Well, we built up Arsenal’s clash with Man Utd last week, and it certainly didn’t disappoint, with an enthralling contest taking place between the two sides on Sunday.
Somewhat surprisingly, it was United who emerged from the clash with the three points, and whilst this doesn’t necessarily mean that all is well in the United camp, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. For Arsenal, this was perhaps a reminder that they aren’t invulnerable. Let’s take a look at five observations from the weekend’s biggest game:
1. Zonal Marking At Set Pieces Fails Once Again
I’ve never understood Arsene Wenger’s enthusiasm for zonal marking, but given his considerable success over the last 20 years, I’m loathe to criticise the Frenchman’s approach. However, one thing I will say is that whilst zonal marking can work in open play, it doesn’t work at set-pieces. Robin van Persie’s goal was a case in point.
The Dutchman started from a deep position and ran nine or ten yards to nod the ball into the top corner. He was unchallenged throughout the entire process. If van Persie had been man-marked as opposed to zonal-marked, the chances are that he would never have managed to connect with the ball, let alone guide it so perfectly into the right-hand corner. Wenger’s stubbornness and lack of flexibility when it comes to marking ultimately cost the manager three points, and sees their five point lead cut to two.
2. Robin Van Persie Really Is A Man Utd Player
Prior to Sunday’s game, Arsene Wenger was quoted as saying that he still thought of Robin van Persie as an Arsenal player. Last season it could have been argued that the Dutchman agreed, as he quite markedly refused to celebrate following his first goal against his former club.
Not this time. Following some abuse from the Arsenal fans, van Persie looked pleased as punch to have scored against his old club, and celebrated wildly, sprinting over to congratulate the corner-taker Wayne Rooney. Note to Arsene Wenger: if that’s what an Arsenal player looks like, there’s something not quite right.
3. Fantastic Atmosphere At Old Trafford
David Moyes was quite right to make sure that the fans received the same plaudits as the players as the Old Trafford faithful served up their best performance of the season. Given the difficulties that United have had so far this season it was fantastic to see the fans getting behind their team, and there’s no doubt that their volume and enthusiasm was a factor in a crucial win for Moyes’ side
4. United Did The Job But…
I don’t wish to take anything away from Man Utd. They beat the league leaders and deservedly so. However, it must be remarked that although this win against Arsenal should indeed be a cause for a celebration, it certainly shouldn’t gloss over the fact that United have still got quite a lot of work to do.
Essentially they beat Arsenal by totally nullifying their threat and scoring one goal from a set-piece following some dreadful defending from the North London side. This wasn’t a United side of old, who asserted their own authority on the game, but rather a United team who stifled the opposition and scored a good, but slightly fortuitous goal.
Moyes employed an extremely deep defensive line, being only too aware of Arsenal’s penchant for balls in behind and it paid off, but this tactic won’t always work. For United to be real title contenders they will have to go out and win games as opposed to relying on a set-piece or slice of luck. The omission of potential match winner Adnan Janujaz was particularly instructive, with Moyes’ first thought to stem the Arsenal tide as opposed to creating one of his own.
5. This Arsenal Side Was Not The One We’ve Seen So Far This Season
Every team puts in a poor performance from time to time, it just happened to be extremely bad luck for Arsene Wenger’s side that their poor performance coincided with a game against Man Utd. Unfortunately for Arsenal, their big players just didn’t turn up at Old Trafford, with Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud all putting in fairly insipid performances.
What should be of more concern to Wenger than one poor performance is his team’s clear lack of a Plan B. Their paucity of striking options has been well documented, and yet Wenger has not moved to improve them, instead relying on Nicklas Bendtner to provide back up from the bench. Needless to say, he isn’t good enough.