Disclaimer: I don’t hate Wenger. In fact, I love him. This report is about the Manchester United game, not about Wenger losing the plot or needing to spend money or anything like that. It is a look at our match-up with United.
I’ll run through the good before I get onto the bad on what was a dreadful afternoon at The Emirates.
First things first I thought our energy and effort was good, we created enough chances to score a few goals and our physical effort on the 50/50 balls was admirable.
Andrey Arshavin was purposeful and dangerous, Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song gave it their all in the middle of the park while William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen’s effort meant they did not deserve to concede three goals.
However, our gameplan was suicide.
Open, ultra-attacking football against the country’s best exponents of the counter-attacking game? Are you freaking kidding me? Did Arsene Wenger forget about last year’s 3-1 loss on the same ground in the Champions League final?
It is a harsh and simple truth that Wenger’s insistence on playing open football against Manchester United does not work.
Sure we’ve won games but when we do it is by the skin of our teeth. Last season’s 2-1 win at the Emirates is a good example, as are the 2-1 wins home and away in the first year at The Emirates. Games that were a knife edge all the way and where luck and one moment of brilliance were the deciding factors.
On the other hand when we lose, we get slaughtered. 3-1 yesterday, 4-1 on aggregate in the Champions League semi-final and the 4-0 loss in the FA Cup the season before.
The gamble Wenger takes when he plays open football against United is on our attackers taking more of their chances than their opponents. Recent history tells us that it is not a smart gamble, that United’s biggest weapon is their ability to make the most of their opportunities and the only time we’ve enjoyed success is when they’ve been profligate.
The most shocking thing is that Wenger has shown us he is aware of this.
He sent out a perfectly-balanced team to play a slow-paced possession game at Old Trafford earlier in the season and only a generous referee and Abou Diaby’s brain explosion stopped us from going home with the points. He also went for a similar tactic when Emmanuel Adebayor scored the only goal beat United at Old Trafford in 2006.
Yesterday we lost because Wenger again gambled that we would take our chances better than United. Yet again we didn’t and yet again we were destroyed. It’s becoming all to familiar and something needs to be done.
I also thought the manager’s team selection left a lot to be desired.
The inclusion of Denilson ahead of Aaron Ramsey effectively left us with a less attacking team than the one that so nearly won at Old Trafford earlier in the season. Yet he sent out this group of players with the mission of attacking much more willfully. It made no sense.
Aaron Ramsey is a player that has confidence in abundance and an attacking threat that is still hard to predict and counteract. He could have been our Diaby, our wild-card. His presence would have moved Fabregas back into the battling midfielder position that he appears to thrive in most. Instead Wenger went with Denilson, a player that was predictably invisible in attack and gift-wrapping United with their second and third goals.
Denilson’s effort to prevent Wayne Rooney from slotting home United’s second goal was a disgrace. He had a twenty yard head-start on the striker yet a lack of awareness and sheer laziness saw that margin gobbled up. When you compare Denilson’s effort with that of Vermaelen and Clichy, who tore back with immense speed and desire, it is almost embarrassing.
It is the sort of defending that is inexcusable in any game against any team. Against Manchester United’s counter-attacking expertise it is borderline insanity. Denilson should be dropped for a couple of games to make an example to the other players that this sort of thing is absolutely unacceptable. It cannot happen if we want to win league titles.
To compound the manager’s error with the starting team was his lack of proactivity with the substitutes when we were 2-0 down. At half-time Wenger needed to make a statement of intent: Nicklas Bendtner and Aaron Ramsey needed to come on.
Instead, he obviously considered that we were creating chances and that we just needed to convert one to get back in the game. Trouble was, so was United. Predictably the scored a third on the break.
From that point, just as with Cristiano Ronaldo’s stunning counter-attack goal in the Champions League, the game was over. The rest didn’t matter. We continued to put in the effort and the hardest man in Premiership football even got a goal. But it didn’t matter one bit.
I realise this is just one game but I’m really getting sick of losing to United.
They don’t have superior players. They don’t have an untouchable player like Ronaldo anymore (talk of Rooney destroying us is absolutely ridiculous) and they’re not unbeatable. But as long as Wenger continues to play open football then Alex Ferguson’s counter-attacking team is going to beat us more times then they lose.
In terms of the bigger picture the season is far from over but we desperately need to get a result at Stamford Bridge now. Otherwise just like last season, all our eggs will be in the Champions League basket.
Have your say on Arsenal’s 3-1 loss to United by leaving a comment.