It was as poor as it could ever get. Arsenal against Manchester United games at the Emirates might not be a fond occasion for the Gunners but last night was anything but a proper spectacle. A 0-0 draw with very few talking points suggests many different things. On the back of surprising and unexpected results, both sides played out a cagey and clumsy 90 minutes of football in a night where the other interested parties got their noses ahead and close. Only the postponement of proceedings at Manchester City saw Arsenal hold on to second place whereas Manchester United added another draw in what has become an uphill task to snatch fourth place from current occupants Liverpool, who are 11 points ahead!
On a day when heavy rains accompanied the winter in almost the whole of England, London surprisingly remained unscathed. This provided the perfect setting for a spectacle, but the two teams had other ambitions. Arsenal suffered heavily at Anfield three days ago, which partly explained their reluctant nature of football. While Fulham picked Manchester United’s pockets and came away with a point from Old Trafford on Sunday, David Moyes hoped that his enviable forward line could get something out of nothing in a setup designed to react rather than take the initiative.
Arsenal dropped the effervescent Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain which put the unpredictability factor out of his side; instead Wenger went for the experienced Tomas Rosicky. While Nacho Monreal didn’t warrant a place in the side, Keiran Gibbs returned to first team duties. It was a wingless 4-4-1-1 with the flying full backs, as Mesut Ozil played off Olivier Groud up front.
For Manchester United, it was almost unchanged from the Fulham game with only Antonio Valencia coming in for Ashley Young while Darren Flethcher was more interested in sharing a seat with Alex Ferguson in the stands as Tom Cleverley replaced him. Formation was similar to Arsenal only that United had more accomplished players up front with Wayne Rooney doubling up in a versatile number 10 role. Adnan Januzaj might be one of the players of the season, but he once again cooled heels on the bench as the trio of Mata, Rooney and RVP started.
A GAME OF TWO FORWARDS
He was jeered from the start, but Robin van Persie looked like a man possessed early on. Unfortunately his shooting boots were missing as he squandered chance after chance. He had this chance to get an early lead, only to shoot straight at Sczeszny. And when he was presented with a very presentable opportunity late on, he did everything right until Sczeszny intervened, yet again. He was a peripheral figure most of the time, him and Rooney stayed miles apart as Arsenal showed a bit more intent in the second half. Although all the glorious chances fell to him, he was left to rue those missed chances.
And some words on Olivier Giroud. As the game headed into its dying embers, Giroud was left stone-tired near the center circle; utterly distraught and hands on his knees. How he contrived to not score is beyond me as well as most people; he totally had Nemanja Vidic in his back pocket for the entire game. He won header after header, held him off far too frequently but the goals column remained untouched. All of his five attempts were off the mark, his lack of pace often broke down counter-attacks. Yaya Sanogo made the bench for the night, but Arsene Wenger would’ve liked a more adept forward on the bench.
MANCHESTER UNITED’S HIGH PRESSING
David Moyes felt a lot of stick after the crossing show at home against Fulham. 81 crosses became 18 last night, with more emphasis laid on the high pressing up the pitch and forcing Arsenal to make mistakes. Juan Mata already has three assists in his three starts, but keeping aside the statistics for once and the view up here is that the trio of Mata, Rooney and RVP is yet to jell. Mata and Rooney often looked to run the same channel, while Van Persie is some way off his goalscoring best. Commendable it might be, but when you don’t have those defense-splitting passers around you simply don’t score goals. Arsenal were robbed in their own half too often, but almost every time the ball ended up in a blind alley. Tom Cleverley looked lost as always; none of his completed passes were intended for someone ahead of him. 22 of his 34 completed passes were sideways or backwards.
MESUT OZIL: IS HE TRYING TOO HARD?
Arsene Wenger claimed in his customary pre-match press conference that record signing Mesut Ozil is perhaps trying too hard. Writing him off with only 20 games into his Arsenal career would be a massive folly, but the German desperately needs a rest to finish the season strongly. Ozil played a good first half, playing safe but not so effective. As if the half-time whistle blew his tanks off, Ozil turned invisible till the 75th minute when Arsenal upped the ante. Ozil’s fragile body structure might need a bit more conditioning for the rigors of the Premier League; and Arsene Wenger will best know how bad he needs his main man to be in top form as the season heads into the home straight.
UNITED’S DEFENSIVE RESHUFFLE: CHANGE FOR GOOD?
When Manchester United won the Champions League little under six years ago, they had two center backs in prime. Rio Ferdinand was 29 and Vidic was a spring chicken at 26. How fast time flies and as Ferdinand replaced the injured Rafael at half-time, United fell back to a deep line of defense. Ferdinand used to be one of the quickest center-backs around, but age catches up with everybody and he is no superhuman. United’s deep defending meant Arsenal had far more territory in the United half and were they not so out-of-sorts as yesterday, a goal looked imminent. But it is what it is, and scars form the Anfield drubbing still remained; it was a defeat that seemed to take away all firepower away from the Gunners. They looked far too flat, and the intricate passing sequences Arsenal normally play didn’t once come off. A good day for Ferdinand and Vidic, but it was short-termism at its very best.