Arsenal succumbed to their third defeat in a row in the Premiership, despite equalising through Robin Van Persie, as United rather comfortably overcame their opponents. Sir Alex Ferguson lined his team up in the counter-attacking style he normally deploys against Arsenal. Their exploitation of the wings paid dividends and Ferguson’s quick reactions to any changes Wenger made ensured his team came away with the victory.
On Arsenal’s right flank, John Djourou had a nightmare of a game against the tricky Nani. His cause wasn’t aided by Walcott or Chamberlain’s lack of defensive covering and he often found himself having to deal with Evra aswell. The high defensive line deployed by Arsenal and lack of pressing from Rosicky or Ramsey meant that Michael Carrick, with a 91% pass completion, was able to pick out Nani on the left time after time in the first half. The first goal of the game, naturally, came down this flank. Giggs found himself in space and, with all the time in the world, played a fantastic cross to the back post where Valencia had evaded Vermaelen and powered a header past Szczesny. That was the 7th assist of the season for Giggs with the best assist per minute ration in the league of 95.
Wenger broke tradition, making a half-time substitution and hauling Djourou off. Young Nico Yennaris took to right-back and shored up that side of the pitch with only 37 of 57 passes down that flank successful, a major success compared to 75 out of 100 in the first half. With a tackle success percentage of 75% he did a good job keeping Nani at bay. The Portuguese winger was helpful with some of his decision-making though, only creating one chance all game.
On the other wing, Valencia put in a storming performance, scoring one and assisting another with a run that showcased his close control, vision and strength. His performance makes for ample comparison to Walcott. While Valencia looked like the most in-form winger in the Premiership at the moment, Walcott continued his run of poor, anonymous performances.
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A good summing up of Walcott’s game came when he burst to the by-line, Van Persie sprang back away from the defenders to make space for a shot and Walcott, without looking up, played the ball to where he had been. Valencia made the same type of run towards the end of the game and ended up setting up Wellbeck for United’s winner.
One of the few positives from the game for Arsenal came on their other wing. Wenger lived up to his promise in the new year that we would be seeing more of young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, dropping Arshavin from the starting line-up and unleashing the pacey, direct winger. When he has appeared this season, he has looked to have the qualities of Walcott, but most importantly, the ones he lacks. His strength, directness, touch and pace make him a handful for any defender and all these talents were showcased in his assist for Van Persie’s goal. Ramsey switched the play to him and he drove towards the United defence, played a clever ball into the path of Van Persie who slotted it into the far corner. The fact he created three chances compared to none from Walcott shows the massive difference in impact both made on the game.
The fans discontent when Chamberlain was replaced with Arshavin immediately after the goal was loud and venomous. In a football aspect though, it was interesting to note that as soon as Arshavin came one, Ferguson put Valencia at right back and put Park Ji-Sung on for Rafael. The United manager obviously thinking little of Arshavin’s attacking threat and acknowledging that his lack of tracking back would allow Valencia to still bomb forward. The tactic paid off with Valencia bursting past Arshavin for United’s second.
Van Persie is often exempt from criticism due to the quantity of goals he’s been scoring, but his performance yesterday was a massive disappointment, especially when compared to the active Wayne Rooney.
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Rooney’s link-up play was excellent while Van Persie struggled to make an impact. His miss from Rosicky’s lay-off will be burnt into the memory of Arsenal fans for quite a while. The thought of Van Persie facing Evans was certainly promising before the starting whistle, but it was Smalling and Evans who put in excellent performances. Evans won all 4 of his aerial 50-50s and all 4 of his ground 50-50s. The fact that between them they had to make 0 tackles and onle 1 interception shows how toothless Arsenal were up front and how effective their marking of Van Persie was.
The only shining light in Arsenal’s defence was once again Laurent Koscielny. His performances this season so far have been outstanding and this one was no different. Bearing in mind he was also having to cope with rather inept performances either side of him, even from the usually reliable Vermaelen, here’s a table of his stats.
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The lack of full-backs has led to multiple forward forays from him during matches, one ending in him setting up Chamberlain for a shot and one resulting in him firing wide.
Arsenal certainly have multiple problems to work out and the abject way in which they succumbed to this defeat is a major worry. United, on the other hand, have again showcased the resilience that won them the title last season. Their only concern would be the lack of quality currently in the squad and yesterday’s win, while a good result on paper for them, proved that they will have a fight on their hands to keep up with City.