Arsenal relinquished their position at the summit of the Premier League table to Manchester United last night after a frustrating 1-0 loss at Old Trafford.
It just seems that Arsenal are destined to be the ‘nearly boys’ at the moment (well, last five years). No matter how hard they push or how close they come; they can never seem to get their feet over the finishing line.
The game was a tight affair. Arsenal had most of the possession but Manchester United seemed to be able to get their wingers in behind our defence once too often. It was an intricate chip by Park Ji Sung from a deflected Nani cross that earned the Red Devils their point. No matter how much Arsenal threw at Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, the Gunner’s attacking play lacked that sting that is needed to break down the big teams. Wayne Rooney missed a penalty after Gael Clichy was harshly penalized for a handball in the area but apart from these two incidents the game was mainly fought in a crowded midfield.
Sir Alex will be pleased with the three points and chuffed that United’s unbeaten run in the Premier League continues. I just wonder how the defeat will impact on Wenger. It seems like he has done simply everything he can. He had an almost full strength team and the defence were more solid than usual. He must be asking himself; what more can I do?
Arsenal can take a few positives from the game however. The central defence partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Sebastian Squillaci seemed more assured. They won a lot of balls in the air and stayed tight on United’s attackers throughout.
Wojciech Szcz?sny made his first ever Premier League start but you couldn’t tell from his performance. There was no way he could have saved the goal and he made a terrific point blank save from Anderson to keep the game within Arsenal’s reach. What I found most impressive about the young Polish keeper, however, was the calm and imposing way he collected crosses; something that I feel Almunia and Fabianski have trouble dealing with.
I am used to feeling let down by Arsenal’s defence of late but at Old Trafford it was the attacking side of play that I felt was our downfall. Chamakh seemed isolated up front, Nasri was marked out of the game and Arshavin couldn’t decide what he wanted to do. Van Persie came on but made no impact and when Fabregas made his substitute appearance he seemed incapable of stringing a pass together. Even Gael Clichy (usually one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers, along with Sanga) had a bad game. He couldn’t deal with Nani’s pace and this led to United’s goal.
Arsenal did prove that they have the aggression and physicality to deal with the big boys tonight. Song and the central defenders were able to match United’s gritty fighters and it was good to see Jack Wilshire getting stuck in and not backing down from players that clearly dwarf him in stature.
The season is by no means over. Manchester United won an important game last night but there is still a long long way to go. I think there are still 5 or 6 teams that can win the league come May and Arsenal can definitely count themselves among that group.