Arsenal 0 – 0 Manchester United
It will be remembered as the season nobody wanted to be crowned champions. The only team showing anything like title-winning form at the moment is Liverpool and they aren’t good enough to win the title. Are they? Such has been the topsy-turvy nature of the season, you wouldn’t rule anything out. Arsenal remain second, Manchester City have a game in hand and one you would expect them to win but this season has been anything but so predictable. The remaining matches between the top four of the Premier League will decide the fate of the title with the teams shifting uncomfortably as just seven points separates first from fifth.
A point may turn out to be a good thing, it just doesn’t feel like it right now. Even the manager was unimpressed, calling it and the Liverpool game, “two bad results“. The nerves in the performance were evident in the attacking lethargy, Giroud is not a dynamic forward and support from midfield was noticeable by its absence. Dropping Oxlade-Chamberlain to accommodate Rosicky was at once surprising and n0t so. The Czech was always going to be recalled but the by-product of that decision was a lack of width, penetration down the flanks was lacking and when the ball was sporadically sent into the area, Giroud found himself stifled by defensive attentions. It’s a common flaw; without Walcott, Arsenal lack natural width with the midfield habitually drifting inside and across the pitch, rather than any purposeful direct endeavour.
Not that the Frenchman was blameless either. After Robin van Persie spurned the sort of opportunity he used to greedily gobble up, Giroud wasted an even better opportunity, failing to put a free header on target; in a game such as this, those chances have to be buried. The tightness of the fixture is highlighted in Laurent Koscielny’s header was the closest Arsenal came to scoring, a well-stationed defender prevented the goal, even if the clearing header was comfortable to make.
Arsène was not despondent afterwards but not enthused either. The handbrake wasn’t needed, the engine hadn’t even been started. Acknowledging that the visitors were unsurprisingly well-drilled defensively, he also admitted that the team were affected by Saturday’s drubbing and focussed their attentions on not conceding. In truth, a point is a fair result with chances at a premium for both sides. Wenger will thank his goalkeeper for that as well. Having denied van Persie in the opening minutes, Szczesny produced an even better save to tip the Dutchman’s header onto the crossbar in the second half.
Little wonder that the defence are pleased with themselves, after conceding five they kept a clean sheet. They handled the visitors attacking triumvirate well; van Persie was anonymous beyond two openings, Mata’s attacking avenues were turned into cul-de-sac’s whilst Rooney resorted to petulance as his frustrations grew. There were well-timed tackles and timely interventions from all of the back four. Mistakes as well, Gibbs was alarmingly caught in possession but like the scoreline, it ended with nought. There was an uncomfortable reminder of Anfield when Areta ceded the ball in the first minute but United never chased Arsenal as Liverpool had. Indeed, Wilshere was unlucky to see a good opportunity snuffed out whilst Rosicky could only watch as De Gea recovered to stop his deflected shot.
Wenger will be most concerned by his attack. The pattern is the same as following defeat at Eastlands. Back-to-back big matches that have shown attacking impotence. Losing Walcott and Ramsey is a blow but the Welshman was not prolific in the month leading up to his injury and Walcott has made been fleetingly available, making his contributions to the campaign all the more telling. Any side would miss both as attacking outlets and goalscorers; Arsenal have yet to find viable solutions, a point the manager acknowledged,
We are a bit short of goals at the moment, you are right. Mathematically we have lost goalscorers with Walcott and Ramsey. At the moment in games like that, you see that.
Lukas Podolski is out of favour with the manager despite being the best finisher at the club. It is surprising but the questions raised about his application on the pitch suggest that his lack of endeavour is the problem. But Wenger himself is not helping by fielding a narrow side. Playing with a single striker, he needs his midfield to push on and stretch the game. Last night they failed to do so on either count. If he is not going to use that option to solve his problems, the question remains unanswered. Perhaps he is genuinely scratching his head in finding the solution with nothing obvious springing to mind.
The lack of support is concerning; isolating Giroud does not promote any sense of goalscoring opportunities. All too often, it leads to attacks frustratingly petering out. This issue is not new, caution prevailing is not new; Arsenal tottered back to their feet following last weekend and look forward to the next two matches. Can they increase their efficiency against Liverpool and Bayern Munich? They have to is the simple, brutal answer.