Arsenal 1-2 Man Utd: Reaction

Whilst their league form has been a little patchy this season, Barcelona remain the greatest club side in Europe at this moment, as they have been for the last 4 or 5 years. Few can keep pace with their relentless pressing of the ball high up the pitch and tiki-taka passing; on the occasions they have been defeated, it has usually been due to the metaphorical parking of the bus, and no small amount of good fortune. In these last few years, the only team that has “out-Barcelona’d” Barcelona (or at least gone toe-to-toe with them) over 90 minutes is Arsenal, in the first leg of the Champions League first knockout round in February last year.

Almost 12 months later, Arsenal have been left reeling after 3 straight defeats, the most recent being a 2-1 home reverse against Man Utd. Now, losing at home to the champions, even for a so-called “big” team like Arsenal should not be a cause for great concern, but they have been the masters of their own downfall in many respects.

They have shown they have the capability to beat the best team in Europe (a year ago, admittedly), and yet in the first half of Sunday’s game, played with a truly baffling lack of urgency. The passing was woeful, pressure on the ball non-existent, and they gave the United wingers players such a wide berth, it was a miracle there was only a one goal difference at the break. Valencia’s well taken goal was a blessing in disguise for Wenger, whose team did not deserve parity after such a dismal first-half performance.

One of the few decisions Wenger got right today was the substitution of Djorou at half time, who was playing out of position at right-back and was all at sea.His replacement, the youngster Yennaris, may not be a world-beater, but was a good deal steadier. Arsenal were a lot more fluent in the second half. Oxlade-Chamberlain was the key man, his driving runs down the left started to create opportunities, none more clear cut than van Persie’s horrendous miss from 8 yards. It was the same two who combined for Arsenal’s equaliser, which they just about deserved after being on top for most of the second half up to that point.

Then came Wenger’s incredible decision to substitute Oxlade-Chamberlain for Andrei Arshavin, which effectively cost them the match. Arsenal were in the ascendency, had clawed their way back into the match, and subsequently removed their most dangerous player. And replaced him with someone who, at the moment, is a complete non-threat and shouldn’t be anywhere near the team.

Despite not being a left sided player, O-C was crucial to Arsenal getting back in the match, as he was willing to take on the defender, to go round the outside and get in behind the United back four, which created the space for van Persie to shoot. He was able to expose the slightly narrow banks of four that United had set out; in contrast, Arshavin would only dribble infield, was unable to have any positive influence on the game, and played right into the hands of the Man Utd game plan. Against the gunners, Ferguson always makes the centre of the pitch very compact and over populated as he knows Arsenal will forever try and play through the middle.

Theo Walcott looks less and less like a footballer with every game. It has been said that he lacks the final ball, but it’s difficult to quantify exactly what he was lacking today as he was so poor in all departments. His passing was terrible, crossing was bad, shooting was wayward, decision-making poor; the chorus of boos that rang out as Wenger chose to replace O-C instead of Walcott was fully deserved. It was an abysmal decision, completely lacking in courage, and in the end, produced a result deserving of such a gutless choice. Walcott should have been taken off after half an hour; instead he played 90 minutes. Mystifying, and maddening for Arsenal fans, I’m sure.

Wenger can have no complaints about the result, although he usually comes up with an excuse. But today he was the architect of his own demise, shooting himself in the foot with negative tactics and negative substitutions. If Arsenal are to once again finish in the top 4, he needs to swallow his pride, learn from his mistakes, and learn to be braver and more ruthless with under-performing players. How long would Fergie have persisted with such an ineffective spare part like Walcott in his team? He would have been sold to Sunderland years ago.

Le Prof obviously feels loyal to his players but there comes a time when you have to admit that certain things, certain players, just aren’t performing as they should and need to be shipped out so that the team can start growing again. At the moment, Arsenal are stagnating and Wenger needs to make some tough choices. Or wait until Mikel Arteta is fit and they start winning again…

30 yard sniper podcast ep 10 – Fan/Player interaction, crossbar challenge and living in the future

Michael Hall is joined by Robin Hearn & Jez MacBlain. On this week’s show: Expert gambling advice, the rift between Alex and Andre, Fan/Player interaction goes up a level, unpaid debts of the crossbar challenge, Sky Sports News vs The Future; plus Premier League, FA Cup and lots more.

30 yard sniper podcast ep 10 – Fan/Player interaction, crossbar challenge and living in the future by 30yardsniper

Sniper’s Midwinter Musings

The festive fixture list may take its toll on players and managers, but for the rest of us looking on, it’s something of a Christmas bonus. As well as all the eating and drinking, there was almost a continuous flow of matches to take our minds off all the extra turkey and stuffing sandwiches we’d eaten.

The biggest losers over the festive period were the champions, Man Utd. Defeat at home to largely disinterested and defensive Blackburn was a huge blow that will take some coming back from, but the causes are easily traceable to Lord Ferg’s absolute unwillingness to select players in their natural positions – i.e. not playing relatively untested youngsters vs. experienced players in alien roles – and this finally caught up with them. Michael Carrick will never be a worthy centre-half, and Rafael will never be steely enough for central midfield. The line up certainly improved against Newcastle, but the Geordies were well organised, played with a great energy that Man Utd couldn’t match, and thoroughly deserved their 3-0 win. Rooney’s lethargy, back from his Fergie-imposed ban for missing curfew, summed up Man Utd’s performance to a T.

Chelsea and Arsenal both underlined their inability to put a consistent run of results together. 3 wins for either in what were very winnable games would have kept them within touching distance of the title race; 4 points from a possible 9 has left the door open for a dour Liverpool side to somehow make it a 3 horse race for the final champions league spot.

Newcastle, with players returning from injury, would be hoping they could muscle in on the hunt for that champions league place, and they are well placed to make run. However, it’s hardly a controversial statement to say that they may struggle for form while their two of their best players, Chiek Tiote and 15-goal Demba Ba are away on African Nations duty. With Alan Pardew no longer in the market for a striker, they will have to find goals from outside the attack, with the less-than-prolific Shola Ameobi and Leon Best leading the line.

Blackburn remain bottom, despite an unlikely return of 4 points from games at Anfield and Old Trafford. One is left questioning their resilience after their subsequent failure at home to Stoke, but their two previous performances must give some hope to the eternal optimist Steve Kean. They are only 3 points from safety, but must pick up points in their next 2 games, at home to a Fulham side who have won once on the road this season, and away to a goal shy Everton, if they are to maintain any realistic hopes of survival.

Wigan may have improved of late, but a 4-1 home belting at the hands of a rejuvenated Sunderland must have knocked the stuffing out of them once more. If this is the year they finally succumb to relegation, may I just say that Moses, Watson and Boyce are all very welcome to head back to Selhurst Park where they can re-ignite their careers under hot-stuff rookie manager Dougie Freedman.

Making up the bottom 3, Bolton, soon to be shorn of captain Gary Cahill, will continue to struggle. Owen Coyle talks a good game, and while they were deserved winners against Everton in midweek, only a vast improvement in their home form (4 points from a possible 30) will lift them to safety. I think the final relegation place will be a shootout between them and Wolves, heavily reliant on Steven Fletcher’s goals, seem to have been cursed with Roger Johnson’s “luck of the brum” from last season. Buying centre-halves from dire teams that were deservedly relegated in the previous season never seemed like such a great idea to me – take note Villas-Boas. And Mick McCarthy, I hope you’ve learned your lesson.

QPR have been on a very poor run, but with chairman Tony Fernandes eager to spend some cash, they will probably edge their way to safety. Above them, West Brom and Fulham should have enough in their respective lockers to maintain a relatively safe distance from the drop zone, though a mere 3 points separate 15th placed West Brom and 9th placed Norwich – any one of those teams will be feeling they can make a charge for a European spot, or less hopefully, collapse into relegation hell.