Sunday, August 30, 2009

Arsenal gift wrap United points as champions get lucky....

Arsene Wenger will wake up this morning knowing that his team should have won at Old Trafford yesterday, the fact that they didn't was down to two poor errors of judgement by his goalkeeper and the burgeoning young French midfield star that is Diaby.

Arsenal hadn't lost a game this season prior to Saturday's 2-1 reverse, the Gunners have been in scintillating form, in contrast Ferguson's team have been struggling following the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez and in the wake of those big name departures the United manager stated that his team would have to play 'differently'.

The clash with Arsenal was the first big test of the season for both managers. As things turned out, despite the defeat and being sent-off, Wenger should be the more satisfied of the two managers, because without any shadow of doubt the Gunners' were by far the better of the two teams.

Going in this clash of the titans, Arsenal were without arguably their best player in Fabregas who is out injured. For his part, Ferguson was denied the services of his first-choice 'keeper and Rio Ferdinand. The team that Ferguson sent out to battle consisted of just one striker, Wayne Rooney. Ferguson is seemingly reverting back to his bad old tinkerman days when playing one striker, on this occasion against a team that is probably the best at retaining the ball, which raises many questions.

Had the United manager forgotten the champions were playing at home?

Was this his definition of playing differently?

Does Ferguson have any faith in Berbatov and Owen to play in the big games?

Will the United manager continue to play 4-5-1 at home in the toughest looking fixtures?

Does Ferguson have any faith in his midfield?

Are United's current midfield options so lacking that the manger feels he has to flood it every time we face title contenders?

Notwithstanding unanswered questions, it was a tactic that was doomed to failure given that Rooney is 5'8" and therefore totally unsuitable to playing the lone striker role. It was a tactic that was bound to gift possession back to the visitors and predictably it did, eventually. However, despite the handicap of playing with just one striker, United did manage to somehow have the greater share of possession in the opening period; this was largely down to sheer effort rather than class and use of the ball.

Ryan Giggs had been selected in preference to Anderson, but the Welshman's first -half performance was woeful, more or less every time he came into contact with the ball he either gifted it back to Arsenal or else he simply played it to no one in particular.

Nani wasn't much better on the left; it was noticeable that the Portuguese winger was given an earful on more than one occasion after taking the wrong option and losing the ball. New signing Valencia simply wasn't in the game and apart from one good cross to the back stick; Clichy kept the Ecuadorian in check.

United huffed, puffed and harried Arsenal, but much of the champions attacking play was disjointed. Despite edging the first half possession stats, it was United who went behind five minutes before the break when Arshavin escaped the attention of United's five-man midfield who invited the Russian to shoot and there's no one better from thirty yards. The resulting thunderbolt flew beyond the flailing arms of Ben Foster who perhaps should have done better, though nothing should be taken away from Arshavin's fine effort.

The opening goal rocked United and from that point on it looked like there'd only be one winner and it wasn't going to be the champions. The first-half came to a close and United hadn't managed to register a direct effort on Almunia's goal.

Those United fans expecting positive half-time changes would have been disappointed as Ferguson elected to retain his starting eleven for the second period; quite how Giggs hadn't been withdrawn was to say the least baffling.

The fact that Ferguson chose to retain the same system with the same players was damning, because the balance of this game had clearly swung the visitors’ way and something needed to be done by the United manager, but he did nothing.

Arsenal could easily have extended their lead early in the second-half, but they were denied by Ben Foster who redeemed his first-half error when saving Van Persie's effort who must have thought he'd scored from just six yards out.

Then against the odds and following a rare moment of inspiration from Ryan Giggs, the Welshman slotted an incisive pass through the heart of the Arsenal centre-backs, and United were rescued by Almunia who brought down Rooney inside the penalty area. Rooney was actually running away from the goal, even if he'd managed to control the ball there was an awful lot still to do, but thankfully the champions were given a get-out-of-jail-card with the award of a penalty which Rooney converted in style.

Despite drawing level, it was Arsenal who were still the dominant side. All too often United reverted to simply lumping the ball in the air from back to front in a vain attempt to find Wayne Rooney, inevitably the ball ended up back in the possession of the visitors'. The net result of Ferguson's hit and hope tactics was sadly predictable; at times it was like watching a lower division team play.

United had another narrow escape when only the woodwork denied Van Persie whose curling left foot drive looked to have beaten Foster all ends up, that effort came about following the award of a free-kick which been given after Diaby had been fouled by Evra.

Ferguson's tactics did not deserve anything from this game, but on 64 minutes and for the second time on what turned out to be United's day, the champions somehow escaped from jail again when a Giggs free-kick was inexplicably headed into his own net by Diaby.

Ferguson eventually made the belated decision to actually try to redress the balance of play; he replaced the ineffective Valencia with the equally ineffective Park, who contributed little of note.

Then on 85 minutes Ferguson finally brought on Berbatov in exchange for Giggs. United fans might well reflect that it actually took the champions until the 92 second minute before they created a genuine goal scoring opportunity, this came about when Arsenal were pressing for an equaliser and Nani played a superb ball to the feet of Berbatov, who surely would have scored but ironically on what turned out to be a day of extreme good fortune the ball bobbled unkindly and the Bulgarian totally miss hit his shot.

Arsenal had been by far the better side throughout the second period and they thought they'd equalised deep into added time through Van Persie, but his effort was ruled out for offside, which resulted in Arsene Wenger being sent to the stands.

In turned out to be a very strange day. Wenger had received his marching orders, which was quite amusing. United had won, but hadn’t deserved to, but nonetheless the performance of Ferguson and his team left many unanswered questions because on the evidence of this performance the champions look more or less totally devoid of ideas both on and off the pitch. It's doubtful United will be so lucky against Spurs and City.


  1. Brilliant match review, United did not deserve any points, and it was out of bloody dumb luck that we won. Although I'm happy that they did, for such points might prove valuable later on.

    Giggs screwed up, I cannot think of a better word, about three or four of United's promising counterattacks in the first half that could have yielded goals. Either he was too slow, too indecisive, or lacked the killer ball to Rooney, or Nani who ever were the players running ahead of him. Ronaldo or even Tevez would have surely made mincemeat of Arsenal on the counterattack because they(Arsenal) have adopted such a cavalier style of football.

    Arsenal gave a lot of gaps for United to exploit but their wing backs bested our wingers, and Evra was once again the only one of note down the left wing.

    O'Shea was completely outplayed by Arshavin, and I'm surprised you didn't note how his strike should have been saved one-handed with a solid punch, as Foster had reached the ball with relative ease. Foster is presently a decent goalkeeper, not a quality one like Van der Sar or Cech.

    United played like an away team and tried to strike back on the counterattack. And just as I was cursing Giggs for his performance in the first half, he, by some dint of luck found Rooney which resulted in the penalty, which wasn't too dissimilar to Eduardo's in midweek, as Rooney fell over Almunia's outstretched hands, not to say that it wasn't a penalty.

    An absolutely insane match, and a really poor one for Ferguson, was he really wearing a tie with City's colours? Flooding the midfield did nothing, as you rightly noted.

    Also, Van Persie wasn't in the best of form, and I could see the touches of immense quality as I watched Diaby closely in this game. His dribbling, passing, shooting and tackling are absolutely impeccable, and we have to thank him for his gift really.

    It was interesting to see Ramsey come on later on, a nice slap in the face of United. Brown had an uncertain performance, calm at some moments, and blown away by the pace of Arsenal at others. However, it was good to see him back to match fitness and he will get better as we go along, and we might even have a quality right back (at least one with defensive quality) in our hands again.

    Fletcher's faults were all too clear to see though, he didn't have composure in front of goal and couldnt link the defence and attack efficiently.

    You really wonder how much better Rooney could have been paired with a striker especially given the chances created later on. Not even Van Nistelrooy or Cole ever played as lone strikers, so really puzzling stuff, to say the least.

    Brilliant set of questions posed, by far the best post-match analysis I've come across on the interent.

  2. Last Saturday performance signal out one thing...United need major signing..URGENTLY!!

  3. Uday,

    Thanks for those kind words. I agree with almost everything you've posted in your reply, what I would say is I'm not sure about Foster and that Arshavin goal. The thing is he hits the ball so very hard it flew into the net and I'm not sure Foster could have stopped it tbh.

    Regading our defenders. I watched Barcelona play the other night and Pique is fast developing into one of the finest all-round defenders in Europe - another major dropped bollock by Fergie, but that is with the benefit of hindsight...

    As regards Rooney, we looked much better once Berbatov came on, at least we had another United player in proximity.

    It was a real rag bag of a performance and like I say we most definitely will not continue to be so lucky.

    Ferguson needs to wake up and get busy before that window slams shut but I fear it's too late for that, this summer has been one big wasted opportunity.

  4. As an Arsenal fan, I think it was a good objective post. However, I would like to point out a few things trying to leave my objectivity behind.

    Losing a game you probably deserved to win is part of football. The hard part is when the ref seems to be extremelly biased against you. That is, but shouldn´t be part of football. Having seen the Rooney foul, I think it isn´t a penalty, but it is at a minimum a suspect one. Then, the Arshavin one was pretty clearly a penatly. I reccomend going on youtube and deciding for yourself objectively.

    Forgetting the penalties the disproportianate number of yellows to fouls doesn´t really make sense. We got twice the number of yellows for fewer fouls. For example Van Persie´s phantom yellow. And Fletcher fouled so many times but was never booked.

    Lastly, I´d like to say I was disapointed by the lack of class by many United fans who chanted peodophile. I know it wasn´t everybody but there seemed to be a lot. I think this is EXTREMELLY inapropriate. Football is just a game and that kind of stuff shouldn´t come into it.

  5. Andrew,

    Regarding that penalty, my first reaction was it wasn't a penalty, but I've seen them given and of course United were at home...(if often goes like that and I've lost count of the number of dodgy decisions that have gone against United when playing Arsenal away)..

    As for the chants, I cannot really understand the logic behind that one as there's no substance to it.

  6. well said.
    hard luck for Arsenal.

  7. Can't argue that Arsenal were the better side.
    We are slow starters, so this win is really important to keep pace with the rest.
    Choosing a 3-man midfield perplexed me as well, and Giggs really did look out of sorts. Even Carrick didn't look great, we gave the ball away too easily.
    Assuming we don't step into the transfer market in the next few days, Rooney and Fletcher are easily going to be our most important players this season. Lose one of them to injury for a long period, and we lose any chance of winning anything. Fletcher really has improved over the last couple of seasons. And while he does lack composure in front of the goal, his industry will surely benefit us, given that no one has a clue as to when Hargreaves will return.
    Nani too is looking better, but yes, miles away from where we'd like him to be. Valencia looked like the worst buy of the season yesterday. And I wonder why we paid 16-17 million for him, when we could have got Sneijder for less?

  8. Nik,

    As I've been posting all summer, if United persist with our mid table club players and keep on signing them (Valencia) then we will eventually become a mid-table club.

    I don't rate Carrick and never have done, he was a Spurs player when they were very average and he comes into that bracket.

    I think Fergie may have lost his way with regards to players worth and identifying new talent.

    Regarding your point about 433, it was more like 451 because all too often Rooney was left completely isolated. Fergie paid too much respect to Arsenal, we were at home, but you'd never have guessed that if you didn't know.

    The worry is I can see Fergie using the same crappy system in the next two fixtures but by adopting this formation he is inviting the opposition to attack us.

  9. Nik,

    I'd like to just something that I've been driving at all summer long and this is in reference to what happened yesterday.

    When United had Ronaldo, they could afford to play 433 (or 451, call it what you will) because the manager knew that Ronaldo was always likely to pop up and score.

    Now we obviously no longer carry the same goal threat and so Fergie was quite right to say that United would have to play differently. In practice should have meant playing two up front in every game, but yesterday the idea that we would play differently was thrown out of the window as Fergie effectively said "all hands to the baricade" it was an embarrassing tactical climb down from his early season promise.

  10. Fergie's attempt at "playing differently" yesterday was absolutely embarrassing. Arsenal would have won on any other day, and ironically it would have been better that way so that Fergie can just finally open up his eyes and see that it's not working. It was frustrating because time and time again, possession was being given away in midfield, and when we did get the ball in the final third, Gallas and Vermaelen weren't even made to work. Fletcher was the only player who put in sufficient and constant work-rate in the game, but really even that is no substitute for real talent, as Arsenal clearly showed by bossing the midfield. Luckily for us, Arsenal did lose a little bit of steam after that own goal.

    I just pray Ferguson doesn't take the same tactics to White Hart Lane in two weeks time or we'll get slaughtered there (by a team who has an undesirable head-to-head record against us may I add).

  11. Nathan,

    I agree and sadly I can see Fergie deploying the same hit and hope tactics in the next two games.

  12. I agree with your review. Most of it is reflected on my review of the game on my blog, and I felt we were a good central midfielder short; someone who shows ambition to drive forward with the ball and also is not shy enough to shoot in the first place.

    Carrick can't shoot nor does he show enough ambition to drive forward. We can't just rely on Hargreaves getting fit. Personally, I feel Anderson has regressed too. Either case, he should have gone 4-4-2 because that's the only way I could see us linking up play between midfield and forwards.

  13. Red Ranter,

    I totally agree. Fergie's plans post Ronaldo appear to be in tatters just four games into the new season. I wouldn't mind but this situation was easy to predict. Fergie hasn't strengthened and everyone knows it.

    I've been hugely impressed with Adebayor and Barry and there's two players who would have undoubtedly added a lot to our squad but Fergie didn't have the gumption to sign the Arsenal striker - what's more Fergie admitted he wanted to sign for us. Fergie was so busy trying to belittle City and Adebayor that it obviously didn't occur to him there was a serious danger of making himself look dumb with his thoughtless admition.

    Having spoken one or two serious die-hard 'never miss' United fans, they are livid with Fergie's dealing this summer, so much so that they would like to see him out, which suprises me. As they said to me "what he's done in the past is history - he tells the players that at the end of each season, well just perhaps he should apply the same rules to his own situation"...

    My view is that Fergie had hoped to retain Ronaldo and that just perhaps he became pre-occupied with that problem and he's completely taken his eye off the ball where potential new signings are concerned. Why didn't we move for any of the Madrid players?

    The other secnario is that the Glazers' have put the block on transfers, but of course having brown-nosed them for so long the manager cannot say anything publicly.

    I've been saying all summer "prepare for a bumpy ride" and so I'm not surprised at the current state of affairs. The annoying thing is, Hughes has proven that you can reshape your team quickly with the addition of two or three quality players.

    United will pay a high price for the manager's poor planning this summer. Personally, I won't be complaing too much if we win nowt for a few seasons because I can see that happening.

  14. Over the past, United's best performances against Arsenal have come when we matched them attack for attack.But on Saturday, the Manager got cowed by Arsenal's ability to pass and surge forward at lighting speed that he chose a system which played right into their hands.Although i am gleeful that we did not pay any price for it, i don't find it baffling or inexplicable.Against good teams, this midfield simply cant dictate play, and Ferguson knows that.We adopted the same formation against Barcelona, but for Fletcher, Saturday would have been as embarrassing.

    Fletcher, although not even half as good as Keano, is fast maturing into the steel man of United midfield.Carrick, on the other hand, lacks the courage or vision to take the play past the midfield into the final third, sometimes he seems reluctant to even try. It makes me want to throw my remote at the screen every time he makes a back pass. Sadly, we are still reliant on Scholes, way past his prime, to make incisive searching passes.

    We can harp as much as we want about Ferguson's transfer inactivity, and even I would like to wake up tomorrow and read that we signed Ireland, but I guess the club will have to find answers to it's midfield deficiencies from within.A few months ago I would have said Ando is replacement for Scholes, but now i will say the manager, with an amalgam of hope and helplessness, should thrust Gibson into that role. Yeah, he is still underdeveloped, but necessity calls for such a desperate measure.

    Lastly, I cant think a team that struck silver with such a sub-standard mid-field.

  15. Reddy,

    Bad news travels fast in the Premier League and it won't take long for visiting teams to start to have a go at United if Fergie continues to be so negative. IF Fergie continues to play Rooney his own and despite genuine concerns about midfield, he is inviting trouble.

    Scholes should have retired, he is sadly finished IMO.

  16. -Valencia seems to be a one track pony, punt the ball past the left back and try to run down the line. He seems impotent when coming in.
    -Carrick has been found out, finally. Slow and not the multi-dimensional player we need.
    -Anderson might as well have been played behind Rooney, considering what giggs did through out the match. That pass apart!
    -Fletcher for all his great work the last year or so, is our stand out player in midfield. It worries me deeply that he is, does not say much about our midfield!
    -Rooney and Berba are impotent on their own.
    -Park is over-rated, i would rather see Gibbo play!
    -Sneijder/Van der Vaart would have been better buys than Valencia, unless he proves otherwise over the season.
    -I am worried about where we are supposed to be a threat from, there is no one touch movement or intelligent passing in the midfield or any pace to take defenders on up front!
    -I just hope Chelsea are too old to maintain this the whole season, Arsenal too naive and the scousers, well they are doing a good job of imploding themselves!

  17. Elvido,

    I agree with you on those points. Thank god for Chelsea (never thought I'd post those words) because if we are going to have a poor season, as I fear we are, then at least it won't be City or Liverpool who wins the title.

    I was concerned about Valencia before he arrived, he's a mid-table club Premier League player. Yes, he can beat a man, but what else can he do? But in fairness, he's probably better than Park and Carrick who I really do not rate one bit.

    Fergie seems to have lost his way with regards to what it takes to be a really top player.

    I don't like harping on about this because I'm beginning to sound like a god-forsaken city fan. But next time you watch City look at how well Barry is linking up with Ireland. In no time at all Hughes has found the perfect blend. In Barry he has a solid defensive midfield player who can sit in front of the back four and do that job extremely well (Carrick does not) and in Ireland he has a good creative player.

    Thing is neither Barry or Ireland are world-beaters, but put them together and they really do complement each other.

    Fergie appears to be totally incapable of finding that blend. Why of why didn't try to sign Barry? According to one weekend report he tried to sing Ireland...

  18. James,
    I agree about the Barry issue, if he is consistently being picked ahead of Carrick in the national team and has put in good performances against us, I was hoping we would make a bid for him when he was available at that price! But then who would be the creative force making runs in to the box? Guess we need both cogs of the midfield but some one better than Ireland.
    Well, I hope that Gibson pulls one out of the hat or Anderson finally makes use of all that potential!

  19. Elvido,

    Ireland is a good player actually, he's better around the penalty area than any of our central midfield players. He knows when to make runs and that's partly why he will out-score our lot this season.

    Fergie is in a mess. I think he's taken his eye off the ball and has become lazy, this is entirely because he could rely on Ronaldo. You could argue he's been unlucky with Hargreaves, but like Owen he was injury prone before he arrived.

  20. I agree, but it's not like this situation would not have been anticipated, surely? If we knew that Ronaldo was off there mus have been some plan. Instead making a late-ish bid for Owen then signing average players was surely not THE plan... Guess, i am hoping Fergie, as he does more often than not, proves us wrong!

  21. Elvido,

    Ever since Fergie made his plan public I've been saying it isn't going to work, it was a nonsense and either he's daft or he else he thinks everyone else is.


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