Well what a disappointment. I can’t say I’m suprised about the result except that it was low scoring. Given the players we had available this one was always going to be tough to get a result from but I think this match in particular highlighted our lack of depth and reliance on players who’re constantly injured. While I place no blame on Wenger for this(and plenty on the board) it sure would’ve helped to have players like Gibbs, Diaby or Rosicky able to play. Looking at it on paper I think Wenger had accepted the mountain he had to climb in this match to get a result and subsequently he chose a lineup designed to keep the scoreline tight until later on when he could introduce players like Walcott and Arshavin to give our offense a bit more punch and throw caution to the wind. Wenger must surely realise the incompatibility of the players on the left wing and I think Podolski was supposed to play slightly more defensive than normal. The other evidence of this cautious approach by Wenger was that we set up in a 4-5-1 formation not 4-4-1-1, Cazorla dropped deep and isolated Giroud up front who was there to simply pin United’s Center Halfs back.
However in order to play like this you need to not concede inside 3 minutes… I understand that Vermaelen was probably falling over as he attempted that clearance but I’d honestly rather he’d missed it altogether since Mertesacker had Rooney covered. The simple fact is that Vermaelen was out of position in the first place, too far up the pitch and backpeddaling so quickly that he made the error. Is this what we expect from our captain? Hell No. It didn’t help that after this massive cockup he then proceeded to disappear into his shell, feeling sorry for himself instead of trying to rally the troops and inspire them. It’s times like this we need to him to step up and show why he’s captain, all he did however is show why he shouldn’t be. He was at fault for the second goal also, failing to get goal side of Evra(one of United’s shortest players) and allowing a free header from 6 yards, although Mertesacker may’ve mistimed his jump and missed his clearance attempt as a result also.
Andre Santos once again copped a lot of blame but it’s really not his fault that he’s playing with a winger he’s incompatible with. It’s like telling someone off for being left handed, it’s natural to them. You can put a real spin on it by saying why on earth can’t Podolski play wide as a left winger should? The end of the day it’s neither players’ fault and simply unfortunate. What we do need to be looking at however is a left winger option who will fit with Santos’ style whenever Gibbs is unavailable to start. Vermaelen likewise isn’t very compatible with his style since he kept pushing forwards and left a lot of space in behind Santos which Valencia and Rafael exploited. I can’t say I blame Santos for surging forwards either, at least he was trying to make a difference.
Jack Wilshere was also a focal point in this match. It’s hard to place too much blame on the lad since he’s still coming back from injury. He went in rashly on a few tackles and I think his first yellow was far worse than the second where it appeared that he hadn’t regained his fine touch on the ball yet, had it roll too far from him and caught the player stretching for the ball. A lot of fingers have been pointed at Wenger for not subbing Jack off, particularly since Ferguson showed good judgement in removing Cleverly who was also on a yellow. However Ferguson was not in Wenger’s position of being 2-0 down and needing to attack. Since there were no offensive midfielders available on the bench his option was to bring on the more defensive Coquelin and blunt our offense. Sometimes you have to take a risk and this time it didn’t pay off. It’s worth noting that after half time we switched to a 4-4-1-1, aided by the fact that Rooney was too tired by that point to keep on pressing Arteta. This allowed Cazorla to position himself further up field, linking up better with Giroud. Walcott was also introduced for Ramsey and we looked dangerous for about 10-15 minutes before Wilshere was sent off which effectively killed any comback attempt. It’s a real pity that Ramsey had already subbed off at this point as Wenger could then have safely subbed Wilshere off, brought on Walcott to Right Wing and moved Ramsey into Wilshere’s position, thus retaining an attacking midfield and placing Ramsey in a more natural position now that we were chasing the game.
One other noticeable thing when you look through the passing stats is the amount of passes from Mertesacker(101 passes) compared to Vermaelen(73 passes). In most matches they have about the same, the reason they are so different is due to Van Persie shadowing Vermaelen when not in possession, forcing our passing to channel through Mertesacker instead, just one more thing that United did right to make life harder for us. In the end they outplayed us and outfoxed us. Mannone made some great saves to keep the scoreline down and had a good game while Arshavin also showed promise after coming on and being the catalyst for Cazorla to score a really solid goal but it wasn’t enough this time.
Conclusion and Improvements: I think the two biggest things to take out of this loss is that we really need better squad depth rather than relying on injury prone players to help us out when we’re a bit stretched. This of course is difficult with our limited budget but should be a longterm aim for the club. Secondly, we’re new to playing the double pivot midfield and it shows. Arteta being man marked and pressed hard by the opposing attacking midfielders is a game changing problem we need to learn how to solve. Both Chelsea and United have now made us pay for this with Arteta being so key for our passing out of defense. The other midfielder, in this case Wilshere needs to help out by dropping deeper and becoming our anchor, allowing Arteta to push further forwards. That’s how a double pivot works, Chelsea have done it well for years through the likes of Essien, Lampard and Mikel and it’s something we need to learn as well, though it will take time.
Lastly Koscielny deserves a chance as the starting Center Back next to Mertesacker, who was once again outstanding. Vermaelen has made many mistakes this season, he was responsible for both goals vs Chelsea, the 1st goal vs Schalke, both goals in this match etc. If any other defender made these errors they’d be crucified but because he’s our captain he’s cleared of blame? If anything he’s more culpible and really needs to lift his game. He’s an excellent defender when in form but at the moment he’s costing us dearly. As for Wilshere’s send off, he’s young and just back from injury. He will learn from this experience.