Monday, 29 August 2011

The nadir. Man United 8 Arsenal 2. Eyewitness report.

Man United 8 Arsenal 2

A terrible, terrible performance brought a terrible, terrible result. Make no mistake, this was the nadir of Arsene Wenger's time in charge.

For an hour we were outclassed but somehow were in the game at 3-1 down. Then we removed our holding midfielder and put an attacking player on to try and get a result, and conceded five goals in half an hour.

That's not meant to be an excuse. You know something has gone seriously tits up when Henri Lansbury is subbed on for Theo Walcott to play right back. It was tactically negligent. Maybe if we'd scored the fifth goal it would have been a different game, but when you're introducing a 17 year old debutant to try and change the game, something's not quite right.

I don't feel there's any point going into the match in any depth - none of the team covered themselves in glory (Coquelin, possibly, excepted) - but who expected them to.

There have been bad defeats in the Wenger era before - 5-1 to Spurs, and 5-0 to Chelsea - but those were in the Carling Cup with weakened teams.

The most depressing thing about yesterday is that it was the best team we had available.

And despite all that, amidst all the media hype, things aren't nearly as bad as the media would like you to think they are.

Real Madrid lost 5-0 away to Barca last year with none of their players being red-carded until the 93rd minute and won the Spanish Cup, reached the Champions League semi-final.

Strip away the hyperbole, and you have a manager who every player who leaves ends up praising, and a coaching set-up which consistently brings through young players who are talented.

Sure the United team was marginally younger, but would Rosicky start under ideal circumstances? Both teams had three players who had come through the academy in their teams. The difference was that United were able to spend big money on Anderson and Rooney, when we dealt in the bargain basement, signing players like Song and Bendtner.

And when they bought 20 million pound players, we bought ten million pound players? I'd rather have Theo Walcott than Ashley Young (though I'm probably in a minority there), Samir Nasri instead of Nani, and Fabregas instead of Carrick.

The issue at Arsenal is two-fold for me. Firstly, it's a question of personnel. I felt we were very close last year, and if Chesney had been keeper all season things might have turned out differently; but we were still without decent back-up at centre back, and now we've missed out on Phil Jones to boot.

And yet, since last season, we've lost a top-quality Premiership left-back, still failed to strengthen at centre back, and lost the best midfielder in the Premier League. I'm prepared to accept that Gervinho is a good replacement for Nasri, but that still leaves the other three positions.

Aside from United pressing better yesterday, they used possession a lot more effectively; where was our playmaker for the front three? Judging by yesterday's performance, Aaron Ramsey isn't up to it at present.

The other issue was at full-back: Carl Jenkinson has merits insofar as he's not Eboue but he lacks experience; Armand Traore lacks everything a good footballer should have.

I don't advocate the 'spend spend spend' philosophy of other clubs, but I think when you lose your best player, as well your first choice left back, and then you don't replace them, it's unsurprising the team looks weak.

But it's not easy when you're missing Vermaelen, Sagna, Gibbs, Diaby, Wilshere and Nicky Bendtner, along with the suspended trio - the squad players are playing, so the consequence is the bench looks weak.

I don't think we're as weak as all that. I think with three decent signings before the window closes (a left back, a centre back, and a marquee midfield player), we could really turn things around.

It's easy to trot out stats about it being a terrible start to the League season, but we're one point down on the corresponding three matches last season.

The bigger test will be not dropping cheap points at home against the lesser teams.

I think with those signings, we could do pretty well this year - and by that I mean finish 3rd.

But to do that, the other thing which needs to improve is the morale around the club. I was in Manchester yesterday and the away support really was excellent, but we need to see that at home.

There's a malaise surrounding the club, which is affecting the players. In short, they lack confidence on the pitch, mainly because of this dreadful run of form which stretches back six months.

Now, more than ever, we need to get behind the team and the manager. There's a reason all ex-players speak so highly of Arsene.

Keep the faith.

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