The only place I can start today is to say just how massively disappointed I am. Disappointed with the result, disappointed with making a lot of despicable people happy, disappointed our fans went home on that freezing night empty-handed.
Before the game there was a genuine buzz of excitement in and around the stadium. I’m not a regular match-goer of course, but it was definitely the best pre-game atmosphere I’ve been part of in the last year.
This aura of positivity was infectious. The Tollington, an Arsenal pub, was packed, everyone was discussing the surprise inclusion of Alexandre Lacazette and there was a feel-good factor about Arsene Wenger getting one over Jose Mourinho with such a trick.
The announcer at the stadium felt the excitement and was more lively than usual and when the Arsenal team piled onto the pitch it was met with a standing ovation and loud cheers. Little did any of the 60 thousand fans knew just how horribly, and how quickly, things will go wrong.
The first two goals
We found ourselves 2-0 down inside the first 12 minutes. We didn’t really get into the game before that, but our horrible defending gave the attackers a mighty handicap very early in the game.
For the first goal, Koscielny’s pass upfield was intercepted, Valencia ran onto the ball, was quicker to it than Kolasinac, but our defensive lapse only got worse there. Three of our players rushed to cover Pogba, left Valencia completely unmarked on the edge of our box, and by the time Monreal realized just what a stupid thing we have done, it was too late. Petr Cech added the icing on this sh*tcake by letting in a near-post shot between his legs.
United doubled their lead almost immediately. This time Mustafi had a brainfart, decided to outwit Martial, lost the ball, and Martial released Lingard to slot home off the post. It was fancy footwork from Martial, but incredibly sloppy defending from us. Mustafi went off immediately after and Wenger said this:
“I don’t know what [injury] he has. I don’t know what’s wrong with him at all.”
To me that sounds not like Wenger doesn’t know, but that he simply doesn’t care to know. He is pissed off by how braindead Mustafi was for our second, and he simply doesn’t care. Or didn’t care in that moment, and I can understand the gaffer.
Our period of total domination
We put our sh*t together and started creating chances, but when the second goal went it I feared it was over. What kept me going were the Arsenal fans around me. They didn’t give up, they sang their hearts out, and some even expressed complete confidence we would win the game. The bloke next to me in Clockend actually put money on it during the break.
And look, I can see where that attitude came from. Mustafi’s injury gave Wenger the opportunity to introduce another attacker, the Frenchman went for Alex Iwobi. His entry coincided with us creating a shedload of chances, the best was when Lacazette’s shot rebounded onto the bar and Xhaka putting his effort wide after that. There were countless others, and De Gea had to repeatedly save from Bellerin and Sanchez to keep United 2 up.
We switched into an even higher gear after the break, though I didn’t think it was possible. Just four minutes into the 2nd half it paid off. Alexis’ sublime chip found Ramsey in the box, who cushioned it for Lacazette to absolutely slaughter De Gea from point blank range. United defence replicated our actions when we played City by totally switching off and waving for offside. Unlike Silva though, Ramsey was onside.
The moment when we should have equalised happened minutes after the goal. However De Gea’s impossible double save from Lacazette and Alexis made sure we didn’t, and in ten minutes we were sucker-punched again. Despite being caught on the counter we had the numbers to deal with United’s attack, but were let down by individual mistakes again. Koscielny failed to contain Pogba, whose cross found an unmarked Lingard in space because Xhaka just switched off. Magnificent.
All forwards in
Wenger threw on Welbeck for Xhaka and Giroud for Kolasinac in a last-ditch attempt to get something from the game. Ironically, it only served to hinder our momentum.
Or was it because the Gunners gave up somewhat after conceding the third goal? If they did, can you blame them? Did you switch off after Lingard rolled the ball in? I knew the desperation I felt. I knew it was over then.
Whichever reason it was, having 4 forwards backed up by 3 creators didn’t help. Giroud barely got anything done (he didn’t have much in the way of service though), while Welbeck had a shot well saved and a stonewall penalty denied. Much like Lacazette did.
I understand that referees are people, and they feel guilty for making a decision which seriously inhibits one of the teams, like a penalty, or a sending-off. Marriner, having already sent off Pogba for a despicable stamp on Bellerin, might have felt it was wrong to further punish United and give us a pen.
But surely a line needs to be drawn somewhere? Welbeck was clearly taken out by Matic, who was nowhere near the ball. It’s a foul in any part of the pitch, the fact it was in the box shouldn’t matter. Yet it did for Marriner.
The last word
The expected goals, a quite popular metric recently, showed us scoring an 5, putting United at just below 2. That is how good we have been … at creating chances.
Of course David De Gea, with his 14 saves, is the absolute man of the match, a hero for United. He equalled the Premier League record for saves in a single game, matching Tim Krul’s achievement for Newcastle in 13/14. But it also speaks about how un-clinical we were.
I can’t lay the blame at Lacazette’s door, because he did everything in his power. He scored, he had a pen turned down, his shot was going in before the break only for an unlucky rebound, and one of his other shots was palmed away by De Gea in a magnificent save. I’m mostly disappointed with Alexis, Ramsey and Xhaka.
But I’m infinitely more disappointed by our defensive lapse which cost us so dearly. We sawed off our leg in the first 15 minutes, and then attempted to climb Everest on one leg. In the end I have to go with Arsene Wenger’s summary on the game:
“We have produced an excellent performance, but we conceded three goals and we had at least 10 chances and we were not efficient enough in the box. That’s the reality of that and I feel sorry for the players because our spirit was outstanding, the quality of our performance was outstanding, but at the end of the day we weren’t efficient enough because we didn’t start well enough in areas where it matters.”
A word on Arsene Wenger, by the way. I think he did everything in his power to win the game. He set up his team to create chances to score, and limit the chances in our box. He sprang a surprise by starting Lacazette. He was maybe wrong to throw on Giroud, Wilshere might have been the better option, but by that time we essentially lost.
I do not blame our manager for this defeat. Unlike at, say, Liverpool or Watford, we had a plan devised by him, one which made it obvious how we could succeed. And on another day we would have. Yesterday, unfortunately, we paid a very heavy price for individual mistakes, in defence first and foremost.
The result being thousands of dispirited fans crowding the nearby stations, a full week of self-reflection, and a missed opportunity to make up ground on the second place, let alone first. And this is hugely disappointing.
Russian Gooner. No, it’s not always cold in my home country 🙂
A staunch Arsenal supporter since 2004. Started writing about the Gunners in 2013.
Currently in London to get a degree in journalism.