On Saturday my daughter and I had my mom over to the house to bake cookies. I warned them both that I would have to watch the Arsenal match and that they would have to start the first couple of batches without me. So I got them set up to make the gingerbread and turned on the game.
Within minutes, Koscielny made a ridiculous cross field pass and I must have screamed “what are you doing?” because my daughter poked her head into the living room to say that they were ok. They were, I wasn’t. I just watched Arsenal do the exact thing they can’t do if they want to beat a Mourinho team; stupidly concede a goal off an error. I knew then that this meant game over for Arsenal. If you watched United at all this season then you knew they have just been so good at getting results when they probably shouldn’t.
Six minutes later when Mustafi tried to dribble around Lingard and then attempted that stupid outside of the boot right footed pass, I paused the game and went to check on the bakers. Did they need anything? Can I go to the store and get anything? No? Damn.
Two-nil down to a Mourinho team inside of 11 minutes. Both goals coming off errors and the ensuing chaos. As good as Arsenal have looked against Tottenham and Huddersfield, here we had the Patsy Cline Arsenal, the one that falls to pieces.
It’s frustrating because Mourinho didn’t set his team up to do anything, really. They weren’t pressing Arsenal hard when Koscielny tried to make a stupid run and then pass sideways across the field like it was his first time playing football. They were just maintaining their shape. Valencia was visibly surprised by that ball.
Just as frustrating was how as soon as the ball was in their possession, Arsenal went into our keystone cop defensive routine. Running around, bumping into each other, everyone collapsing on Pogba. Just pure panic.
And for the second goal it was basically the same thing. Mustafi lost it. As Mustafi is getting ready to make that pass, if you look at the way United were set up, they have no right to score a goal. They aren’t pressing, Xhaka is all alone in midfield. Mustafi could have played the ball back to Cech or played the ball to Xhaka before he tried to make a little dribble. What is it that we always coach young defenders? Not there. You don’t dribble there.
But there was still a lot of work to be done for United to score. Martial made an intelligent run, Lukaku skipped around Mustafi’s pathetic tackle and played a brilliant through ball, Martial – who I would take at Arsenal in a heartbeat – played a delightful Gheorghe Hagi pass between two Arsenal defenders, and Lingard still had a lot of work to do, holding off Monreal and shooting perfectly across Cech.
It’s still frustrating because Mustafi didn’t need to make that dribble. And worse, because it’s exactly what Mourinho wants. We needed to play conservatively, to be smart with the ball at the back, and we couldn’t. Not only that but they weren’t even really pressing. I’ve long been frustrated by the fact that this version of Wenger’s team are suspect in possession – if a team presses Arsenal, they lose their nerve. And here, Man U didn’t even really have to press, Arsenal were happy to just cough the ball up.
So, Mustafi goes off with an injury, which he must have picked up when he stubbed his toe while attempting to make a pathetic tackle on Lukaku. As Mustafi limped off, the camera panned to Wenger. I’ve seen that look before. He was seething. I have a strong feeling that Mustafi is done at Arsenal. Wenger is ruthless with defenders when they make high profile errors. He dropped Vermaelen after a similar performance against Tottenham and Mertesacker after the red card against Chelsea. David Ornstein said that Arsenal were already looking to sell Mustafi this summer so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him shipped out next.
What’s frustrating there is that Mustafi was just starting to win me over with some brave performances. And then he does this limping off the pitch routine after giving up a goal because of a ridiculous mistake.
Still, there was the next 45 minutes of Arsenal play. This is the part that everyone is excited about. This is the part that gives people so much pleasure. I get it. Arsenal created a ton of great chances. I know as well, or better, than most how rare it is for Arsenal to do what they did against Mourinho’s defense. It’s about as rare as the 4 xG that Mourinho’s team gave up to Liverpool a few weeks ago, a game which they also won. But all I felt was deeper and deeper frustration which reached a head when the boys conceded a third goal.
You have to give credit to de Gea for the saves. My favorite of the bunch was when Lacazette popped up into space inexplicably left gaping at the penalty spot, Iwobi passed the ball to him, and he took one touch and just blasted it at the keeper. De Gea got down so well for that shot, but he did palm the ball back to assist Alexis. All Alexis had to do there was anything but hit it back at the keeper. That’s what he did.
That was when the game was at 1-2. I went beyond frustrated at that point. I was all the way into exasperated. I see why other people see that series of shots by Arsenal, between the 11th minute and the 55th minute as some great football. But for me it feels very Spursy to get excited about nearly doing something great. Their motto is “to dare is to do”. But daring is not doing. Doing is doing. Scoring two of the goals that Arsenal should have scored in those 45 minutes would have been doing. Instead we really “put the pressure on”. Do you know how often us Gooners make fun of them for saying stuff like that? Every day. And yet, here we are celebrating putting on the pressure in a single game.
And for their third goal. Well, the second Lingard picked the ball up and I saw that it was 2 on 1 with Koscielny I said “this is going to be ugly” and it was. It was uglier than I even expected. Pogba buried Koscielny. Xhaka took a nap. Cech couldn’t reach a garden variety cross. And Lingard was left alone at the far post for a simple tap in.
Xhaka looked over his shoulder, he knew Lingard was there. I don’t know what he was expecting to happen. Maybe he thought a portal would open to another dimension and out would step a better version of Xhaka, one that can defend, and he would help our pathetic Xhaka defend.
There are infinite universes and in them there must be infinite Xhakas. I wonder if there is one where Xhaka is a committed defender, one who takes pride in his craft as a midfielder. One who understands that he has to play both ends of the pitch. This one doesn’t. We got one of the busted Xhakas. One who thinks his entire job is just to make long passes and take stupid shots from 40 yards.
After that I paused the game and went to help my mom with the cookies. I washed up all the dishes. I helped my daughter measure things. We made some peanut butter cookies. And while they were baking, I went back to the game. I played the final 30 minutes at double speed. Arsenal were rainbowing passes into the middle. Arsenal got more shots. None of them were very good shots. It was over, we were broken. Even a red card couldn’t help. Our frustration was complete.
I understand why people take hope from that game. I really do. Arsenal have created 11 big chances in the last two matches. That’s great. The Arsenal attack is starting to click. I love seeing Ramsey, Alexis, Ozil, and Lacazette on the same page finally. And it’s great that Wenger finally knows how to pick the correct lineup.
I also sincerely hope that Arsenal kick on from this performance. That they keep this attack going, that we create 33 shots in every match until the end of the season.
If that happens I will feel great but for now, all I have is frustration. That’s all I can feel every time Mourinho beats Arsenal. And he seems to do it all the time.
Hagi pass – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WySocJA08eM