In my last post I referred to an Arsenal- United encounter in 04/05 that was an important moment in a title-winning campaign for chelsea. Having viewed Saturday's game, one could be forgiven for thinking that history is repeating itself. The game was a tour de farce.
There's been ample moaning already from sickened gooners, myself included, and from our notoriously bitter manager, about the referee's performance, but that is something of an irrelevance. The question that Wenger and his team must privately pose is, HOW is such an off-colour United team allowed to escape that game with three points?
Forget the fact that Fletcher clattered through Arhavin in the area- the latter's goal came in the same passage of play. Forget that Rooney's knees were buckling before Almunia made contact with him- the keeper's stupidity was such that there was no choice for the ref except to award a penalty. It was Arsenal's continuously amazing STUPIDITY, and make no mistake, some of these guys are stupid, that gave the game away.
This was summed up best by Diaby's comical own-goal. In fairness, he had one of his best ever games, but is it really worth relying on players whose best games can involve literally gifting the opposition victory? Almunia deserves stick aswell, and Wenger deserves beating with a stick for lumping the team with this liability of a goalkeeper. The best goalies can be seen to be worth a lot of points in a season- Newcastle in the Premiership would be a much more distant memory if they hadn't had Shay Given, for instance- but this guy is LOSING us points. He doesn't make match-winning saves, and he also drops clangers. For a moment, after last season's first leg against United, I believed. I thought he'd finally made it. Then what? He ensures the tie is over with a wretched first ten minutes at the Grove. He's a joker. He showed it again on Saturday, as he had the weekend before against Portsmouth.
I've questioned the big-game character of the players here and I think this game showed I was justified. collectively, Arsenal were good to a point, but individual errors snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. United were wretched, there for the taking. But we gave them a shot of confidence in the shape of two gift-wrapped goals. After that, we were left with that familiar sight in a big game: no bouncebackability from Arsenal. If it was chelsea or Pool, there would have been a siege on United's goal, instead we got sporadic attacks with no real focal point. Probably shouldn't be too critical- we were missing Fabregas, Nari, Walcott, all first choice attacking players. The thing is, with United toothless and lacking fluidity, after Arshavin's wondergoal we should never have been left chasing it. We've looked more solid as a unit in midfield and attack, but the errors of one or two morons can undo a team's good work. Welcome to Arsenal, Vermaelen. No wonder Billy Gallas gets emotional sometimes. He used to be surrounded by pros at chelsea. contrast that with all the times at Arsenal that he's played a blinder and some idiot or another has contrived to render his performance meaningless. Fucking hell.
There SHOULD be optimism, because all in all, we looked superior to United, even without some important players. These must be worrying times for United fans, as Giggs, carrick and others looked rudderless. Again, I ask you, how did we lose that game? Last season, I would have been tempted to say the team lacks character. But now I think that does a disservice to a lot of the players. Most of them did their jobs well and were for an hour or so winning personal duels with their opponents. But it becomes more and more clear that people like Almunia and Diaby can't be carried.
As I've said before, Arsenal teams have had a habit of letting one poor result become a poor run of form. You know what? call it hyperbole, I call it the truth: Saturday September 12th, Manchester city away-one of the biggest games of Wenger's reign. The symbolism involved in ninety minutes of early season football couldn't get much more significant.