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Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1

Our train journey began in good spirits for the journey to Manchester. Literally. Having a few beers on a morning train on your way to football probably isn`t the most advisable behaviour, but it`s probably acceptable. Just. When Ryan whipped out a bottle of baileys, a bottle of tia maria (!) and a bottle of jagermeister, I strongly began to suspect that my critical faculties would not survive mid morning.

Having arrived in Manchester at around 09.50, we had plenty of time to sink another pint in Green`s pub near Piccadilly Gardens and prepare ourselves for a fixture that lacks any kind of intensity nowadays. United fans aren`t stirred by it, it`s clear from the lack of a charged atmosphere. Ferguson speaks about Arsenal in almost reverential tones. Only the bile directed towards van Persie filled the crisp early afternoon air and turned it blue. Arsenal fans have more songs for players that they hate than the players that play for us. It`s small time.

Inside three minutes, the inevitable happened and, in a way, I was relieved. It was probably a necessary purging for the visiting fans and it stopped 100% of the vocal effort being concentrated on van Persie for a little while. Valencia tidily flicked Ferdinand`s pass to Rafael. Santos and Podolski were again occupying the same corridor of space, slightly in from the touchline, leaving Rafael in oceans of space at the extremity of the right flank. Rafael`s low cross posed no danger until Vermaelen badly miscued his clearance and it fell to the grateful feet of Robin van Persie. We know he doesn`t miss those. For his part, he chose not to celebrate.

Arsenal did not really get going at all. Ramsey on the right has been identified as a causal effect on our lack of cutting edge, but he was the first player to get in behind the United defence, forcing de Gea to beat away his cross shot. Van Persie could have added another when Rooney opened out his body and delivered a slide rule pass, van Persie bent his run around the back of Vermaelen, but Mannone beat away his right footed effort. Rooney went from provider to recipient for the next chance. Carrick`s dinked pass flew over the head of Mertesacker and found Rooney, who had to shield his eyes from the watery winter sun as he controlled, Mannone was again equal to his strike.

The Gunners created little or nothing to trouble United. Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla reads as a better midfield on paper than Carrick and Cleverley, yet the latter pair did not see so much as a shadow between them. Giroud toiled for space but was easily schooled by Ferdinand. The Frenchman did find space from a Cazorla corner, but got his angles wrong with his header, flicking the ball well over. We looked a lot like a team that had lost its top goalscorer. Just as Arsenal looked as though they might make it to the half time team talk with some chips to gamble, Mike Dean intercepted with what our manager would doubtless describe as an "Old Traffordish" penalty.

Ashley Young`s cross travelled towards Cazorla`s face, he put his arms up to protect his face, the ball hit his elbow, penalty given. I thought it was an incredibly harsh award. Cazorla`s arms weren`t out past his shoulders or up above his head. Even if you could convince me that that`s a penalty, you could never, ever convince me in a lifetime of rainy Sundays that a United player would have been penalised for the same 'offence.` Wayne Rooney stepped up but blasted his spot kick low and wide, United`s 4th spot kick miss of the season. Occurring on the stroke of half time, the miss might well have proved to be a boon for Arsene`s team talk.

Yet United continued to dominate early in the second half and ought to have extended their lead on 47 minutes. Ferdinand`s long ball had Vermaelen all of a tizz as he slipped on the ball and allowed van Persie in on the right channel. The Dutchman rolled the ball across goal for Valencia, but he completely miscued with the goal at his mercy. Vermaelen`s mistakes- particularly his propensity towards pushing too far forward from the edge of the area and allowing runs in behind him- are becoming more commonplace. It raises the thorny issue as to whether the cloth fastened to his arm is sparing him from the subs bench. Sometimes it seems that you don`t have to work very hard to get chances against Arsenal. You certainly don`t need to dominate. Just keep the ball vaguely in their half of the pitch and wait for the finger to hover too close to the self destruct button. You`ll get an individual error soon enough to help you on your way.

Arsenal did foster a rare opportunity when Santos` marauding run down the left saw him find Cazorla, who likes to drift wide in the second half of games. His low cross was collected by Giroud, who spun and shot at goal, but the angle was just against him with the ball hitting the outside of the post. Yet that just seemed to motivate United to eke out a much more favourable chance. Almost as if to taunt us as to how easy they found it. Young`s clipped through ball found van Persie, who`d snuck in behind Vermaelen. Van Persie had time and space to control and roll the ball towards goal, but he was too casual and Mannone once again spared Arsenal`s blushes.

It wasn`t long before United did flex their muscles though. Rooney and Young swapped passes from a short corner, which Arsenal didn`t do enough to close down. Rooney`s cross was headed in by Patrice Evra of all people. If Evra is winning headers in your six yard box, it`s hard to deny there are issues there. Anderson steered Valencia`s pull back over as Arsenal briefly threatened to completely crumble. But the seal was put on their afternoon when Jack Wilshere saw red for a second yellow card. Jack wearily overran the ball and put a clumsy, tired tackle in on Evra. The challenge was not only a symptom of tiredness, but of Jack`s crippling one-footedness. Had he made the tackle with his right foot, there`d have been no need to lift his leg. It`s the single biggest flaw in his game.

Mercifully, both sides appeared to call an amnesty. United settled on 2-0, Arsenal were happy to limit the damage too. The supporters voiced their displeasure though with a cutting jibe aimed at the CEO, "Ivan Gazidis, what the f**k do you do?" they asked. Maybe he can play upfront? I dunno. I understand that the chant wasn`t solely about this performance, but nobody really exercises themselves about the CEO when the team performs. Nobody cares if the team fly to an away game or one of your players accepts his ex teammate`s shirt when the players play well and you have a good squad of players winning games. I rather suspect that the gripes all revolve around the manager, but people find it difficult to become mutinous to a coach that has given us so much, so other issues come to the fore. I guess the truth is, I don`t really know anymore. I don`t know where the issues are or what to do about them. I don`t think many people do, but it seems to be difficult to profess bafflement in the 21st century. There`s always a quick fix and an easy answer. Sack the board. Pay Theo an extra £15k a week. Bring in a defensive coach.

Arsenal mustered their first shot on target in the 92nd minute. The regularity with which this seems to be happening is troubling. Troubling a goalkeeper for the first time when the game is nearly over and already lost in any case. Missing direct players such as Chamberlain, Diaby, Rosicky etc makes us a bit more one paced and predictable, I think. There again, the away support screamed for Walcott from about the 10th minute and when he did eventually come in on 52 minutes, he was easily neutered. Arshavin did find Walcott in an avenue of space in the United area, his low cross found Giroud, but de Gea beat the ball away with his feet.

The away side did manage to make the scoreline even more flattering on them than 2-0 would have been as they notched a consolation. Santi Cazorla saw his original effort blocked by Rafael, but the Spaniard wrestled the loose ball away from the Brazilian before bending it into the far corner. There wasn`t even time to take centre before Mike Dean sounded the final whistle. All talk of a title is dulled to silence and we know now, if we didn`t before, that 4th is pretty much the ceiling of our ambition again. 4 wins in 10 games makes this Arsene Wenger`s worst ever start to a league season. A lack of fluency going forward is certainly striking. Maybe the return of Chamberlain can help arrest that, but should a club like ours be relying on a raw teenager as a panacea to our ills? 4 shots on target in 3 league games suggests that, for all the talk of shared responsibility, we haven`t come close to replacing van Persie yet. LD.

MANCHESTER UNITED: 1.DE GEA, 2.RAFAEL, 6.EVANS, 5.FERDINAND, 3.EVRA (c), 7.VALENCIA (17.Nani `81), 23.CLEVERLEY (8.Anderson `61), 16.CARRICK, 18.YOUNG, 10.ROONEY, 20.v.PERSIE. Unused: 13.Lindegaard, 14.Chicharito, 22.Scholes, 25.Powell, 31.Wooton.

ARSENAL: 24.MANNONE, 3.SAGNA, 4.MERTESACKER, 5.VERMAELEN (c), 11.A.SANTOS, 8.ARTETA, 10.WILSHERE, 19.CAZORLA, 16.RAMSEY (14.Walcott `52), 9.PODOLSKI (23.Arshavin `81), 12.GIROUD. Unused: 6.Koscielny, 22.Coquelin, 25.Jenkinson, 29.Chamakh, 36.Martinez.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday November 4 2012

Time: 8:49PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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We're not creating enough chances to make conceding just a little less critical nor defensively secure enough to make the few chances we create potentially more meaningful. Just as against Reading we only started playing when it looked as though we couldn't get anything out of the game. Looks as though Santos is this seasons velcro player but really he and Podolski need to work out how to play together if they're to do so. At present they're making each other look poorer players than they are.
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04/11/2012 21:43:00

Agreed on Santos and Podolski, no coincidence that both of their form has gone to pit since they have played together and that both were absolutely fine prior to that. But there always has to be a bete noir.
Little Dutch
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04/11/2012 22:35:00

It was a very sobering experience to watch a game against United where our lads looked out of their depth and appeared to have conceded defeat even before the start; an early concession of the goal was, in fact, a reflection of the state of our players' nerves. They appeared eager to go behind in the hope the usual United blitz will ease up.

The fixture did not deserve the hype; clearly, we can't be said to be rivals if 10 games in and we are 9 points behind. Gone are the days when Fergie used to 'pay us a compliment' by lining up 5 in midfield to attempt to stifle our usual dominance in that department and to reduce the passes created for our pacy forward runners. Yesterday, they had only 2 midfielders, with Rooney only falling deep when United don't have the ball. For me, that was the moment I realized how lightly Fergie's team now take us. A 4-2-4 versus Wenger's Arsenal would be deemed suicidal even last season and in seasons past. That is how United play the lower placed teams! Perhaps, that's what we have become. I saw a look on Cazorla's face, after his goal, that suggested he wasn't a happy man, with that performance and i worry about his future here. It isn't beyond us yet to make something of the season yet; we just need to return to our game which relies on fast-paced attack, with Theo, Ox and even Arshavin given more opportunities. Podolski has been disappointing as a forward; he seems to prefer a backward pass when he should go forward (something Gervinho is noted for). Something just isn't right with the team balance now, but Wenger is paid to unravel and correct this. And so, he should!
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04/11/2012 23:09:00

I just think fergie has had wengers number for a number of years now. We certainly dont seem out of our depth against city and chelsea. regardless of results against them, we still boss most of the always park the bus against us. completely outplayed them at home last year and they ended up champions. I agree to a degree we seem to go in our shells at utd...but fergie certainly has our number.
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04/11/2012 23:29:00

Wenger is getting, increasingly, out thought and out fought by a few managers in recent times. He has to tweak with his approach to certain games in order to get different results. If he cannot change,...... I hear Pep wishes to coach a London side by next summer.
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05/11/2012 07:33:00

Man U have been dominating the performance and results vs Arsenal for the past few seasons now,which is a bit depressing. As always, we are 1-2 world class players short of challenging for the title. I still think this team can put a good run together which could be enough for top 4, but a top 4 finish is under real risk this season as well unless these players can find a way to gel well. We just need to grind out a couple of results, and then we can probably look ahead. Not feeling good about the Schalke game - a draw will feel like a win.
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05/11/2012 08:18:00

From a defensive perspective, Kosc & Per should be starting - Vermaelen's deficiencies have been covered well by either of those 2. It's clear that Verm has been told not to charge ahead to attack, which is removing one of the few positives he brings to the Team.
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05/11/2012 08:22:00

I think you can see how Arsenal's season will pan out reflected in just one game. If we go ahead in a game, there's always a real risk of implosion. Similarly, if we are at the top of the table we're unable to play under pressure and will sooner or later implode. If we're behind in a game, it's only then we play without the proverbial handbrake and relentless go-nowhere tippy-tappy and go for the jugular. Similarly, now that we're out of any serious attempt for the PL and that the pressure is off, we'll probably play with less pressure and go ahead and squeeze 4th. The chastening thing is that we had players of the likes of RvP and Cesc whose talent deserved to be playing at the very top and now they are there and we are very much second tier. Seeing RvP at United did hurt but I also saw he was very much meant to be playing at a top club that is actually serious about winning things, something I desperately wish we were. But then we have a manager focused more on being 'faithful to our style of play' and a Board that awards the CEO a bonus for scraping third and describing it as 'an extremely good year'. The latter tells you everything you need to know about the difference between us and Man Utd.
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05/11/2012 08:55:00

4 shots on target in 3 league games? My god that's depressing. You don't even need to replace van Persie to improve that statistic, there are teams out there with much worse strikers than we currently have registering more than that in one game ... what we need to do is stop fannying about, create some chances and f****ing shoot.
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05/11/2012 09:04:00

Santos was never absolutely fine LD, there was massive question marks over his ability to defend last season, I know you think he can and did last year - but I found him massively erratic. He may be the whipping boy at the moment, but do you not think that maybe he's just not very good? Watch him defend when someone's running at him with the ball, it's "how not to defend" school stuff.
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05/11/2012 09:43:00

Pep going to Chelski! Why would he even think about coming to Us, we can no longer sit at the Top table with Man utd, Man City or Chelski. Yep 4th is going to be a tough task this season, maybe finishing 4th last season was actually a bad thing as We need to face facts this Arsenal team will be hard pushed to finish in the Europa places. With Theo off to Liverpool in January, teams doubling up on Carzorla, and Podolski looking like he's already on his winter break. Also with our usual injury list growing, its going to be Hard to "Keep Calm and Carry On"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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05/11/2012 10:12:00

You got at least one thing wrong in that post hackneyval (maybe some others as well) - we finished third not fourth last season :)
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05/11/2012 11:07:00

hackneyval - heard it all last season too. We'll see, you might be right; but it's a bit early to say, and previous seasons would suggest that we'll be up there again.
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05/11/2012 14:03:00

Another season scrapping for fourth and it’s getting oh-so-boring. We’re not going to get relegated and we are nice and “solid” financially, but we’re in no danger of winning anything either. Is this really what we want? Do we really want to go from season to season with the same limited expectations? I don’t think there’s much of an argument that the more money you spend, the better chance you have of winning something (Man U, Man City, Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid etc.), it’s not always the case, but generally it is. The EPL and CL have both been bought by oil money so it’s a valid point. Arsenal simply cannot compete with that sort of expenditure and therefore unless we court a sugar daddy, it would seem, we are forever destined to be also-rans. Our only hope is that Arsene finds a team blend that was put together cheaply and can compete for honours. Currently, the only question we can pose is whether Arsene is the best man for the job or whether there is someone else out there who can beat the money men with football. Meanwhile we can all fall asleep knowing that next season will probably be the same as this season and the season after that will be the same as this season and…ZZzzzzz.
Sir Henry
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05/11/2012 14:08:00

shewore - Santos actually improved last season as he played more - not saying he has no defensive weaknesses, but they have been greatly exaggerated. This season, it has been worse due to a pairing with Poldi with zero understanding, as well as a lack of fitness.
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05/11/2012 14:10:00

I sure hope so Prits... we'll definitely be "up there" damiano, but "there" will be between 4th and 5th.
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05/11/2012 14:18:00

Teams have figured out that Arteta is the crucial cog in the wheel and if you close him down, then Arsenal really struggle to get going (happened in the Chelsea game as well, and Rooney did that well now). I would like to see Coquelin tried in that position next game, with Arteta playing slightly higher up, so that it's tougher for a forward to close him down. Need to try something different in order to improve the mid field creativity.
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05/11/2012 20:35:00


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