Excuses out of the way first. One of these days we might get to go to Old Trafford without some sort of squad-decimating drama depriving us of essential players.
The discovery of the enforced absence of our BFG and the resulting re-organization of our defence was a serious blow to our pre-match bluff and bluster.
One sensed this might be a make or break game for our returning club captain and although Thomas Vermaelen didn’t exactly do much to stamp his mark on the game as our team leader, he did at least acquit himself sufficiently well in his defensive responsibilities for us to feel somewhat encouraged about his ability to perform as adequate cover.
Yet in truth, after our creditably stalwart and professional performance in Dortmund midweek, it seemed as if we began yesterday in the exact same “what we have, we hold” frame of mind. Keeping a clean sheet once in a week, against such formidable opposition was impressive, but twice in a week was a little bit too much to ask for, from an Arsenal side, where even at full strength, we’ve never exactly been cut-out for playing games on the backfoot.
Besides, as the likes of West Brom and Southampton ably demonstrated earlier this season, the best means of unsettling Man United on home turf is to take the game to the hosts. Unfortunately, having started the game in “hold” mode, reluctant to commit to taking the opposition on, by the time we finally pulled our finger out and began to gather the momentum necessary to exert some real pressure in the second-half, it proved to be too little, too late.
Meanwhile perhaps this narrow 1-0 defeat was indicative of which of the two teams was more desperate to win this match. With the likes of Chelsea, City and Spurs all dropping points, psychologically Man Utd needed to seize on this opportunity somewhat more than the Gunners, as a defeat for the home side might’ve resulted in everyone writing them off already.
Whereas with the Arsenal squad stricken by flu and returning from Germany, perhaps having swallowed a little too much of the media’s invincibility hype, the early battles in this encounter left me with the distinct sense that we lacked that same adrenaline level and struggled to match the intensity of our hosts.
Nevertheless, despite the Gunners having failed to take best advantage of the situation, we still go into an international break sitting pretty at the top of the pile and even if we’re left with only two points breathing space, hopefully this defeat won’t prove too damaging to our moral.
Yet having suffered so many humbling embarrassments at Old Trafford in the past few seasons, I calculated before this game that I’ve suffered over 30 hours of thoroughly depressing return trips from the North West, following defeats to Man Utd in recent times. Therefore, I was more than a little gutted, when I finally had to concede that I wasn’t in a sufficiently fit state myself for such an arduous outing, knowing that for the first time in years, we Gooners would be journeying to Old Trafford, fuelled for once by some genuine expectation.
So if there was some slight consolation for me on Sunday, it was that at least after enduring so much misery against Man Utd, I was at least saved from the agony of missing out on our first triumph up there for years and have avoided yet another miserable four hour journey back home. Moreover, I’m sure I’d feel a whole lot worse, if I’d been able to invest in yet another futile schlep up north, but somehow I’m not left feeling too downhearted.
Victory denied seems more like victory delayed and not only do I still have a triumphant return trip from Old Trafford to look forward to, but it also feels as if the battle lines have only just been drawn in this season’s challenge and unlike seasons past, the Gunners remain right in the mix.
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