Did this weekend signify the falling of another “horse” in what has become a “two-horse race”? It has been well documented that Arsenal are facing a crucial period in their season: Villa away last week, United at home last Sunday, and then Chelsea at the Bridge next weekend followed by the visit of Liverpool midweek. 1 point from the first two of these fixtures doesn’t signify a good return, and Arsenal really need 6 points from the next two games to justify their tag as title contenders. However, in a season when the top teams have dropped points at the most unexpected times, more worrying than their points count is the manner of their performances against the big teams this season.
Claims from Wenger that his side are a “different beast” from the team that limped to a 4-1 aggregate defeat in the Champions League semi-final now ring with a distinctly hollow tone. The 3-0 mauling by Chelsea at the Emirates was hard to swallow, but ultimately could be put down to a Drogba master-class. However, it seemed to me (an onlooker in alas, only 2D) that despite excellent performances from Rooney and Nani in particular (and although it pains me to say it, the effective Park Ji Sung), Arsenal’s reaction to their oppositions combination of graft and beauty lacked spine. Nani’s unexpected upturn in fortunes was impressive, but any defence that lets him trick himself through two defenders and then has their goalie turn the ball into his own net is suspect by my books. Arshavin added fuel to arguments that he is enigmatic, his normally lethal finishing suffered from a disastrous crosshair misalignment, and all-in-all United’s excellent attacking performance was significantly helped by some of the defending on show.
United’s second goal undoubtedly belongs in the top draw - it looked like the team we have watched for the last 3 seasons. However, I would argue that there were at least 3 Gunners’ defenders who were more concerned with watching the ball than tracking the run of Rooney, and they were predictably punished. Bacary Sagna was slow and sluggish in closing down Nani, and his team mates didn’t seem particularly bothered with much except being in and around the box. Add to that the third goal from Park, a player noted more for his work ethic than sublime runs, but low and behold, Arsenal managed to allow him to penetrate their entire team
I don’t mean to take away from what was undoubtedly a vintage performance from Ferguson’s team, but reports in the press that Wenger felt “let down” by players he had put so much faith in sound like an accurate account of the Frenchman’s reaction - this was not how he had written the script, and although attacking flair has always typified his Arsenal teams he has never been a manager to suffer defending like this gladly. Wenger’s comparison to a beast surely requires a massive reaction to this performance, and if his metaphor is accurate then Chelsea will suffer the backlash. However, I predict that next Sunday will in fact simply compound the Gunners’ misery, and it might have to wait until the visit of Liverpool for the reaction to surface.