Yesterday was a weird one. You can’t quite fathom what really happened. Arsenal fans are suffering something akin to Pavlov’s Dog (ring the bell – salivate regardless of whether food is brought).
We generally know what to expect of Arsenal against big teams. Drab performance, upsetting result. The first half yesterday felt like a drab performance. It felt like the full force of a typical Arsenal hangover swinging into effect. But did it feel like that because we’re preconditioned to be disappointed?
Quite possibly. To the naked eye, we lacked confidence, we defended deep and we created nothing. If that was a Chelsea first half performance, we’d all be coo-ing like a sycophantic Sky Journalist in the midst of a ‘witty’ Jose interview. Instead, a large majority of fans were dismissive and annoyed by a shit show of a game.
Sure, there were plenty of reasons to be angry. We didn’t find our attacking rhythm, Giroud did a particularly poor job in front of and around goal… the defence creaked badly for the Herrera goal.
… but, was playing a reserved first half game part of, you know, part of a bigger picture plan? One that wasn’t executed to perfection… but one that was at least executed.
Well, you certainly can’t deny we did come to life in the last 25 minutes. The second half was certainly punctuated by a much smoother flow. We found our game, played with more ambition and created the bulk of chances.
Wenger switched things up dramatically on the all too predictable 70th minute mark. He brought on Jack and Theo, switched Coquelin to right back and aimed to stretch United with penetrating break outs through midfield and blistering runs out wide. The result was positive-ish.
Theo forced United subs Blackett and Valdes into a disaster when they broke into the box, cut a hard low cross into Blackett, the ball ricocheted up and over a misstepping keeper. A strangely sweet equaliser.
… worth mentioning the stunning long ball from the impressive Ramsey!
So the game played out with a point shared a piece. The top four all but secured. We miss out on second, and we miss out on making much progress on our points tally of last term, but plenty to be pleased about.
Don’t become Pavlovs dog. You have to relearn how to watch Arsenal in this modern era of planning and doing clever things. I was as guilty as many of you. I didn’t see the plan, but on reflection, I totally can now. Arsenal play with purpose, we don’t just play to entertain.
Have we nailed it perfectly? No. Did we win yesterday? No. But a point away at Old Trafford is always an achievement. Sure, I understand that the United team we saw was average, but they’re managed by a Wiley old fox who is very good at getting the most out of average teams.
I think what yesterday showed is that we are still lacking quite a lot quality wise. If we’d had more quality around the pitch, we’d have made those three points ours.
Olivier Giroud really didn’t cut the mustard again. He made some very cute touches, but his finishing under pressure and his overall game just isn’t world class. He had two very good chances yesterday that a Thierry would have scored. He fluffed both. When the team is playing for one chance, you need someone who can convert it. That’s not Olivier long term. I also have major doubts about his lack of pace, really doesn’t work with counter attacking tactics. How much more would we get out of a Benteke style player?
I also think you’re starting to see the pitfalls of having a keeper that’s not quite there. I think Petr Cech would have done more with the Gomis goal last week and the goal yesterday. It’s a very subjective point, but I just don’t think he’s the right man. There aren’t many keepers in the Premier League that get away with being small. He’s managed it for a while, but I kind of feel like that’s more luck than pure ability.
I also think it’s interesting watching Bellerin. He’s an immensely talented young player, but jeez, he was getting roasted by Ashley Young yesterday. He’s certainly a player who relies on his pace to bail him out of trouble. I think I’d prefer to see a bit more stability in that role when Debuchy picks up his fitness.
Overall, it’s a bit of a tough one to get your head around. We played pragmatic Chelsea style football and picked up a pragmatic Chelsea style point. We all hate it, but we went there, did a job and now we’ve secured Champions League football without having to qualify.
The performance wasn’t what we’re used to seeing, but maybe that’s a good thing? Maybe that’s part of the evolution of the club?
Well, it can be part of the evolution if we build in the quality to deliver in those games. There are still very big quality gaps that could be filled this summer. Question always centres around whether the manager has the ruthlessness to deliver on it.
A drab point, but one that allows us to start thinking about the FA Cup final.
Onwards and upwards!