The team lost again on Saturday, so join me in a day of remembrance of what could have been. Leading into the clash with Manchester United on Saturday, Arsenal had a right to be confident. After a dismal August, the season had shaped up nicely, other than a few bad results. Our boys won the NLD comfortably and had already taken a point at Stamford Bridge. The Gunners also had a good record against United recently, especially at home. The likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Danny Welbeck were back fit and, just before kick-off, star striker Alex Lacazette was announced very unexpectedly as a starter. But what followed was a strange defeat.
So, what happened?
A Strange Defeat to Manchester United
Defensive Mistakes (Gifts)
As I said, Arsenal had a right to be confident, however they somewhat strangely didn’t show any real semblance to confidence. Their passing was just not up to par early on, and they got punished almost right away for it, leading to a strange defeat.
Laurent Koscielny decided to try and dribble the ball out from the back before sending a soft cross over to Sead Kolasinac. The wing-back clearly didn’t see Antonio Valencia closing in, else he wouldn’t have tried to get on the end of the pass.
Instead, his opposite number expertly swiped the ball and exploited the gaping space in our back line. The remainder of our defense got caught out trying to close down Pogba, who had the ball played to him, while no one covered Valencia, giving him far too much time and space in the box.
Perhaps Cech or Monreal (both had the ball pass between their legs) should have made a block, but the play was bad enough up to that point that the goal was deserved.
Less than ten minutes later, Mustafi also got closed down when trying to dribble out from the back, this time trying a superfluous outside-of-the-boot pass back across Jesse Lingard.
Lukaku, Martial and Lingard then combined beautifully to cut through Arsenal’s defense and score the second in less than twelve minutes.
There is no doubt that the United attack played these two incidents perfectly (or just about perfectly), but they were completely avoidable goals, at least from the Gunner’s perspective. Worse of all, Mustafi had to go off after picking up a knock on the second strike.
If we fast-forward past Lacazette’s goal, and what a good one it was, to the final goal of the match, we see yet another bad mistake from an Arsenal man.
With Manure breaking, Koscielny had to deal with Paul Pogba, leaving Lingard to be dealt with by Xhaka. The attacker exploited the space available in the box well, realizing that Xhaka was, in fact, ball-watching.
The Swiss didn’t even once check on his mark, allowing Pogba, once he out-muscled Koscielny, to pick out the pass easily. Speaking of easily, I can’t help but observe that Xhaka could have easily dealt with the cross if he had been in position.
Is De Gea That Good? Was the Finishing That Bad?
After a strange defeat, this is a reasonable question. You’ve heard the figures already, 14 saves on 15 shots on goal, good for best all-time by the United keeper on Saturday. In total, Arsenal collected 33 efforts both on and off goal, compared to four by their guests.
No doubt there were a few world-class saves made by the Spaniard over the weekend. But what does it say about Arsenal that they couldn’t get more than just the one goal?
I won’t try to say that the team should have won 10-3 or something, although that would have been great, but with all the talent on the team, how did just one goal go in?
By now we know Lacazette can and will be a success in the Premier League (8 goals so far), Sanchez has scored 20+ in the league and Ozil is no slouch. Wenger also brought on Iwobi, Welbeck and Giroud to add to the attacking potency of his team, all of whom have the ability to score.
To be fair, Mourinho did exactly what we thought he would and parked the bus and only had his men attack on the break, making their box a mess of bodies.
However, we all remember that spectacular save by De Gea on Lacazetteas well as Xhaka putting it just wide of the post. We all remember Lukaku nearly gifting us an own goal from the dangerous free kick by Sanchez.
It is easy to say that Arsenal were the better team who had the better chances and dominated the statistics. However, the truth is often more difficult to wrap our minds around. On Saturday, the truth might just be that the Gunners gave away three points to their opposition. Not such a strange defeat when thought of like this.
Ability or Mentality?
I guess it would be fair to say that it was neither down wholly to ability or mentality for either team. Yes, United took advantage of the mistakes very well, but what if they hadn’t been afforded the chances? What if Arsenal were as tight at the back as the Red Devils on the day?
Yes, our boys gave away three great chances, but they also created a plethora of scoring opportunities. What if De Gea was just the smallest bit slower on the day?
Then, perhaps, the game would have been different, but as the old saying goes, “We made our bed, now we have to sleep in it.”
For me, the performance after shipping the early goals is telling about this team. Unlike the 8-2 or 6-1 capitulations we have seen in the past, Arsenal didn’t hang their heads once the game was decided.
70%+ possession doesn’t happen to teams by accident, at least not against Manchester United. Even while playing a defensive system away from home, the Red Devils simply don’t allow the opposition that much of the ball.
Overall, I think the result proves two things; the mentality in that dressing room is not always right, and that Arsenal, ability-wise, are just as good as Chelsea, Man U, Liverpool, or any other team in the league (other than Man City) if not better.
For Wenger’s men it just seems like the result is dependent on which team shows up on a given day. Perhaps that’s from the manager, perhaps that’s from years of under-achieving or perhaps that’s just what the players we’ve signed over the years are like.
It’s just tough to know which one after a strange defeat.
The Silver Lining
Even the most optimistic fans would have probably admitted the title race was over, for us anyway, even before the game. In fact, it was likely before the Derby.
However, that doesn’t mean this year has to be a complete waste.
Today’s results proves we can re-take our place in the top four, or at least the team has the ability to. Add that to the team hiring both Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi, and it is clear that the future can (and hopefully will be) bright for Arsenal.
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