It's the Bitter Morning After Pill for the Arsenal

Darius StoneContributor IFebruary 1, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 31:  Gael Clichy of Arsenal and Nani of Manchester United battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at The Emirates Stadium on January 31, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It’s mornings like this that many Arsenal fans have to decide how to swallow the bitter pill that results from losing your bragging rights. It’s not just the fact that we lost to the old enemy—it’s the ’how’ that makes it a very bitter pill.

It comes in three doses:

  • 20 mg—for those philosophical supporters who conclude that it was really a bad day at the office but we’ll live
  • 80 mg—for those supporters who can’t cope with the humiliation of facing family, friends and colleagues to explain yet again—why this also-ran team have fallen short
  • 800 mg—special industrial strength dosage for the anally retentive fickle glory hunting plastic fan who only supports Arsenal when they’re winning and playing champagne football.

Let’s face it, Man United got their tactics spot on. Flood the Arsenal midfield, hunt down their playmakers like a pack of wolves, and hit them on the counter attack.

Other teams have tried this tactic with mixed results. The only difference is that aside from Arsenal, Man United are the only other team in the EPL that can hit you that devastatingly on a counter attack finished with clinical precision.

I guess, once in a while, it’s normal that we will experience the pain of the counter attack treatment that we so often devastatingly unleash on unsuspecting teams.

The game was still up for grabs at the break, and it was inevitable that the team that scored the next goal would claim the bragging rights or have a chance of making it even. In truth, Arsenal only have themselves to blame for two aspects of the defeat.

Firstly, for gifting United two goals. Nani and Park should have never scored the goals they did.

Secondly, for not converting the chances we had. Unfortunately, when playing quality teams, you more than likely rue any chances you don’t convert.

There’s not much we could have done about the Rooney goal. At first I was pissed off that when Rooney pinged the ball to Nani and started his 40 yard run towards our goal, we had four players goal side and he beat all those four players to the ball.

But it would be unfair for me as a lover of total football to take away the quality of the goal from Rooney and attribute that to our naive defending. As much as it pains me to say, Rooney’s goal was ecstatic. I can only imagine how it was for those that watched it in 3D.

Naturally, the mantra of, ”Oh Arsenal’s pygmies can’t cope in the EPL anymore,” is already being peddled. Frankly speaking, it’s absolute nonsense. The height of Arsenal’s players had little to do with yesterday’s defeat, and only those who are devoid of analytical acumen and want to collect a pay cheque as a band-wagon pundit will resort to that refrain.

Yesterday’s game was lost on tactics—until Walcott and Eboue came on, we never seemed like getting behind. Walcott didn’t even have to do anything magical. He just had to run at them and that would inevitably create panic. It was then that Arsenal started getting behind winning more corners.

I haven’t done the kamikaze thing and tried to drudge through the thousands of negative match reports and analysis about the game. I guess this is one week that the doom and gloom merchants and trolls get to enjoy as they crawl from under their rocks for some air time.

I also haven’t bothered trying to listen to any mainstream sports news just for the sake of managing my health and well-being. Self inflicted pain is not something that tickles my fancy.

In isolation, this can look like a very bad result—especially in the sequence of the ’fixtures of death.’ I said before the game against Villa, that nine out of 12 points in the four games was an excellent return.

Two games in, and Arsenal have one out of six points. There’s still the opportunity to make it seven out of 12, which is still a bloody good return.

For that to happen though, Arsenal have to be clinical at finishing their chances. We had several clear cut chances yesterday, but it seemed like everyone left their shooting boots at home.

It’s not impossible to beat Chelsea and Liverpool, but in our high risk game, they’re the two teams that will convert any counter attacking chances against us. That’s why it’s important that we put our chances away.

The issue is not about the fact that we don’t have a striker to replace Van Persie. The Dutchman couldn’t have stopped Man United from scoring the goals that they did. On the other hand, we needed different options to get around the wall of black, and we had the personnel to do it. We just didn’t do it well.

The title challenge is by no means over. All we lost yesterday was the opportunity to overhaul our immediate challengers. The end result is that we don’t get to control our own destiny with our closest rivals.

Our game now has to be focused on the mathematical poker of ensuring that we win the games we need to win against lower league opposition. Losing against the other big teams doesn’t rule you out of the title race. It just batters your psychological advantage.

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