Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fear of losing holds Arsenal back

Whatever I wrote about Arsenal’s 0-0 draw against Chelsea earlier in the season may as well be repeated here. The 0-0 draw at the Emirates on Wednesday night with Manchester United was a dreadful game, and all too reminiscent of the bore draw in December.
Going into that game with Chelsea, Arsenal had just conceded six away to Manchester City, so understandably didn’t want to lose the game. The defending was more focused, but the attack was slow and unadventurous as Arsenal didn’t want to get caught on the counter attack. Chelsea were happy to play for a point, meaning the game was pretty turgid viewing.
The same happened on Wednesday, but in many ways it was much more frustrating. Had Arsenal played this Manchester United team a week ago, I’ve got no doubts that the Gunners would have won. Unfortunately, the scars of the 5-1 defeat to Liverpool were still very fresh. This United side look like a mid-table team. I can’t decide if Sir Alex Ferguson was that good a manager, or if David Moyes is that bad, because the same players look like a shadow of the team that won the title last season. New signing Juan Mata was wasted on the left wing, and there was no creativity in the centre of the pitch. They played in the same way to how Everton did at the Emirates last season under Moyes’ management, and a similar game that day ended 0-0.
For Arsenal, the lack of width and movement enabled Manchester United’s back four and deep midfield to smother Arsenal’s attempted intricate moves forward. Mesut Ozil was much more lively, however the number of times he was in good positions but didn’t have the runners to pass to was extremely frustrating. Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey are being badly missed, and whilst Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla are excellent players, they aren’t wingers that will run in behind the defence or stretch the opposition to create more space in the centre. Even when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on, he didn’t exploit the space in behind Patrice Evra, meaning all of Arsenal’s attacking possession was slow and in front of the defence.
The main chances that Arsenal did create fell to Olivier Giroud. Once again, he worked so hard for the team, but as the only decent front-line centre forward at the club, he will be judged on goals. He couldn’t finish a few headed opportunities and couldn’t get on the end of Bacary Sagna’s excellent low cross in the second half. When others in the team share the goal-scoring burden, Giroud looks great because of his all round contribution. When they don’t, Giroud can look exposed to the pressure of having to be the man to fire in the goals that will win Arsenal games. He looked knackered at the end of the game, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either Nicklas Bendtner or Yaya Sanogo start in the FA Cup on Sunday with Bayern Munich to come next week. However with the FA Cup representing a good trophy chance, Arsenal fans won’t be too keen at the idea of either Bendtner or Sanogo being on the team sheet.
At least Arsenal were much better defensively, with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny looking good at home again. Manchester United only had a couple of clear-cut chances, with an Arteta error allowing van Persie to shoot in the first half, before the Dutchman had a second half header brilliantly saved by Szczesny. Once again, the Pole helped save points rather than making a mistake that cost the team.
A draw is hardly a disaster as the Gunners are still just a point off the top of the table, but it does feel like an opportunity missed as this Manchester United team are so bang average. It would have been extremely careless of Arsenal to lose the game, so the cautious approach was understandable, but there did seem to be scope to really attack Manchester United and not just settle for a draw. It was a small step to getting the hammering at Anfield out of the system, but much bigger ones need to be taken against Liverpool on Sunday.