you how much excitement you will have until the end of the season.
on the quality of the top teams…
I don’t know because you have for example a team like Southampton who is close to the top but they have three international players in the England squad. They have Luke Shaw is not far, they have they say [Nathaniel] Clyne is not far. That means maybe the whole Premier League has gone up. I don’t think necessarily players like [Robin] Van Persie are not as good as last season or two seasons ago. It’s just the whole quality has gone up.
Here are some of the top tweets from today’s game:
“On this evidence a rested gnabry is better than a tired anyone”
“Sagna delivers a perfect cross to no incoming striker…”
“Arsenal have failed to score in a Premier League match for the first time this season. Stifled.”
“I hate losing to them.”
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Sagna Koscielny Vermaelen(c) Gibbs
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