There was a brief period during yesterday’s win when I was absolutely convinced we were about to throw the whole thing away. It was straight after Giroud’s goal (which, by the way, even though he was magnificent, de Gea should have had) when the familiar rising panic in the chest and hands clasped over the head were completed by a shout “DON’T FUCK IT UP!”
In reality of course it was Arsenal who really fucked it up, specifically Welbeck, Wilshere and Gibbs. Danny, for all his cracking pace and movement, would have done zilch to convince Van Gaal that letting him go was the right thing to do. He had two great chances in the first half and his finishing let him down, as per usual.
It’s just as well, because our duck tape defence of Blackett, Smalling and McNair was beyond appalling in the first forty minutes. They pretty much looked drunk; Smalling has a kind of gormless face on most of the time but all three of them had so much space in between each other it’s a miracle we didn’t concede. After the game van Gaal said:
“If Arsenal had scored in the first twenty minutes it’s a different game. And then maybe I have to respond to all the questions asking why I chose three centre-backs. But now I can laugh.”
Well, yes you can Louis. But only because Jack Wilshere couldn’t hit a barn door with a cow’s arse (or whatever). I mean I know Van Gaal’s a genius and everything but there’s no way he could predict that kind of profligate finishing and work it into a game plan. Could he? Christ, perhaps the man is a genius.
I like to give Smalling a hard time – I still think he’s very poor in possession and not really a United standard centre half – but I will concede that he and the back line settled in the second half and looked far more in control. By that point though, Arsenal were looking desperate and the crowd were getting on their backs. Apparently someone near the press box even held up a banner reading: “Enough is enough – Wenger out.”
The appalling miss by the decent but snarling, petulant Wilshere made De Gea look even more world class than he is. Just because DDG used his wits to predict Wilshere’s choice of shot doesn’t mean that any crap finisher, including Welbeck, wouldn’t have pinged it in. Wilshere’s ludicrous reaction to a nothing challenge afterwards was embarrassing, and how Mike Dean didn’t even book the kid is baffling.
The goal, when it came, was another fuck up, with either Sczezny not shouting or Gibbs not hearing him if he did. There was a gentle push by Fellaini that took Gibbs into the keeper but I’m not convinced it was a foul; Gibbs was already heading in that direction like a train and Fellaini looked like he just helped him on his way. In any case, Gibbs didn’t complain which probably tells you rather a lot.
However crap Arsenal’s finishing was I still think we were lucky to go into half time at 0-0. Van Persie was completely anonymous – I think by the end he had had 12 touches on the ball – and again looked at times as if he just didn’t want to be there.
There’s an enormous sadness that seems to be following RVP. His eyes look lifeless and his movement is slow, reluctant. Thinking back to when he scored that ridiculous header against Spain at the World Cup and sprinted to the manager for a high five, his steep decline has been all the more baffling.
I think it was Shearer on Match of the Day (don’t even get me started on Robbie Savage’s red card bullshit last night – give me my licence fee back etc) talked about how he was doing more defensive work and found himself out wide too much. But the problem isn’t one of positioning so much as how fragile his mental state appears to be. Sometimes he just looks like he doesn’t really want to get forward and score.
On a more positive note, I thought Michael Carrick was generally superb, his finest moment a body-on-the-line shot block right towards the end. He may not be flashy, Carrick, but in a team packed with flapping donkeys (Smalling) and jumpy rabbits (Blackett) he brought a real calmness and experience and was a very underrated presence back there.
When we finished them off though, Arsenal’s bizarre tactics made us look better than we really were. They’ve done it all season, piling men forward with scant regard for the notion of a counter attack and they did it again yesterday. At one point there were nine (NINE!!) men in front of the ball and it wasn’t terribly difficult for Rooney and Di Maria to sprint down the other way. It was, though, a perfect pass from the latter and confident finish from the former.
I’d also like to take a moment to admire the placement of the away fans at the Emirates, perfectly positioned for the us to see the ecstatic pandemonium when we scored. Di Maria should have done it again when Arsenal apparently decided that nine wasn’t enough and piled what appeared to be pretty much the whole squad forward. Di Maria’s finish was rubbish though. Jack Wilshere rubbish.
Despite that finish Di Maria looked far more comfortable given more space to roam and threaten at will. Being farmed out onto the left touchline did him no favours whatsoever, so let’s hope that van Gaal’s learned that particular lesson. Di Maria just has too much creativity and vision to be stuck out wide.
So really, whilst it’s brilliant to win away the for first time this season and sitting pretty in fourth place is a good feeling (man, have things changed) the truth is we owe a lot of it to Arsene Wenger’s tactical incompetence and his players’ awful finishing. Chelsea, and probably City, wouldn’t have let us get away with that horrendous first 40.
The key now is that we have to use the confidence of an away victory against a rival as a springboard for some serious consistency. In the next two weeks we have Hull and Stoke at home, so six points is an absolute must. But we can all sleep well knowing we got one over Arsenal in north London.
That’s enough for now – more tomorrow when I’ll have a closer look at both manager’s comments. Don’t forget to watch it all over again on MOTD2, Savage-free.