Tuesday, 14 December 2010

It was not Clichy's fault we lost - time to change formation

Manchester United 1 - Arsenal 0
At Old Trafford

Goal and penalty miss

It's hard to know where to start with last night's game. There was so much genuine optimism around the Goonerhood that finally Arsenal could get something out of a 'big' game.

And in some ways I feel cheated. This Arsenal team went into the match top of the league a point ahead of Manchester United, knowing a victory on away turf would propel them four points clear of the team in the red half of the city and three points from their blue neighbours.

But Arsene Wenger's team didn't turn up with any players who seem keen on imposing their game on the opposition.

It was down to a freak set of circumstances which created a fluke goal which was the only difference in the end between the two team in the end.
The early rumours that Wojciech Szczesny was to start in goal turned out to be true. The 20-year-old making his Premier League debut as Lukasz Fabianski was struggling with a groin injury.
Otherwise the team was exactly the same side which beat Aston Villa 4-2 at Villa Park.
In the first half the Gunners weren't their usual composed selves on the ball, giving away possession cheaply to their opponents.

But Alex Ferguson's men weren't much better with the ball either and Arsenal regained it with as much ease as we gave it away.

Whilst Wenger stuck with his usual 4-2-3-1 formation which has worked so well this season, the United manager switched his to 4-5-1 - playing three holding midfielders with Park and Nani either side of Fletcher, Carrick and Anderson.

The trio did their best to stop Arsenal gaining a rhythm. However it was the away team who were giving away niggly fouls to break up play every time the home team were about to break on the counter.

It has to be said the manager's comment post match about the Old Trafford pitch being in a poor state reflected on the game as neither side could guarantee the ball would run true.

This made for a game where both teams were struggling to find any rhythm to their game, as possession was easily lost.

The home team made more use of their possession though, opting to shoot from distance to test the handling skills of Wojciech Szczesny, who was making his Premier League debut.

The Pole hand no problem with either the home side's shots nor their crosses.

Arsenal were struggling to get into the game and Samir Nasri was a key player who was not finding any time with the ball. Playing in his usual position in the attacking three on the right, the Frenchman seemed subdued in the opening 45.

It was the shot shy Gunners who did themselves no favours. Their performance certainly had an air to one with a team with the handbrake well and truly engaged. The performance was very tense. We didn't seem to be playing with our normal freedom.

Just three efforts made their way towards the United goal in the opening 45. Two from Andrey Arshavin and the other from Marouane Chamakh. None troubled Edwin Van der Sar.

Neither side seemed to want to opening the scoring, the home side probably edging it on chances and then the goal came.

A long punt forward from Van der Sar was met by Fletcher's head. The second ball was won by Rooney who headed it wide for Nani. He came inside Clichy and dinked a cross - deflected by the Frenchman - into the middle of the area which was met by Park's head and his goal bound effort went in off the inside of the post.

Our defence didn't cover itself in much glory. Koscielny had no chance of winning the first ball yet was closer to the half way line than his fellow defenders when Fletcher headed the ball over him Squillaci isn't tight on Rooney who can play the ball easily to Nani.

And then Clichy doesn't want to get to close to Nani. There is an unfortunate deflection with the United man's cross which somehow Park manages to reach with his head leaning backwards and Szczesny has no chance.

At half time we're 1-0 down. After the break a different Arsenal team emerges. No changes in personnel but certainly a change in attitude.
How I would have loved to see a decisive decision at half time. For Wenger to see what we all saw and change formation to bring us back from being second best to at least level pegging against them.
If Diaby had been fit you could see that he would have had an impact last night.
The break however saw us go into the second half and start getting our key players on to the ball. We also seemed to be making an effort to have a go at the home team's goal.

However despite some good spells with the ball we can't break the United midfield three down. And their formation switches every time we have the ball so that Park and Nani join the trio of defensive midfielders to stop us penetrating.

We still didn't seem to be able to get our ball players involved. Nasri, Arshavin and Rosicky seemed to be well guarded and unable to get in on the game.

However we had many more chances on goal, even though they weren't cutting edge.
Fabregas replaced Rosicky and Van Persie came on for Wilshere as Wenger went for all out attack. But our problem seemed to be winning the ball back and the tigerish Wilshere had proved a useful asset in that regard. He didn't shirk from his challenges and wasn't over roared by the opposition.
Five minutes after our double substitution the home team were awarded a penalty. A quite awful decision. Clichy was being harassed by Nani inside the box and when the Frenchman slipped, Nani kicked he ball and it hit Clichy's hand which was keeping him balanced up.

The assistant referee seemed to be over joyed to give the home team the decision. However Wayne Rooney's resulting spot kick didn't bring a save from Szczesny as the Englishman skied his shot over the bar.

No more than they deserved. A very week penalty and it was certainly more ball to hand than hand to ball. How the hand ball rule can be interpreted in that way is beyond me.

We huffed and we puffed but we really didn't offer enough going forward. The changes Wenger made in Fabregas and Van Persie, just seemed to me to offer more of the same. It wasn't until Walcott's introduction for Arshavin did we really seem to be wanting to have a go. But in 13 minutes on the field, I think we were expecting a lot for the Englishman to help turn this one around.

Even with four minutes of injury time we didn't look like scoring. It was just oh so disappointing. 

As for the result as a whole, a defeat although disappointing isn't life threatening in terms of our title hopes. We sit in second place, two points behind United having played a game more. If they lose against Chelsea and we beat Stoke at the weekend, we'll return to the top of the table. This season the title is there for the taking. It's down to which team wants it most and last night it didn't appear we really wanted it as much as they did.

And that's what's more frustrating. This team is good enough. If only they could show it in the big matches. Perhaps it's all in their minds? What I want to see next time is for us not to lose. Play 11 men behind the ball. Get a draw. Or return to our old fashioned 4-5-1 which worked so well. No matter if it doesn't suit the personnel we have, we can't afford to keep on being damaged psychologically by these defeats. Draw one and that's a base to build on. At the moment we have nothing. When we play Chelsea we can't afford to lose. It's as simple as that.

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