Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Arsenal Secure Late Draw at Old Trafford (1-1)

In what could very well be the second to last matchup between bitter rivals Mourinho and Wenger, the two had to share the spoils after a late header from Giroud equalized the game in the 89th minutes, following a 68th minute opener from Juan Mata. Leading up to the final minute of regulation, United had dominated large stretches of the game and probably should have had it out of sight before Giroud even stepped on the pitch. They outshot the Gunners 12 to 5, with 5 shots on target compared to a solitary one (the goal) for Arsenal and garnered 10 corners to Arsenal’s 4.

The visitors did win somehow win the possession battle – 55 to 45 percent – but much of that possession was closer to midfield than the final third and lacked the creativity necessary to make that possession pay off. Three thoughts on the game:

1. Arsenal Lackluster Display Still Yields a Point: this was probably the worst display of the season for the Gunners, who lacked cohesiveness in their passing, a cutting edge in and around the final third, a solitary shot on goal until the equalizer and had a difficult time stringing together more than a few passes for long stretches of the match. Some of the blame for the performance has to reside with Wenger, who placed Coquelin and Elneny in front of the back line, cutting off the vision and range that Cazorla (out injured), Xhaka or maybe even Ramsey could have provided. Ramsey was instead slotted to the left wing, where he was largely ineffective for most of the match. In fact, for not the first time in his career, his ponderous time on the ball seemed to undermine the attack far too often.

It was also another forgettable performance for Ozil in a big game, a penchant that is starting to get a little troubling. And yet, with some excellent subs in Xhaka, Ox and Giroud, Wenger got it right in the end and earned a valuable point. However, it might be time for concern, as the Gunners have now drawn three of their past four in the league and fallen to fourth place, three points behind league leaders Chelsea and only a solitary point ahead of the Spurs, who pulled off a late comeback to earn all three points against West Ham, after trailing 2-1.

On the other hand, Arsenal now have a nice run of fixtures that, besides City on the 18th, includes Bournemouth, a struggling West Ham, Stoke, Everton, West Brom, Crystal Palace and then Bournemouth again on the 3rd of January. With some discipline, they should be at or near the top as the year turns.  

2. Hoodoo Still Remains: Wenger has one solitary win in 14 appearances against Mourinho, a Community Shield that is largely considered a slightly elevated friendly. In the other 13 appearances, which includes one Community Shield victory for Mourinho, the latter has won 7 and drawn 6. Over those games, and 20 hours of action, Arsenal scored a mere five times, while conceding 21. Wenger, in fact, hadn’t had a team of his score against a Mourinho-led side in a league game since 2007. And so, one wondered if Wenger might finally get one over on his hated rival, with Arsenal largely flying high this term and Mourinho having more growing pains than expected at his new gig with United. However, as is so often the case, Mourinho’s 11 seemed to raise their game several levels above recent performances while Arsenal played their worst game of the entire campaign. In trying to explain the first 88 minutes of the match, even Wenger admitted that maybe the side has a block when playing at Old Trafford, or against a Mourinho side. That late equalizer could play a significant role in the final position for both teams, though, if it emboldens Arsenal to get back to their winning run, while undermining United’s fragile confidence yet again.

3. United Drop Points Again: United put on one of their best performances of the season, but it was only good for a point at home, as they fell further behind the league leaders – now 9 points and an even larger gap in goal difference. Mourinho must be wondering what combination of players can finally get United scoring with regularity again, as their dominant display was only worthy of a solitary goal. One should give some credit to Arsenal, whose solid defending continued in the game except for the one lapse that led to the opener. Coquelin made some fine last second interventions, Koscielny and Mustafi were solid in the middle and Jenkinson acquitted himself better than expected, though Bellerin was sorely missed on the offensive side of the pitch. Monreal, on the other hand, had a tough game, beaten down the left side over and over again by excellent runs from Antonio Valencia and arguably guilty of a pretty strong penalty appeal.

Nonetheless, it was more dropped points from United, who had been on a poor run since the beginning of October, including a stale 0-0 draw with Liverpool, an even worse 0-0 stalemate at Old Trafford against Burnley, another draw at Old Trafford against Stoke (1-1), a crushing 4-0 loss at Chelsea and a 2-1 loss to Fenerbahce in the Europa league. Mourinho still seems unsure of his best 11, of where and how to play Paul Pogba, of what to do (if anything) with Rooney and how to set up the team for success. Some answers might have emerged in the game Saturday, as United looked dangerous with almost every foray forward and were compact and difficult to unravel on the other side of the pitch. United also have a nice run of fixtures coming up, though they do face an undefeated Tottenham on December 11 and important Europa Cup ties to ensure advancement to the knockout stage.

In the end, Mourinho might have kept up his undefeated record against Wenger in competitive matches, but Wenger left the iconic stadium Saturday afternoon feeling a lot better about his point than Mourinho did. 

No comments: