THERE was me thinking a tortuous, four-hour trek home in midweek, following a dire goalless game against Villa was going to be my lowlight... little did I know!
Unlike Le Gaffer, graciousness in defeat doesn’t usually come hard for me. After all it’s not my responsibility to massage some life back into our players deflated egos. Nevertheless I was bemused by the credit given to Sunday’s victors because sadly the Gunners posed a pale shadow of the sort of stiff test to Man United that might’ve merited such slavish praise.
In fact, although it might not have been anywhere near as significant, in some sense Sunday’s defeat was even more humiliating than our capitulation in last season’s Champions League semi.
Any team might’ve come unstuck against a full-strength United side inc. Ronaldo, Rooney, Ferdinand and Vidic, whereas for my money a defence of Rafael, Brown, Evans and Evra was there for the taking at the weekend and yet the Gunners couldn’t even conjure up a shot on target, until late in the second half.
The seeds of Sunday’s debacle were sown at Villa Park. You didn’t need Fergie’s footballing nous to know Gael Clichy was a far cry from returning to fitness as one of the Premier League’s most confident and fleet-footed full-backs.
It was therefore no real surprise when United targeted our left-flank. Sure Nani’s audacious trick deserved an ovation. But with our French full-back deprived of his searing turn of speed, or effective protection from his team-mates, in running Clichy ragged to my mind the Portuguese dribbler still flattered to deceive.
Nani was certainly aided on route to his assist for Almunia’s hapless own-goal, by Denilson’s half-hearted attempt to block his passage.
Perhaps he was concerned about conceding a penalty, but what was the Brazilian’s excuse for all his other indiscretions.
In the build up to United’s second, he was one of four or five in red and white who could’ve done more to stop Wayne Rooney. But from the revealing camera angle behind the goal of Rooney’s unerring finish and Park’s coffin nail of a third so soon after the break, in both instances we once again witnessed the demoralising sight of Denilson barely breaking sweat to get back.
Almost as galling as the Gunners’ display on Sunday is Arsène’s stubborn refusal to address the circumstances that saw us going into the most high-profile game of the season so far, without a single recognised striker on the pitch. Then again, for the first half an hour both Rooney and Shava looked equally isolated on their own up front. However the crucial difference being that our attack remains entirely one dimensional, making life far too simple for opposition managers.
While Wayne waited patiently for an opportunity to spring the trap on the counter, Shava insisted on receiving the ball to his feet with his back to goal, providing Brown and Evans the opportunity to muscle him out of it most of the afternoon.
Where Man United always have the hope of Rooney pulling something out of the bag on a bad day, we have Fabregas. Yet while the likes of Cesc, Song and Gallas gave of their all, in trying to salvage some pride, ultimately, as a midfielder, Fab isn’t going to find himself with nearly as many goalscoring opportunities as Rooney.
There were moments on Sunday when I imagined Fab hollering in his own head “am I really expected to do everything” and such irritation is only likely to increase, without the introduction of complementary world class talent.
Meanwhile Fergie’s hoping we’ll go the Bridge this weekend and “batter” the Blues. Considering the home side are likely to force us to play at a high tempo, I wouldn’t be so surprised if we bounce back with a big performance.
Although after dropping five points from the past two outings, it would be the ultimate irony if we win, when Fergie’s mob are likely to be the only ones capable of reaping some reward!
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