Arsenal played at home to Manchester United today in a game that they really needed to take something from. Chelsea had only drawn with Norwich on Saturday, and Spurs were beaten by Manchester City earlier on Sunday. A win would put Arsenal a lot closer to fourth place, but even a draw would have been a good result.
Arsenal had lost their previous two games in the Premier League despite taking the lead in both games. The injuries to all of their full-backs were really harming the overall performance of the team, and the recent injury to Mikael Arteta had made things even worse.
There was some good news when the teams were announced, as Thomas Vermaelen returned from injury to play at left back. He's Arsenal's best centre back, but with Andre Santos and Kieran Gibbs both out he's their current best bet at left-back. Thierry Henry failed his fitness test and wasn't included in the squad.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made his full Premier League debut, as Andrei Arshavin was left on the bench. Tomas Rosicky played in the centre of midfield in the absence of Arteta, as Yossi Benayoun didn't do well in the role last week.
It was a weak looking Arsenal team for a game against the reigning Premier League champions. In fact, the Arsenal team on the day wasn't really any stronger than the team which was humiliated by United back in August. I feared what might happen if United played to their best, but I hoped that Arsenal could put in a performance to make their fans proud.
Arsenal were dreadful in the first half, and they never once looked like scoring. Time and again United looked to expose Arsenal's makeshift full-backs, and Johan Djourou had a terrible time at right-back. He was left exposed by the rest of the team far too often, and it was clear that he was very uncomfortable in that role.
Who was Arsenal's best player against United?
United eventually made their pressure count in the last minute of the first half when they took the lead. Djourou stood off Giggs and let him cross the ball, where it was met by Antonio Valencia to head home. Vermaelen had his positioning wrong which enabled Valencia to get a run on him and win the header.
Arsenal needed to do something at half time to get themselves back into the game, and Arsene Wenger brought Nico Yennaris for his Premier League debut in place of Djourou. Apparently Djourou picked up a knock, but I suspect he was withdrawn to save him from further punishment. Yennaris definitely did better than Djourou, but he also had a lot more help from his team-mates.
Arsenal gradually got back into the game and should have equalised, but Robin van Persie missed a great chance to do so. United made a mistake at the back when Chris Smalling slipped, and Rosicky pounced on his error. I thought he should have shot himself, but when he passed to RVP it looked easier for Arsenal to score than miss.
Arsenal were still vulnerable at the back, but they were now making chances at the other end too. The equaliser arrived with 20 minutes left when Chamberlain played a pass to RVP in the box, and he turned and shot across the keeper into the far corner. An unlikely victory for Arsenal looked like it might just be on the cards if they could continue to play well.
Soon after the goal Wenger brought Arshavin on for Chamberlain, and the Arsenal fans were far from happy with the decision. Wenger said after the game that Chamberlain wasn't used to playing 90 minutes at this level, and he needed to be taken off. It was a move that was to have consequences later in the game.
With nine minutes left Arshavin turned his back as Valencia feigned to cross the ball, and Valencia went past him into the box. He cut the ball back for Danny Wellbeck to make it 2-1 for United despite Arshavin doing his best to catch Valencia. It was a huge blow for Arsenal, and they didn't look capable of recovering from it.
A few minutes later the ineffectual Aaron Ramsey was withdrawn and he was replaced by Ju Young Park who was also making his Premier League debut. Arsenal pushed Per Mertesacker up to play as an emergency centre forward for the last few minutes, but despite a few crosses into the box they couldn't find the net. The game ended soon afterwards, and Arsenal had lost their third Premier League game in a row.
It's easy to make scapegoats of certain players, but very few Arsenal players emerged from the game with credit. I was impressed with Chamberlain, and I think he has to be given his chance ahead of Arshavin until Gervinho returns at least. RVP took his goal really well, but it's hard to fathom how he missed the other great chance he had.
Arshavin did nothing when he came on, and his part in United's winning goal was telling. He looks disinterested at best, and I can;t see a place for him in the team at all. I think Arsenal should cut their losses and sell Arshavin if they can.
At the back, Laurent Koscielny looked impressive yet again, but it's unfair to judge both Djourou and Vermaelen on their performances out of position. Ramsey and Theo Walcott were ineffectual at best, and the team looks completely devoid of confidence at the moment. The injured players can't return quickly enough, but if they're not back soon Arsenal's chances of a trophy this season could be gone.
They play Aston Villa in the FA Cup next weekend, and the only player who might be back by then is Arteta. His return would be welcome, but others are needed urgently. It looks very unlikely that Arsenal will add to the squad in the current transfer window either, and the players they have will have to do the business for them.
United were most definitely the best team on the day, and they deserved their three points. There were no dodgy refereeing decisions against Arsenal for a change, and the referee didn't even buy a dive from Wayne Rooney in the first half. The fact that he chose not to give Rooney a yellow card is another matter, but at least he didn't give him a penalty.
Arsenal have a week to work as a team ahead of the Villa game, and the FA Cup is their only realistic chance of a trophy this season in my opinion. I hope they can put the disappointments of their last three games behind them, but it's only a hope at the moment. After Villa there's two Premier League games in four days, and there's a chance Arsenal will have real full-backs available for those games.
They quite simply have to win away to Bolton and at home to Blackburn in those games, or they could see themselves dropping to seventh rather than chasing for fourth. I would love to see a player to make a genuine difference to the team arrive before any of those games, but I don't think it will happen. I think the arrival of a quality player could be the boost the squad needs at the moment, and might help them to rebound.
It's not a good time to be an Arsenal fan or an Arsenal player either, but hopefully the fans can help the team to turn the corner.
That's it for today.
Here's Robin van Persie's goal from yesterday.
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See you tomorrow.