Saturday, November 22, 2014

Arsenal Lose to Manchester United Yet Again (2-1 at Home)

Arsenal came into the game at the Emirates today having won only 1 of their last 14 games against Manchester United in all competitions. Even last year, during the forgettable Moyes reign, the best the Gunners could do was 1 point in 2 games. And yet the team has not lost at home since the first game of last season, unbeaten in 23 straight league games. As many including me expected, trend one trumped trend two and the Gunners lost to United yet again.

Arsenal dominated large chunks of the game, but looked shaky at the back, failed to finish and saw a defensive mistake (actually two) lead to an own goal that changed the momentum and ultimately cost them all three points. That own goal came from Kieran Gibbs after he had inexplicably clanged into Szczesny on a cross that the Pole could have punched out or maybe even caught. Then, on the ground, he flung his foot at a shot that was going wide and turned as it flew into his own net. Two bad mistakes in seconds sum up this season, the worst start for Arsenal since 1982 and further evidence that it is time for Wenger to step aside.

On paper, ignoring the score, Arsenal did dominate the statistics with 23 to 12 shots, 9 to 2 on target, 61 percent possession and 11-5 corners. And yet the inability to put the ball in the back of the net hurt or defend convincingly again haunted a team that looks destined to fall out of the Top 4 unless something radically changes. So a few quick points for Peter to consider:

1. Finish a big problem for Arsenal: on seven minutes, Wilshere was free on goal one-on-one with De Gea. But a weak finish was well saved by the Spanish keeper. As with almost every shot on goal today, it was right at the keeper. Looking across the Gunners front line, Sanchez has 12 in 14, but no one else is reliable at the moment. Welbeck has been scoring for England and in the UCL, but now has only 2 goals in 13 appearances this season (essentially affirming the fear that he is not a natural finisher). Cazorla has gone an astounding 24 games without scoring in the league, Wilshere has one goal (and only one assist) this season, and Ramsey has failed to impress, or score, since returning to the starting lineup. Ox played wonderfully today, but he appears to be a pass-first player at the moment.

2. Arsenal lack a Plan B: the Gunners looked dangerous right until that own goal, except for a few periods of United pressure, but seemed lost as they struggled for an equalizer. For one, there was insufficient width in their attack, essentially meaning it was 6 against 8 – and even their good passes were unlikely to create clear chances. Gibbs’ cross has improved and Chambers has a good one, but they were rarely called on to provide them, as the attack consistently went through the middle. And on the other end, the defense was clearly open to a counter, which resulted in an easy finish for Rooney to make it 2-0

3. Rooney is a Gunner Killer: Rooney had few chances to contribute on the offensive line during the majority of the game, except a free kick he sent high. But on 85 minutes, DiMaria collected the ball and rushed forward with only Monreal to beat. His perfectly weighted pass led to the first shot on target of the day, a sumptuous finish for Rooney. It was his 11th goal in 25 appearances against Arsenal, the most by any player in history. He has his critics, but what a week!

4. Wenger Must Go: continuing on my theme for the season, it becomes increasingly clear with each passing week that the Frenchman can no longer inspire or organize this team to win. With the offensive talent they have, they really should score against a United team tattered with injuries. And yet it took a brilliant shot by Giroud on a nice over-the-top pass from Arteta in extra time to keep United from the shutout. Beyond the lack of scoring is the absurd way he sets this team up, playing a high line and attacking relentlessly even when they had leads against Swansea and Anderlecht. I think this has become the consensus and hopefully the rumours about Klopp or Guardiola are true, as the Gunners are in danger of commencing on a Liverpool-like downward spiral that could have ramifications for years.

5. Van Gaal Effect Emerging: United has not had a great start to the season and suffered their 40th injury of the young season when Luke Shaw went down early in the first half. And yet they sit in fourth place after an impressive away victory over the Gunners. It wasn’t pretty football, with seven across the 18 yard box at times, but it was effective in the end, waiting for Arsenal to give the ball away and allow the counters that they are so apt to put on offer this season. Van Gaal has been experimenting throughout the season and has used more players in the first 12 games than anyone in the league, but has a respectable 19 points in 12 games. Today he switched back to the back three that was unsuccessful early in the season, and though it bended, it didn’t break. He should get some credit for moving United back toward European football even with the rash of injuries.

To sum it up, the Gunners had a chance to build momentum heading into the holiday season but again lost to a key rival in a game they had chances to win -- partially because Wenger only knows one way to play. United, on the other hand, are somehow in fourth place after a very average start to the season and can build on this win, with a manager who may be too flexible. 

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