Sunday, 19 December 2010

If you don't shoot, you can't score. Man United match report and thoughts

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 0

There's a bit in the book of Ecclesiastes about how there's a time for everything. Solomon who wrote it, is said to have been a very wise man. But I don't think it takes a particularly wise man to suggest that if you don't make the opposition goalkeeper make a single save of any note during the match, you will struggle to win the game.

And yet, I don't agree with the defeatism which accompanied this result. Over the 90 minutes, United probably deserved to win the game but this performance hardly put down a benchmark for us to be afraid of. Against Chelsea at the Bridge, it really was the same old story. This time, to be fair, United were almost as blunt as us. Szczesny made some really good saves but if you compare this match with the 1-0 defeat in the Champions League semi-final in 2009, the matches were poles apart. Both teams struggled to pass the ball and though they cut us open a few more times than we did them, that's more because of our defensive incompetence than anything else.

It's for this reason that the lack of shooting was so unbelievable. Few of us went into the match really believing we could keep a clean shoot - and yet apart from one Nasri shot which was saved, I can't remember us making a creaking Edwin Van Der Sar make a save. United were happy to let Arsenal pass the ball around in their half, knowing we weren't going anywhere. It doesn't seem unreasonable to suggest - particularly considering Arshavin, Nasri and Fabregas all have a decent shot on them - that it would have been sensible to have a go.

Arsene's complaints about the pitch seem disingenuous because we didn't do anything about it - if the pitch isn't good for passing, try something else.

Anyone who has ever been to an Arsenal match with me knows I hate the people who shout 'shoooooot' when we have the ball 40 yards out, but to fail to test the opposition goalkeeper seems pretty criminal.

Particularly, when one considers the side Wenger picked. Song has become a liability who likes getting forward. Arshavin, Rosicky, Nasri and Chamakh are all primarily attacking players who aren't much good at defending. So to not even threaten the opposition goal seems tactically negligent.

On that point, I think Wenger's team selection was absolutely preposterous. Rosicky's recent performances have been ropey and he just doesn't have the physicality to play in the centre in this sort of match. I know my affection for Denilson seems like something of a fetish, but pick him and at least you get some protection for your defence. None of the front six offered any kind of protection for the defence - Bacary Sagna deserves kudos for how well he did considering the lack of protection he was afforded.

And so, naturally, we turn to Clichy. First, I think he was unlucky a number of times - in Clichy's case you probably could point to the pitch and say it didn't help him, and the penalty United were given was absolutely ridiculous: a shameful decision and Nani's campaign to become more hated than Patrice Evra received a huge boost from his massive appeal for something which was never, ever, a penalty.

But my issue is that he's clearly lost all his pace. He just doesn't get back - I usually sit behind the left-back position at The Grove and it's obvious how often he is out of position. Obviously it would help if Song or Arshavin covered for him, but he must be an absolute moron if he hasn't twigged yet that they're not going to.

I actually thought his tackling was quite good, but that he tired himself out so much running back, that he then wasn't quite sure what to do next. Is Clichy's time up? I sincerely doubt it. Gibbs is just too injury-prone to be relied upon. But I remain convinced that he still has issues from his back injury and will never be the same player again.

That said, any argument that Clichy cost us the match is ultimately misguided. Park scored a stunning header, which was unsaveable, he did well - fair enough, lets move on. I think Theo should have done better when he whacked the ball into the crowd right at the end, but being disappointed with a Walcott performance is something I have long given up on.

As far as where we go from here, it's pretty unclear. We're still in the thick of the title race by virtue of the maths, but our performances against the big teams leave a lot to be desired. As Goodplaya pointed out:
Before this match, we'd won just one and drawn two of the last nine games against United.

Now, fancy this: in all six of those defeats, Fergie had gone with one up front, one winger and basically four central midfielders. Sometimes, such as in the FA Cup nearly three years ago, he even picked exactly the same six players in midfield and up front as in this match.

In all three of the games United didn't win, Fergie had played Rooney and either Tevez or Berbatov.

Stats don't always tell the full story, but our failure to come up with any kind of tactical system to combat how United play is a clear failing of the manager. My article in the current issue of The Gooner suggested that Wenger was far better on the training ground than during matches but even this seems questionable having looked at these stats.

Sure, on this occasion we passed the ball particularly badly and our substitutes seemed to be in a mini competition between themselves as to who could play the worst. But by and large, the manager is not taking this club forward.

I honestly think this squad is the best in the League. But as long as we make blasé decisions like picking Song as a defensive midfield player and putting six players in attack against United while we couldn't actually get the ball back, we won't win jack.

Keep the faith.

(Thoughts on the Champions League draw to follow in a separate post)

1 comment:

Pat said...

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