Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal
Another big game, another defeat, and the unwelcome stat about our record against Chelsea and Man Utd can be dusted down, edited and bandied about. I’ll spare you the pain of repeating it but it doesn’t make pretty reading.
I was confident, if we played as we are capable of playing, that we would give Utd a very good game last night. We never crumbled defensively and we acquitted ourselves well physically (a little more robustly than was needed at times, even), but we were horribly toothless and in the end, nobody can complain that we came away with the mandatory nul points from Old Trafford.
It has become a familiar refrain for the fans and you have to wonder whether the same sense of fatalism when encountering these fixtures has also affected the players. We played well within ourselves from a creative point of view. No doubt Utd’s gameplan partly involved cutting off the supply lines and disrupting our rhythm at the earliest opportunity and those two things made our performance disjointed. Well it worked. We found no real way through and didn’t look like finding one.
No, they are not the best Utd team ever seen but they play for each other, they do not let up and they adapt very impressively from team to team and match to match. They are unbeaten in the league all season and while that might be a little fortuitous (we had a bit of that luck ourselves in 2004 to remain unbeaten) it also tells you that they retain the art of not losing even when not at their best.
Oh for a bit of that ourselves. We have now lost five league games and when playing below our best, it is clear to all comers that we are beatable.
At some point or other the discussion will loom as to whether this team is merely experiencing growing pains, or whether more unpalatably, too many of them are simply not good enough or lack the required mental edge to move up a level. You will forgive me for not having that conversation now.
One or two players deserve a mention of sorts. Szszesny came in for his first ever league start in the game you would least want to make your debut in and did very well. He’s a tall lad – much taller than the Flaps – and he has a commanding air about him. He was a little nervous as you might expect but given the circumstances, I thought he was superb. He made several good saves and could not be cricitised for their goal. For all that, the merry-go-round that is our goalkeeping situation cannot be doing anyone any good. I know Fabianski was injured last night (albeit not enough to not be on the bench) and will no doubt come back on Saturday, but the fact that some of us were talking about retaining Szczesny as number one on the back of one performance tells you all you need to know. Arsene, who is our number one? Who will be our number one next season?
Clichy came in for a bit of flak too (from me as much as anyone) and is another of those players who divides opinion. He looked shaky at times last night but in his defence, he had zero help from the man in front of him, Arshavin, who had a stinker of a game. I’ve defended the Russian all season but last night it was something akin to a miracle that he lasted as long as he did.
Overall, a really disappointing, but let’s be honest, not unexpected result.
We simply move onto the next game against Stoke. I don’t know what to expect from that as much as I didn’t know what to expect from last night. We could be one thing or we could be another.
All I do know is that we are still up there – eye-rubbingly, perhaps remarkably – in contention and with Man Utd & Chelsea locking horns on Sunday, we can go top of the table.
Yes, I know. It’s all a bit nuts.