A quick few thoughts on the weekend game before Dortmund turn up and fully consign this defeat to history. Like the rest of us, I have watched many Arsenal vs Manchester United fixtures over the last ten years or so. The script of those fixtures usually go something like this. Arsenal have roughly 55% of the possession at full time, we pass the ball pretty well but usually come away with statistics like 2 shots on target and another 2 or 3 off target. Basically whether it be home or away the Mancs usually allow us the ball in midfield but break up our attacks by either fouling us or blocking the middle of the pitch. They would invariably capitalise on a mistake, counter or set piece goal to win the game.
It was all rather groundhog dayish and it's hard to argue otherwise. Manchester United often had a lot of control of the games.
On Saturday 22nd November 2014, we had watched the same ending to a completely different movie.
For all the angst about lacking defenders, once again it was the other end of the pitch where we came unstuck. We have stuttered and stumbled going forward all season, only managing to produce real quality in small spells across a handful of games, nothing more than that.
Before the kick off I was concerned about our game because we are very often disjointed after International football, not only that but the Swansea City defeat would have taken a mental chunk out of the team. So I was not expecting us to fly out the traps the way we did.
What seemed apparent was the directness of the team from the very start. Balls often played quickly down the line to Oxlade-Chamberlain or Alexis to run at the young Manchester United defence. Maybe this was instructions by the manager, telling them to exploit the wide areas left by the wing backs who knows.
What I do know is that Manchester United were certainly not allowed to get any control on the game the way they had in the past because Arsenal would simply not allow it. Closing down the blue shirts at speed, winning it back and then flying forward again. Manchester United were all over the place and we looked like we could get in. I spoke pre match about the importance of the first goal that we have failed to get so often in these games.
We had the chances, we had a lot of shots in and around the penalty area but everything we attempted was poor. Welbeck, Ramsey, Alexis either shooting at de Gea from close range or dribbling shots into the grateful arms of the Spanish keeper. It reminded me of some of the Arsenal teams of old. Cesc, Nasri and Rosicky. Wonderful technical players who when found themselves in scoring positions found the keeper rather than the corners of the goal. Maybe I am being hard on those times because I focus on Arsenal far more than other teams but I can't shake the feeling that we often battered teams for 90 minutes always playing against keepers who are having 'one of those days'
Until this season I haven't really thought of us as a profligate team but that is what we were on the weekend. Perhaps were lacking in confidence, confidence that would have returned if Jack Wilshere made the right decision at the crucial moment in the game. Welbeck fed Wilshere bursting through on goal, his second touch meant that the ball was too close to his body to execute the finish correctly so it was saved. While the finish was poor I can almost excuse it because Jack just simply isn't a goalscorer but what frustrated me the most was the fact that Alexis who had created the chance with his closing down was unmarked to his left, if the shot seemed uncomfortable he just needed to tap the ball to his left and Alexis would have made it 1-0 with a simple tap in.
While many complain about Arsenal not shooting enough, an argument that I couldn't agree less with, our greatest team for many decades had three or four attacking players who would give up the chance to score to pass it to a better placed team mate. The team came before individual glory and Henry, Bergkamp, Pires and co knew it. Now the likes of Wilshere and Ramsey need to learn this also.
Manchester United with the quality of van Persie, Rooney and Di Maria had very little service due to the intensity of the team when we didn't have the ball. But what use is dominance and chances if you cannot put them away. Against all the odds the game was still level, well until we were caught out by the now customary sucker punch.
The fact that Fellaini was both offside as well as fouling two of our players in the process, injuring one of them, has been slightly lost in all of this. Kieran Gibbs who was pushed onto the ground deflected a shot into our net. How do we find ourselves one down? How??
The rest we already know. Over committing to get back into the game and getting punished on the break by Rooney who scores against us yet again. Giroud coming on late managed to score with a long range daisy cutter high into de Gea's net but it was too late. Our chances had dried up by that point and United with oceans of room to play in looked more dangerous on the break.
What is sad is that we had many very good performances that have hardly had a mention because of the result. Calum Chambers who had a game to forget at Swansea was superb at the back and with his use of the ball. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked full of confidence, running at Manchester United for fun. Mikel Arteta was probably our best player on the night. But the team performance and attitude gets replaced with understandable frustration at losing a game against that lot after having lost so many in the past.
While I am tearing out my hair at the result I am encouraged by the performance, the commitment to win the ball back and the chances we created. I am hoping that the finishing or lack thereof is down to confidence. Theo Walcott will help in that regard.
I am intrigued to know what we pull out of the bag on Wednesday night.
UPDATE: Don't forget the check out the Arsenal Vision post match podcast