This much-hyped encounter peaked after four minutes and never got going again. Vieira and Keane would’ve been shaking their heads ruefully at such a low quality match between two supposed Premier League heavyweights.
In those four minutes a casual Arteta was robbed by Robin van Persie, who thankfully fluffed his shot straight at Szczesny. Then Arsenal went up the other end and Giroud, only eight yards out, somehow nodded a free header wide from Cazorla’s corner.
And then nothing else happened for an hour.
Midway through the second half Koscielny had a header cleared off the line before the last 10 minutes finally provided some excitement when Giroud narrowly failed to touch home Sagna’s cross. Then a van Persie header was brilliantly pushed onto the bar by Szczesny before Cazorla played a nice one-two with Ozil and brought a fine save from de Gea.
90 tepid minutes surmised in a couple of paragraphs. It says a lot that BT Sport’s Man of the Match was Szczesny for making just two saves, one of which was fairly routine. This was hardly the response Wenger promised after the Anfield horror show:
“It raises questions that we have to answer on Wednesday night. I still think we can win the league because mathematically it is possible. Our performance was poorer on Saturday than at Man City, but I’m confident we will respond in a positive matter on Wednesday night.”
Well, we didn’t Arsene. Those questions you mentioned haven’t been answered either. In fact, failing to beat the worst Man Utd side of the last 20 years at home makes a top four battle seem more likely than a title tussle over the next three months.
“I still think we can win the league,” claims Wenger. I can’t see it Arsene, not this year.
Wenger wanted to avoid defeat more than he wanted to win and so he picked Rosicky ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain, preferring the Czech’s industrious attributes to the Ox’s match winning ones. Back in December our next match after the 3-6 reverse at the Etihad was Chelsea at home. Wenger did the same thing then, picking Rosicky out wide and leaving Cazorla on the bench. It’s a negative team selection that tonight robbed us of any kind of pace whatsoever, meaning our build-up play was laborious and our breakaways were non-threatening. With Cazorla and Rosicky out wide we had two men who like the ball at their feet and therefore never made an effort to run past Giroud all night, meaning our attacking play was one dimensional and easy to defend against. Oh how we miss Walcott. All our play was in front of Man Utd and we lacked the pace or guile to get in behind them.
What makes such a lack of ambition all the more frustrating is that Man Utd were there for the taking. Their manager is struggling, they’d just drawn at home to bottom club Fulham and their confidence is low. The last thing they’d have wanted was the Ox (or even Gnabry) charging at them from the first whistle, but Wenger spared them. Instead we had the same casual start that has blighted our recent Emirates performances, only there was no second half improvement to snatch the win this time. I commented in my last match report that I hoped we’d take a leaf out of Liverpool’s book and really go for Man Utd from the off, but it seems we are just too laid back for that.
So the accusation that Arsenal are not good enough against the big teams carries more weight after tonight. You can’t win the league by only beating teams in the bottom half of the table. We are doing enough to finish top four, but not enough to win the title. I will take that as long as Wenger spends big in the summer and adds some quality and depth to this squad, but until then I can’t see our trophy-less run ending.
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