1. Where’s the progression Arsene?
Since the majestic heights of 03/04, whereby Arsenal dominated their domestic opposition to such an extent they were labelled the ‘Invincibles’ it has become apparent for a long time now that the Gunners are just not the same beast.
Gone are their big physical beasts blessed with mesmerising technique, resolute mental strength and moulded into a side capable of outplaying teams with an attractive but essentially brutal brand of football.. a side who could mix business with pleasure and do so effortlessly.
Back then they had a strong presence in goal in Lehmann, a quality back four consisting of Lauren, Toure at his physical peak, Sol Campbell at his mental peak and the finest left back in the world (before all his off the pitch shenanigans) Ashley Cole. In midfield, they had regular goalscorers out wide in Pires and Ljungberg, steel in the form of Patrick Viera and Gilberto Silva/Edu and a world class pair of strikers in Bergkamp and Henry. This was supported by good young players coming through too.
Since then apart from the Champions League run in 05 and a decent team in 07/08, Arsene Wenger has ignored the blueprint which made his teams great and seems obsessed with sides which can keep the ball but do very little else. There seems to be no aspiration with regards to having a rock solid defence, a point exemplified by his refusal to replace Almunia with haste and the lack of cover in the central defensive berths an issue that has long gone unanswered.
In attacking areas, they just lack imagination capable of unlocking defences at the highest level. All foreplay, no penetration would sum it up best. Their wide players constantly cut in and seek to recycle possession instead of unleashing efforts on goal. This leads to a lack of natural width, a problem which is further exacerbated by their attacking full backs who instead of providing the solution, struggle to cross a dangerous ball between them thus rendering that particular alternative route to goal redundant.
Up front whereas before they had the likes of Bergkamp and Henry, intelligent, amazingly gifted world-class strikers … they’ve since had a half decent wantway striker in Adebayor, an injury prone V.Persie who even at his best isn’t as penetrative as Theirry and now they have the relatively untested Chamakh and the still developing Bendtner. Not to mention Eduardo who was finished before he started. Where is their Eto’o or David Villa? the striker who’s going to provide the cutting edge to their possession?
As it is I do think this Arsenal side has what it takes to finish 2nd in the premier league, however there have to be fundamental changes to this side in terms of ethos, tactics and personel if they want to be taken seriously as an elite outfit.
Physical Prowess, Perspiration, Penetration… just a couple of P’s that are needed apart from possession.
2. The boys from Brazil
I’m fast running out of superlatives for this kid. Once again tonight against a quality experienced left-wing talent in Arshavin, Rafael was not found wanting and not only held his own but dominated his opponent even managing to risk some forays forward.
What strikes you about this kid is the way treats defending as an individual war, he sticks very tight to his man daring them to turn him and even before they’ve recieved the ball if he can smell the oppurtunity to nick in and spark a counter attack… he will do so. Great anticipation and if he continues like this, he’ll be the best Brazillian full-back since Cafu.
He’s played against Bale, Robinho, Ronaldinho and Ribery and not been found wanting in my opinion, so the world really is his oyster.
As for Anderson, another solid midfield display against Arsenal… he loves playing against them and so it proved again today. They were bouncing off his bountiful Brazillian bottom whenever he attempted to shield the ball but its not just his derriere which caught the eye.
His passing was composed and precise, more importantly it was full of purpose and especially on the counter-attack it was a talent put to great effect. My only issue with Anderson and this will be touched upon later on in the article was his lack of movement off the ball when in and around the box. It meant whenever Rooney came deep, there was no one in front of him capable of making a forward run ready to score a goal from a surprise late run. It also puts extra pressure on Nani and Park to score a goal… thankfully the latter managed to do so.
3. United’s mixed fortunes on the left hand side
Once again Park Ji Sung delivered the goods tonight and he is proving to be essential to this United side, solving the issue of the problem left wing spot.
Whilst his industry and his winning goal were the most noticeable things about his performance.. what really stands out about Park and is rarely talked about is his courage. Not just the courage to go in for a tackle or jump for a ball which you have no right to fight for… but the courage to want the ball in any position on the pitch and make sure he does something progressive with it. For all his apparent lack of ability which people throw at him, how many times has he ever passed it back under pressure or taken the easy way out in a game and gone missing?? Never.
Well when it comes to walking the walk after talking the talk, Evra doesn’t really pull it off. Well not tonight thats for sure. It was an average performance by the Frenchman who despite being given the freedom to bomb forward when United had possession was unable to make any use of the width he provided. Once again his lack of end product came to the fore and its hard to think of a quality cross he produced over 90 minutes.
Its definitely an issue that needs addressing if we are to persist with 4-3-3 in the big games and if Rafael/ Nani are subdued, leaving our left flank as the main source of width and creativity.
4. Should and can United risk going 4-4-2 in big matches?
In a repeat of last years ploy, 4-4-2 was discarded in order to win the midfield battle against a tougher than average opponent. Thus the fall guy inevitably ends up being Dimitar Berbatov.
Question is could we have won that game more convincingly in a 4-4-2 and does it bring out the best of our players?
In my opinion Anderson and Rooney, both immensely benefit from his presence. It allows the former to play deeper and drive us forward, thus displacing either Fletcher or Carrick and furthermore it makes Rooney more unpredictable and dangerous to the opposition.
However there is no doubt that defensively we look rock solid with the likes of Carrick, Fletcher and Park protecting our defence. I’d argue our defence is top notch and doesn’t need as much protecting as we think, I’d also like us to continue taking our game to the opposition instead of focusing too much on adapting our gameplan to negating the opposition.
One things for sure this will prove a major talking point after christmas when the Champions League knockout stages come around.
5. Opposition MOTM: Wojciech Szczęsny
My man of the match today was Arsenals debutant goalkeeper. His kicking was very rash at times but his handling, positioning and shot stopping one v one or long distance was extremely impressive for someone thrust into the limelight.
It remains to be seen whether this kid is a one hit wonder, but it was a very impressive debut and Arsenal fans will hope he provides Fabianski with genuine competition in the coming years.
Not a vintage match by any means but the performances of the respective sides spoke volumes. For me I think the title is United’s to lose I really do, there is no team out there who United should fear on the domestic stage and for me Arsenal, in particular their manager needs to get his head out of the sand and look back at what once made him one of the greatest managers the English game had seen.
United remain unbeaten and they didn’t have to break a sweat.
Man Utd: VDS, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Nani, Carrick, Anderson, Fletcher, Park, Rooney. Subs: Kuszczak, Giggs, Smalling, Hernandez, Brown, Obertan, Berbatov.
Arsenal: Szczeny, Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy, Rosicky, Nasri, Song, Wilshere, Arshavin, Chamakh. Subs: Fabianski, Djourou, Walcott, Fabregas, V.Persie, Denilson, Bendtner.
Referee: Howard Webb