I was able to go to Old Trafford to witness the game yesterday first hand. Needless to say, it won’t be forgotten any time soon.
A five hour road journey with none other than @thedanielcowan saw us eventually get to Old Trafford and we took to the away section with hope and excitement. The United lineup lacked experience, talent and should have been easy pickings for a near full-strength Arsenal side.
How wrong could I have been…..
Gabriel was in the side in place of Mertesacker, and despite an injury scare, Mesut Ozil made the side. Arsene Wenger went for pace and fluidity in the attack, naming Danny Welbeck to face his former side and Theo Walcott. Olivier Giroud, after suffering a lean spell, was on the bench.
The first half saw our team underwhelm, slow passing, poor movement and lack of positional discipline saw a poor United team take advantage. Aaron Ramsey left his midfield partner Coquelin on his own as the Welshman went on the attack, which left a large hole that the United midfield took advantage of. The first two goals though were down to defensive naivety, Gabriel especially showing a lack of experience.
Marcus Rashford – the new youth prodigy at Manchester – took advantage of some dire Arsenal defending to bag two on his Premier League debut, but our singing in the away section never faltered. It did however, become far more exasperated.
Mesut Ozil gave Danny Welbeck yet another goal against his old team which halved our deficit and this was the cue to kick on, but it never materialised and half time saw us go in 2-1 down.
The second half saw more of the same – plenty of possession, but no edge to our play. Theo Walcott was nigh on invisible, but there was no service at all. We had the lion’s share of the ball, but it looked almost like we were scared to pass the ball into dangerous positions. When Ozil did, thanks to the static nature of our forward line, the ball found a United player’s foot.
It was ridiculously frustrating – especially seeing Louis Van Gaal’s lineup. They were there for the taking just as Ray had said, but the whole team were showing either a lack of desire or they simply weren’t good enough. It has been a long time since Arsenal had the very real pressure of a tantalisingly close chance of lifting the title – could we actually deal with it?
Sitting in the away section is a privilege that has been all too rare for me lately, and the difference in noise we created compared to at The Emirates at times was startling. We outsang the home fans for the majority of the match, only letting the massive gulf in numbers overcome us when it was clear we were beaten. My voice today bears the scars of ninety minutes of shouting and chanting that I enjoyed every syllable of. Our away support – despite the football that unfolded on the turf – was nothing short of heroic. It is just a shame that the result didn’t match the efforts of the away section.
The defence lacked the cool head of Mertesacker and his positional awareness. The midfield lacked a dynamic ball-carrier. The attack lacked a man who could change proceedings. We have talent studded throughout the side, but they simply didn’t turn up. Aaron Ramsey criminally left Francis Coquelin alone to mop up the mess, he was nowhere that we needed him to be. Mesut Ozil had to drop ever deeper to try and get a grip on the game, which left him flitting in and out of the game. Alexis Sanchez is woefully off-colour and didn’t do a thing of note. It was a shambles of a performance.
To see us so flat-footed when we are famed for our style of play was perhaps the most frustrated I’ve been for a while. We ran out of ideas and failed to cope with what little pressure United could muster.
Arsene Wenger had named a side that should have comfortably spanked United and easily ended the terrible run of results we’ve had in the league at Old Trafford. The attack should’ve been able to bypass a shaky and unreliable defence but stumbled at the first hurdle. The midfield should’ve had enough to contend with Van Gaal’s midfield, yet with Ramsey continually going for glory up front with his errant positioning, it left Coquelin to fight a lonely battle which he lost, despite his best efforts. The defence sorely missed Mertesacker, who normally aids Koscielny’s lack of awareness. Koscielny is one of the best defenders in the league, but only when alongside the Big German. When partnered with Gabriel, we are presented with a duo that too often looks gung-ho. Gabriel needs to rein in his wanton rampaging and sit back, take in the surroundings.
Wenger will be ripped apart for his post-match comments in which he attempted to absolve the blame on his players – and rightly so. That is exactly where the finger of blame should point. Wenger can only do so much to ready his players, but when he names such a strong side, against such an obviously weak team and they put in a performance such as this – then it is quite clear that the team, each man who took to the field in an Arsenal jersey, were lacking in fight and leadership.
Wenger has to take the heat for a lack of leaders on the field, this much is certain. He also needs to look at himself for the lack of input in regards to playing staff. Let us be honest though, if we had ludicrously put £100m on the table for Sergio Aguero and signed him in January, would the result have been different?
I’m still of the opinion that Wenger has until the end of the season, and if the title is not in his hands come May, then he needs to step down. This is a tired adage by now, but this represents our best chance to be Champions since we last won in 2004. There can be no excuse for not finishing top of this mediocre pile at the end of the season.
The players need to go on a run now, and show the talent that they have failed to muster for an extended amount of games. When was the last time we played well? We have run out of excuses, and the very real threat of a crowing cockerel should be motivation enough to start the climb towards the top. If not, then wholesale change may just be what is needed.
Sitting in the away section at Old Trafford, seeing us being taught a lesson by a team supposedly several calibre’s short of what your team possesses was a humbling, humiliating, but ultimately memorable experience. I do hope I’ll be able to make another away fixture soon – but I hope the result at least mirrors the valiant efforts of the fans who travel so far to valiantly support the team.