Arsenal snatched a late goal to take a point at Old Trafford and considering the fact that I expected Arsenal to lose, I should be happy with a point, but I’m not. Despite my mental preparations, expecting Arsenal to lose, I guess I didn’t prepare for the idea that Man U would control the pace of the game so thoroughly and that it would take a late bit of luck for Arsenal to win a point. And so, I have to admit that this match was disappointing.
What I’m used to seeing is the opposite: Arsenal control the match with slick passing and great movement; Arsenal create a ton of good chances; Arsenal are frustrated by a number of great saves by the opposition keeper; in the end, Arsenal drop points when a single lapse in concentration creates the opposition’s only shot on goal and they score.
In this match we saw Man U dominating the game from stem to stern, forcing Cech to make a number of good saves, and Arsenal snatching a draw in the 89th minute with their only shot on goal. It should be a wake-up call. This is the worst United team I’ve seen in years. They were bandaged and injured and their best players had just returned from international duty just like ours. And yet, they were the ones able to dictate the play of the game for 80 plus minutes. If you want to win, you have to control the game. Arsenal didn’t control the game.
In the first half, Man U dictated the style of play by sitting deep. Sitting nine men in their own half, they denied Arsenal space, specifically space between the lines, where Arsenal’s creative players (Ozil and Alexis) like to operate. As a result, Arsenal “lacked penetration” as Wenger said after the match and only had one good shot, Alexis’ header that went wide of the mark from inside the 18 yard box.
In the second half, Man U came out of their own half and attacked Arsenal. They dominated possession and eventually scored when Arsenal went to sleep and let Juan Mata get the best look of the game. Mata waltzed in through Arsenal’s buttery midfield, slashed at the ball, and Cech had no chance.
The goal woke Wenger and he made some key changes. The first was subbing off Elneny. I don’t understand why people like Elneny. I get that he passes and runs. I know that is an underrated talent in a player. But he lacks any creative vision. And worse, I’ve said this numerous times and I’m going to keep saying it, his defense is soft: he lets people ghost past him too easily; he often seems out of position; he’s a ball watcher; and he doesn’t tackle. The Mata goal wasn’t entirely his fault but he was ball watching on the throw in and dribble, he was out of position, then he has a look back at Mata, and doesn’t bust his lungs to get to Mata.
Denilson, for the supporters who have only been around the last five or six years, was an Arsenal midfielder who had superb passing skills and sublime touch. He was also an ever present runner and formed an irrepressible partnership in midfield with Cesc Fabregas. The knock on Denilson was that he would switch off defensively. He was a good tackler, read the game well, and led Arsenal in tackles, interceptions, and passing, but he would switch off. And one time, back when Wayne Rooney was still a good footballer*, Denilson just let Rooney run past him. Rooney went on to score. Man U won the game. After that match Denilson was dropped and sent to gulag. I’ve now watched him for almost a year and I think Elneny is worse than Denilson.
I know that’s going to be an unpopular opinion and I’m absolutely not blaming him entirely for Mata’s goal. I’m saying his overall game looks timid, he doesn’t tackle, he doesn’t cover space well, he’s rarely aware of a goal threat, his touch is mediocre, he doesn’t create, he folds under the slightest pressure, and he’s often in the midfield when the opposition just slice right through us like hot butter (Liverpool and Man U). He should not be starting any games for Arsenal, much less big games.
And what makes Elneny’s start in this game even more baffling is that Wenger pushed Ramsey wide and had Xhaka on the bench. After the match, Wenger said “I knew it would be a bit more of a physical battle so I chose players who have experience and fight.” Which is a weird thing to say when you consider the fact that Elneny is a soft defender and Ramsey often abandons his defensive duties to play as a forward. It’s even weirder when you consider the fact that Xhaka is Arsenal’s most combative player.
But that was the team Wenger selected and it didn’t work. Fortunately, he had players on the bench who could change the game.
Xhaka, Giroud, and Oxlade-Chamberlain were brought on and it’s no coincidence that Arsenal scored a goal. Ox made a nice dribble, put in a great cross, and Giroud did what Giroud does, headed the ball in the back of the net.
I can’t be happy with the fact that Arsenal were dominated, but I can be happy that we have the depth to bring on three great players and get a result if needed.
Credit to Mustafi for winning nearly every one of his aerial duels. I’ve said that Mustafi is weak in the air a number of times and he was challenged yesterday and showed he can do it. He needs a lot more than one match to convince but it’s a good start. Credit also to Coquelin who reprised his role as “the Policeman”, patrolling Arsenal’s midfield and snuffing out Man U attacks with perfectly timed tackles. Without him in midfield, I fear we would have been overrun on numerous occasions.
And finally, Wenger has to find a way to rest Alexis. Instead of making runs in dangerous areas he resorted to dropping and creating for others. There were no others to create for. So, Arsenal couldn’t create. I suspect his play yesterday was a result of fatigue. When he’s fit, he closes people down, he makes runs off the ball, and he creates. Yesterday he was only one of three.
It’s not a disastrous result but it does look like Arsenal have a lot of work to do and need to get a number of players fit (Cazorla was greatly missed). Arsenal are only three points from the top of the table, which is a great position, but they are also only 1 point from 5th place behind Tottenham.
*Ask your grandparents about Wayne Rooney and Arsenal’s 50th game