Arsenal 1 – 3 Manchester United
Classic is overstating the case. Hugely. I’m sure for the neutral it was a fantastic advertisement for the Premier League. For whoever we meet in the knockout stages of the Europa League, it was glorious to watch. At both ends of the pitch, we exposed our weaknesses for all the football world to see, magnificently.
In the end, three brain farts at the back cost us the game. Yes, the referee – who otherwise had a good game – failed to award us a penalty when Rojo tripped Danny Welbeck. At best though, it robbed us of a point. However, with our failings in front of goal, it’s a stretch to make that claim with any credibility.
Koscielny for the opening goal, Mustafi for the second, Xhaka for the third; a comedy of errors in which Manchester United’s laughter echoed around the Emirates. Football teams lose, we know that. When you’re beaten by the better side, you grin and bear it. When you beat yourself? That’s the time for a serious piece of navel-gazing by all involved.
We got the basics badly wrong. United scored with every attack; we didn’t. David De Gea deserves all the plaudits he is receiving for his performance. Two one-handed saves in particular – one in each half – were outstanding pieces of goalkeeping.
Our strikers were wasteful, there’s no other word for it. Chances came and went, each with a growing sense of foreboding. Chasing the game is never a good position to be in and I won’t fault the effort or energy expended in trying to turn the game around. Arsène likes to call everything ‘efficient’; we certainly weren’t in attack, far from it.
Lacazette ought to have within twenty minutes of the second United goal. A flick of the studs sent the ball against De Gea’s shinpads; how he, Iwobi or Xhaka didn’t net on the half hour is beyond even Stephen Hawking.
One man not getting enough credit is Aaron Ramsey. Every analyst and commentator commented that the Welshman scuffed it but his deft touch back to Lacazette was quite deliberate and delightful. But you know, it’s Ramsey so let’s run the bloke down.
He’s not perfect but that moment was intelligent football, the sort we demand. Last night it was in short supply as our naivety got the better of us.
The mistakes in all three United goals can’t be ignored. Koscielny’s stray pass was intercepted and Kolasinac reacted too slowly to the danger. Avoidable by virtue of concentration and application. It’s not a case of players not having the talent, it’s about how they implement instructions, assess risk. The world-class players minimise the latter in defensive situations, it’s what makes the difference between themselves and international-class players.
And no amount of World Cup winners medals will explain the mistakes Mustafi made. Is his injury bruised pride? No-one else seems to know what it is, left clueless in much the same way he refused to pass the ball for Cech or Xhaka to clear properly.
The pummelling we produced, the consistent knocking at the door has merits despite the shortcoming in front of goal. United were pinned back and the pursuit of possession, the energy expended at providing the platform for attack is to be applauded.
It was 45 minutes of backs to the wall football from Mourinho. He didn’t have a clue how to stop the unceasing pressure nor did he have the personnel beyond a world-class goalkeeper.
But as is always the case, the danger is succumbing to the counter-attack and we did for a third time with another avoidable goal. Koscielny didn’t defend Pogba’s break and allowed him to turn quickly; the cross found Lingard unmarked. Xhaka stopped running and nobody tracked the England international who tapped home.
The Swiss was hopelessly out of his depth in that situation, reduced to ball-watching as was Bellerin; it was schoolboy defending and even then, would be berated.
But it all started with cheaply ceded possession from Alexis up front. The Chilean’s leaden touch gave the ball away and we were punished. Defending begins at the front and we weren’t good enough at that.
Just as we never argued for a penalty, United didn’t contest Pogba’s red card. It was thoroughly merited, a nasty stamp on the back of Bellerin’s leg before following through onto the ankle. They knew what was coming and accepted it in quite an unusual turn of events for a Mourinho side.
Pogba is reported to have said post-match that he hopes City players get injured this afternoon. Now that’s a Mourinho player, if true.
It leaves us in fifth place. Four points from the big matches this season with ten goals conceded in the three we’ve lost. That’s an issue to be resolved with Arsène – as ever – left with a thousand questions raining in. I’m still mentally exhausted thinking sifting through in my mind where the good and bad points of yesterday lay. It is a complex match to decipher, even if simple in identifying the problems.
Finally, a Sunday afternoon playlist at Dad’s Jukebox where 2010 is the order of the day.