At the beginning of this season if you’d have run your finger down the fixture list and tapped lightly on the weekend of 27/28 April, I probably would have said to you I’d settle for a draw that week. Manchester United coming to town is always a tough fixture, especially for The Arsenal and our really poor recent run against them, but it’s one of those that you’d hope we could get something from the game.
Indeed, as the fixture approached and it looked like they might win the league on our home turf, the possibility of a draw didn’t seem so unappealing. When coupled with the draw that the Spuds got away to Wigan at the weekend, a draw on the face of it seems an ok result, as we still have a two point cushion over that lot and the hope that three wins out of three should see us into the Champions League spots.
So why is it that I feel a bit dejected this morning? Why do I feel like yesterday we saw two points dropped?
Probably because we did.
Before the game all the talk was about THAT person returning and a guard of honour. I couldn’t really give a monkeys about either and so my hope was that all of the distraction in the build up would allow us to catch our newly crowned opponents off guard. And I think it’s fair to say we did. The first 40 minutes was all Arsenal and within the first five we were one up. Theo got in behind Evra to slot the ball beyond De Gea and send my section of the crowd into delirium. It was exactly what we needed. In the media hyperbole that had been whipped up before the game most pundits and journos alike seemed to have forgotten there was a game to play. The team reminded them of that instantly.
The first half was Arsenal’s. Cazorla forced a good save, Gibbs had a shot over the bar and we were rarely troubled in defence, save for Szczesny’s face taking a knock from a header from that guy. We controlled and bossed the game for the most of that first half.
But Bacary, oh Bacary, what hath become of thee? As Arsenal fans we never underestimate the ability of this team to press the self destruct button. But on this occasion it wasn’t the collective switching off that cost us – just one – Sagna. I have no idea what his pass to that person was about, nor do I have any idea why he felt it necessary to lunge at the player whilst inside the box, but he did and it cost us. I think it’s fair to say that Sagna is no longer that consistent player he made his name on in seasons past. Yesterday he stunk the place out so bad it made my eyes water. And unfortunately it’s not the first time this season that he’s gifted goals to opponents through some comedy defending. At the beginning of the season he made comments about players leaving and that he wasn’t sure about a new deal. Well son, you’ve done a bang tidy job of increasing apathy levels amongst Arsenal fans this season with some of your performances, so don’t expect an uproar if you don’t get your new deal and are moved on. We often said that Arsene knows when a player has hit their peek and has historically been good at moving them on at the right time, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the failure to offer a new deal is of no coincidence at all. With Jenkinson waiting in the wings for his chance, Bacary’s number might just be up at the club, perhaps even having to settle for a squad position if he’s not moved on in the summer. I know this sounds very reactionist after a poor game, but his stock has declined after a series of poor games – just like Vermaelen – whilst Jenkinson’s has increased, so to me this doesn’t sound too extreme an opinion to share.
The second half was a little bit cagier from Arsenal and we failed to assert the same dominance as the first. We looked like we could get caught on the counter on a couple of occasions but you have to say that – right back apart – the defence by and large coped very well. THAT player didn’t really have much of a sniff and Rooney was also kept marshalled for most of the match.
Up the other end Rosicky went close and Santi forced a smart save from De Gea, but we were unable to breach the United defence. Without the benefit of any replays I can only give you my real-time view that Gibbs should had had a penalty, but when you’ve got big-fat-Phil-Dowd officiating, don’t expect any favours. Supposedly he personally went to Rio Ferdinand to apologise about the Walcott goal when it was shown that he was slightly offside. I wonder if the same personal touch was afforded to Arsene Wenger two seasons ago when he gave a second penalty up at St James’ Park for an invisible foul on Mike Williamson? I suspect not.
Many will see this as a point gained, and hopefully in hindsight I will too come the end of the season, but right now I can only see it as two points dropped. From what I saw yesterday, this wasn’t a United team at 100%, but probably at more like 70%. You could see that they were playing within themselves and were there for the taking, yet we could not muster enough composure – both offensively and defensively – to get those vital three points that could have provided a massive platform to complete the job before the last game of the season. That’s why I’m frustrated. That’s why I’m a little dejected. Because it shows me how far we’ve fallen that getting a draw against a half-trying United team is seen as a good result.
But we must carry on. We play a relegated QPR on Saturday and we simply must pick up three points. Our rivals for Champions League places probably won’t drop many more, so nothing except three wins from our next three games can be considered acceptable.
Come on Arsenal, one final push to get us over the line.