Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday August 29 2011
This must have been the first Arsenal game I`ve ever been to where every single member of our entourage predicted a convincing defeat. Nobody even chimed in with, "I`ve got a funny feeling we`ll get a result." I don`t ever remember travelling to Old Trafford with less anticipation and trepidation. Even the ever optimistic Lord Lowe said to me five minutes before kickoff. "If I were Arsene Wenger, I`d knock on Fergie`s door and say, 'Listen, no more than 3-0 today, no injuries and let`s call it quits.`" It would have been a good call in hindsight. All the talk for the journey north was in anticipation of a thrashing. I still don`t think we quite expected the humping we got.
The team sheet revealed a squad that has been neglected by the club in a quite appalling fashion. Arsenal F.C. really needs to reconnect with what its purpose is. When you see a squad of 18 players like the one we were forced to bring to the slaughter yesterday, it`s hard to believe the powers that be at the club have sufficient respect for what happens on the pitch. Francis Coquelin and Carl Jenkinson were lambs sent to slaughter; Armand Traore is stealing a living at Premiership level. The manager knows this; this is why Traore wasn`t even a substitute against Liverpool when Gibbs was injured. Yet our squad is still in such a pathetic state that he has to start against the Champions at Old Trafford. Eight players were out injured or suspended. Who could have foretold that Iron Man Kieran Gibbs would be injured? Or Abou 'Concrete` Diaby would be missing? Woe is our terrible fortune, when do Arsenal ever have an injury list the length of Joey Barton`s charge sheet?
So it was that young men who just aren`t ready and older heads that ought to know better were utterly pummelled in the final denouement for a summer that has been atrociously mismanaged by all concerned from beginning to end. When United opened the scoring, it was with embarrassing ease. Anderson looped a pass into the Arsenal area, Djourou bafflingly tried to shepherd the ball back to Szczesny. Welbeck easily shrugged him off and Koscielny showed a lack of willingness to put his head in where it hurts, leaving Welbeck to loop a header over the stranded Polish goalkeeper. We all knew it was to be a long afternoon. But a glimmer of light cracked through when Arshavin found Walcott careering into the area. Jonny Evans couldn`t cope with the pace and dragged Walcott back. Amazingly, Howard Webb gave a penalty. Against Manchester United. Truly an historic occasion.
Van Persie stepped up but, unusually, did so with all the conviction of a soggy wicket and placed a poor penalty to de Gea`s right which was easily saved. Despite the simplicity of the save, it was notable that the United players rushed to him as if he`d just aped Gordon Banks. That`s what good teams do. They sense a player low on confidence and try to pick him up. Arsenal don`t really do that. How can they? When a wide eyed, inexperienced young lad like Jenkinson for instance, looks up and sees other wide eyed, callow young lambs. Within three minutes, United`s ruthlessness doubled the ferocity of the blow. Evra found Rooney on the left hand side; his cross was met with the poorest of defensive headers from Armand Traore. The ball fell invitingly to Ashley Young on the edge of the box, which swerved a precise shot into the top corner. From here on, it was a pure damage limitation exercise in my opinion. It was an exercise that failed miserably.
The Gunners did briefly threaten a back line which wasn`t the most imposing I`ve seen them field against us. Arshavin`s strike from the edge of the box was turned away by de Gea, van Persie followed up, but de Gea was up smartly to block with his legs. But ultimately, it was scant window dressing for a complete collapse. Cleverley clipped a ball forward to Ashley Young; Carl Jenkinson was exposed and bundled Young to the floor on the edge of the area. The resulting free kick saw Rooney shit to Young. Nobody from the Arsenal wall charged. Rooney was given all the time he wanted to clip the shot into the top corner. A beleaguered away side did manage a scant consolation in first half injury time. Evra sliced a clearance in his penalty area. Ramsey headed the ball down to Rosicky. His pass found Walcott in the channel and his low finish beat de Gea. Once again, de Gea`s footing was poor from an angled shot.
Maybe the biggest indication that nobody thought a comeback was even remotely possible was reflected in the away support at the beginning of the second half. A 20 minute rendition of 'We Love You Arsenal` embarrassed a comparatively hushed home crowd. The reason it happened was because we knew we were beat and we knew it was going to get worse. It was an act of defiance, not confidence. I think everyone recognised that too. The second half was painful stuff. Nani found Ashley Young on the corner of the box and his low shot was beaten out by Szczesny. Arsenal did manage to create at 3-1. Rosicky`s lofted ball found van Persie in the area and his first time volley as well saved by de Gea. Ramsey`s curving pass then found Arshavin on the left. He motored past Smalling and made a bee line for goal, but his finish let him down when he screwed his shot into the side netting.
Tom Cleverley carved an increasingly powder puff defence apart when he played a smart one two with Hernandez, putting him clean through on goal, but he could only shoot straight at Szczesny. United`s movement just became too much for Arsenal. Nani, given free reign by Traore, played a pass into Hernandez. He flicked the ball around the corner for Rooney. Rooney fell softly under the slightest duress from Djourou. It was a foul, but I was sat diagonally in line with the offence and I can tell you for 100% certain that Webb did not see the infringement, unless he has eyes screwed into the back of his head. His back was 100% turned, so on what basis he gave Djourou a yellow card is, frankly, as beyond me as Arsenal`s current transfer policy. Still, Rooney once again shifted to Young and once again the Arsenal wall didn`t charge and once again the ball flew into the corner.
The seams were bursting before that. The seams were straining before kickoff. But the 4th goal precipitated a collapse the likes of which Arsenal fans have become accustomed to. Rooney found no challenger at the precipice of the Gunners box, comfortably picked a pass to Nani inside the area. Were Arsenal trying to play offside? If so, Jenkinson and Traore didn`t get the memo. Nani was well onside and dinked a smart finish over Szczesny. An abject performance was starting to become arthritic when Park found Young in the Gunners area, Young was, you guessed it, unchallenged. Pulled the ball back to Ji Sung Park who, yes, went unchallenged to slot a finish low into the corner. "I`m Arsenal till I die" came the chant from the East Stand, Lower. That`s a song I`ve always associated with teams that are despairingly average.
Executive relief arrived in the form of another consolation. Ramsey played another impressive arcing pass to Jenkinson down the right. His original delivery was headed away by Phil Jones. Jenkinson followed up to head the ball back to the back post, where van Persie rifled home his tenth goal in eleven away matches. But a more unwanted landmark arrived in the shape of Arsenal`s third red card in their opening three games. That`s a record no other club can boast. Rooney`s searching pass once again found Jenkinson exposed, he bundled Hernandez to the ground and earned a second yellow card. The ultimate symbol of a young man hung out to dry by his manager. Jenkinson was playing non league football under a year ago.
Further calamity was afoot. Park found Evra inside the area; Walcott gave him a shove in the back (when really a kick in the knackers would`ve been more to my liking). Webb correctly pointed to the spot and Rooney did not err to collect his hat trick. I have to say; at this point I`m thoroughly bored of describing United goals. I don`t have enough vocabulary anymore, save to say Giggs set up Young to seal the rout. It was a game which really should have delivered the starkest of messages to the manager, the board and everyone at the club that this summer has been an absolute shambles of dithering and withering. They have less than three days now to correct three months of total inaction. I`ve heard some say the travelling support should be refunded. It`s a sweet thought but not one I`m behind. I watched Arsenal win the league in that ground when I was 18. I didn`t expect a surcharge after the game based on the event. You pay for a football match, everything else is chance. What is clear, is that the club cannot take anymore in the next 72 hours. The players we put out yesterday were nowhere near the quality of United`s, but I wouldn`t expect a Championship side to ship 8 at Old Trafford. The club is utterly demoralised, the players, the manager, the supporters. Time to get out of a rut and into a groove. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 25.JENKINSON, 20.DJOUROU, 6.KOSCIELNY, 30.TRAORE, 39.COQUELIN (15.Chamberlain `62), 16.RAMSEY, 7.ROSICKY, 14.WALCOTT (46.Lansbury `82), 23.ARSHAVIN, 10.v.PERSIE(c) (29.Chamakh `82). Unused: 21.Fabianski, 49.Miquel, 52.Ozakyup, 54.Sunu.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Monday August 29 2011
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