The Arsenal has now done it all! There is one Arsenal which has managed to collapse against Newcastle United by surrendering a four-goal lead, against Spurs by letting their perennial rivals come back from 3-1 down to draw the game, against Liverpool in the 101st minute by giving away a frivolous penalty, against Bolton by simply not concentrating during the dying minutes of the game. The same Arsenal has also won epic matches against Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester United at home throughout the course of the season, showing immense mental strength and solidarity in the process. One would wonder which the real Arsenal is. Such a determined performance against the league leaders was somewhat of an anti-climax to the title race. They have now opened the doors to neighbors and rivals Chelsea, who travel to Old Trafford next weekend in the title-deciding match. If Chelsea can win that game, that will again open up Arsenal’s chances of mathematically fighting for the coveted Premiership trophy.
No Cesc – Heartbreak?
The buildup to the biggest match at The Emirates of this season saw it’s most nervy moment when the news of Cesc Fabregas missing from the line-up reached the fans. A pandemonium of sorts broke out as fans declared that without the key to United’s defensive lock, Arsenal are not going to romp home with all points. So much so for the metaphor, Arsenal had the able Aaron Ramsey to replace Cesc and was well capable of some stellar moments. And so he was unleashed on the biggest stage, on the biggest event of the season. In Arsene, we trust, believed some!
Fillin’ up big boots – 14 months after being shawcrossed!
Those memories of Ryan ‘I am not that kinda guy’ Shawcross are still vivid among Arsenal fans. Ramsey was stretchered off with the players and fans staring at the sight in pain, agony and helplessness. Ramsey was reaching the peak of things with the Arsenal first team when this incident happened. Many believed that he won’t be able to come back strong and will suffer the same faith as Diaby and Eduardo – ‘brittled’! 14 months later, Ramsey was given the central ‘Cesc Fabregas’ role in the biggest match of his life. Critics wanted to see Nasri playing that role with Arshavin playing on the wings. Arsene had different plans, as always. Oh boy, it was Arsene’s master-stroke!
The Emperor Song and his two young soldiers – Jack and Rambo
Alex Song probably played the best match of his life, marshalling the midfield like an emperor with his two young soldiers – Jack and Rambo. He had Wayne Rooney in his pocket all match long, snatching, tackling, teasing the United key-man with ease and venerable competence. Alex Song had an air of ‘Patrick Vieira’ about him, quite ruthless in possession, and a certain incident involving the Cameroonian reminded us of the Patrick vs Keano battles. Way to go, Alex! Wilshere, as always, was the creative head of the team, driving forward and finding room with comparable ease. He completed 87% of his passes and if anybody could better that, it would be Cesc! Wait, the talismanic captain wasn’t featuring, so it was Ramsey with a pass success ratio of 89% quite rightfully filling the leader’s costly Nike boots and slapping Arsene’s critics one by one! The three combined incredibly well and didn’t let United get hold of the game in the center of midfield.
How Kosctly was this buy?
Arsene Wenger has this unique ability of surprising everybody with his stellar purchases. This summer he decided to bring in Laurent Koscielny from the ‘lesser’ French league who had just played one year of Top Division football. The defender has had a fantastic season so far, apart from the few minor glitches here and there. The latter is acceptable in the first season of a ‘rookie’, ain’t it? Kos was massive against United, sticking to his striker like a shadow and not letting the latter maneuver any kind of trick with the ball. Another master-stroke working for the Professor when it mattered!
United’s failure in strategy – 4-4-2 instead of 4-5-1
Alex Ferguson has been spot-on with his strategy in his last few visits to The Emirates, deploying a 5-man midfield with Rooney upfront. This time, he was stuck in a limbo; Chicharito has been in epic form while Berbatov, being the league’s top scorer, has been quite flabbergasted by the fact that the Mexican was starting ahead of him. So, the United manager decided to give the already-working Rooney-Chicharito partnership another go, not opting for his famous ‘Horses for Courses’ strategy. Oh, how it backfired! The midfield was dominated by Arsenal with an average age of 21 (What exactly did Arsenal need for next season?) and United looked quite lackluster in their attack. Rooney tried playing deep, but unfortunately, he is not really cut out for that kind of job. Rooney is a striker capable of giving opportunistic passes, but playing at the center of midfield he makes Paul Scholes look like Robbie Savage!
No Giggs, No Scholes, Anderson substitution another blunder?
United wins matches against Arsenal by not letting the Gunners play their game – by choking them from passing the ball with ease. In the absence of Giggs and Scholes, United were clearly struggling with the quick movements of Wilshere and Ramsey. Meanwhile, Sir Alex decided to sub Anderson, bring on Valencia, in the absence of any midfield player in the bench. Park was pushed inside and was given the responsibility of ‘shadowing’ Ramsey, which he clearly couldn’t. The Arsenal goal came with a mistake from Park, as the Korean left his man free and Ramsey didn’t need a second invitation to bury in Arsenal’s winner, saving grace of this season. More visual interpretation of the miss-marking is available here.
Snoods are dangerous, poor-refereeing is cool!
FIFA banned snoods because they thought snoods are some kind of performance enhancing cloth-covering around your neck which gives you wings and enables you to head the football at an unimaginable accuracy. For them, poor referring match-after-match is totally acceptable. While, Spurs were hard-done with a dubious decision by the linesman, Arsenal were hard-done by the linesman who noticed that the ball touched Vidic’s body but didn’t know what part of it was in contact. Selective Blindness? Chris Foy, in all fairness, had an amazing game for United, playing at the heart of their defense, blocking Arsenal’s attack-after-attack with no shilly-shallying. Proving that he was human after all, he failed to give a penalty for United, and making things even as far as blunders were concerned.
It remains to be seen whether Arsene invests in the summer with ‘big name’ signings, but this kind of performance by the team can really put him in a quandary. Is the team actually capable of performances of this magnitude? Or was this just a flash in the pan like the match against Chelsea and Barcelona? We’ll leave it to the professor to make all the mending that is required.