Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal: Question Time with The Modern Gooner

It is the one refuge of the defeated to find a degree of solace in small things that ultimately don't affect the greater truths of the event. For long stretches at a time, Arsenal were not comprehensively played off the Old Trafford pitch today - a drastic difference from previous excursions to Lancashire. There was a fair amount of urgency from most of our defense, with some committed tackles flying in at their attackers. However, the slightly less painful nature of the journey doesn't change the fact that the destination was once again the same - Arsenal offered nothing going forward, never tested the 40-year old Edwin van der Sar in the United goal, and ended up with no points to bring back to London after being ruthlessly punished yet again for a brief moment of incredible defensive stupidity. And, oh look, here it is! Thanks, Gael!

At the beginning of the day, this team traveled to Manchester for a highly-winnable game against the worst United team in years, in a season where no one has grasped the nettle of the league summit, and after having been called out like punks by the odious Patrice Evra in the run-up to the match on top of it all. At the end of the day, no matter the state of the pitch or the idiot with the whistle, all they accomplished was further proof that Evra might be on to something.

As I've stated before, I'm not throwing toys out of the pram because Arsenal lost the match. When you go to Old Trafford, that will happen more often than not. The teams of the recent past didn't always defeat the Red Devils, but the distinction is that they always fought to the death. If they were going to beat us, they had to stretch themselves to the limit of their ability to do so...and they would not come away unscathed in the process. This lot managed one scuffled shot that Van der Sar palmed away when he should have caught, and were unable to make him pay for it on the rebound. That's it...that's what they managed. Minute 86 was played with the same minimal sense of urgency as minute 1, leaving an average United outfit to a more comfortable afternoon than they had a right to have.

With that in mind, in lieu of a blow-by-blow of what happened, I present to you instead:

Question Time with The Modern Gooner!

Question 1: "It is well known that Samir Nasri has been doing incredible things in the center of the park for Arsenal over the last few games. Surely, my right honorable friend Mr. Wenger would agree that it was a terrible mistake to play him out on the wing, marginalizing him and ensuring that we had to rely on out-of-form players for our offensive spark?"

Frankly, our formation and tactics were (excusez-moi mon francais) a fucking disaster today. As mentioned, Nasri was shunted out on the right, with the anonymous Andrei Arshavin on the left. The middle was patrolled by Jack Wilshere, Alex Song and Tomas Rosicky. Now, there are quite a few problems here, the most important of which probably deserves its own question.

Question 2: "Madame Speaker, it's hard to believe that my right honorable friend has the best interests of his constituents at heart when he continues to play Tomas Rosicky and/or Denilson in the center of the park. I demand to know when are the Arsenal people going to receive an explanation as to what they do, why they're here or what purpose they serve?"

Right, so to accommodate the many contributions of Rosicky in the middle (Did I say "many"? I meant "zero"), Nasri was moved out to the wing where his opposite number - Ji-Sung Park - could reasonably be expected to perform his defensive duties. You could argue that he was deployed there to prevent Evra from bombing forward, but why sacrifice your entire offensive thrust to neutralize the guy who is, at best, their third-best weapon on the pitch? If he had to be on a wing, why not take advantage of Nani's incessant runs forward (and the fact that Rafael Da Silva is behind him) and put him out on the left where he'd have some space to exploit?

Meanwhile, Alex Song continues to be asked to play high up the pitch, despite ostensibly being the holding midfielder. When asked about it, Wenger explained that it's part of our high-risk system. If you're going to play with no shield in front of the back four, that's fine. But, if that is the way you choose to play, why is the guy who is an A- stopper and a D- offensive player chosen to play that position? Combine this with the fact that Nasri was marooned on the right wing, and we had a situation where Wilshere was trying to break up attacks (not his skill set), and Song was the one trying to thread killer through-balls past the United rearguard (DEFINITELY not his skill set). Is it any wonder that the Gunners couldn't get much going today?

Compounding the problem, the fact that we kept losing possession meant that United had more of the ball than we'd have liked...meaning that we were penned further back in our half. Because of this, Marouane Chamakh found himself dropping deeper and deeper in order to have any hope of touching the ball. His link-up play continues to be the linchpin of our attack, but what bloody good does it do when he's flicking on high balls not too far outside of our penalty area? Who's going to get on the end of them? Inevitably, the opposition will win it back in those cases 50-60% of the time...but instead of winning it back in their area or just outside it, they're right back to penning us in our half.

Speaking of inevitably, this happened right before halftime.

I think this leads me to another question.

Question 3: "I must ask how many times must we see the same result before we start to call it insanity? I don't mean to refer to my right honorable friend as insane, but you must now agree that Gael Clichy is, on current form, the worst left-back in the Premiership?"

I don't have time this evening to look up all the old match reports to see exactly how many goals Clichy has either directly or partially cost us this season, but believe me, I was tempted. At this moment, I would rather see either Emmanuel Eboue or Bacary Sagna play there out of position rather than watch this poor guy flop in the wind like the fish at the end of Faith No More's video for "Epic". He has never been a defensive wizard, but in seasons past he has made up for it with a serious attacking threat from the left flank. This season, he has offered precious little going forward. So, why must we suffer his woeful defensive lapses over and over? I understand that Kieran Gibbs is made out of porcelain, but do we have so little competition for places that we only have two options? We can't give Eboue a go out there?

Look, I'm not saying that Eboue would be the magical answer to all of our LB problems. But, the more you run this guy out there and run this guy out there, the more he becomes comfortable in the fact that no matter what he does (you know, like waaaaay over-commit to showing Nani onto his off foot, allowing himself to get completely flambeed by one simple feint), he will never lose his place in the side. He has shown a lack of positional sense and no aptitude for when to close down an attacker and when to not. I may be *slightly* exaggerating by calling him the worst in the Premiership, but surely he is the absolute nadir among any club in the world with pretensions of being a "big side"?

And, here's the thing. When you have a weak link in a defense, it throws everything else out of whack. Now, the left-sided central defender has to try and cover his man AND whoever it is that has blown past Clichy this time. Now, the right-sided central defender is a bit unsure as to what to do, and isn't helped by the fact that there's no shield in front of them, because Song is ordered to go box-to-box and play through-balls directly to the opposition. That's exactly what happened - Park was Song's man, Song didn't get back in time, and Squillaci couldn't be expected to get there once he realized the danger (to his credit, he made a great effort at it). That is what separated Arsenal from at least a point.

Now in Question Time, the PM does of course have the opportunity to retort. In his post-match comments, Le Boss talked some bollocks about the state of the pitch because, well, he's shown in the past that he's not going to slate his team in public. And, he's not going to say what he really thinks of the clown with the whistle, despite the blatant homerism shown towards United on the day.

What else is new, right? Chamakh and Arshavin get booked for their first fouls, while Evra can dissent to his heart's content and gets nothing. Even worse, Darren Fletcher had some bad tackles in there, and laid his hands on Webb's chest and made a pushing motion, with no booking. I'm beyond words at that one. Remember when Emmanuel Petit walked because that ginger muff-hair Paul Durkin wasn't looking where he was going and bumped into him? This was like that, only deliberate on Fletcher's part and much more malicious. Shit, there's a referee who does my Sunday league games (I humbly submit that he's better than Webb) who normally does NCAA matches. A guy on a team we were playing charged at him in a threatening manner, and he was red-carded and banned from the league for life. I talked to the ref in the bar afterwards and he said: "If I don't stand up for myself there, I'm not just letting myself down...I'm letting down the guy who has to work the game next week also." It's so true. For all the wittering about Respect the Game, Get On with the Ref,'s a guy who PHYSICALLY MADE CONTACT with him and he didn't even get a caution. I know it's United at Old Trafford, but that is spectacularly gutless.

Speaking of Webb and his other clowns, I don't know what his lino was thinking giving a penalty when Nani struck the ball at a prone Clichy, and it hit him on the arm. The rule states that the arm has to be in an "unnatural position". If down at his side is an unnatural position, then where the shitting fuck is his arm normally? Coming out of his head like a tentacle? Anyway, it led to perhaps the only bright spot of the day:

I mean, what else can you say about the granny-shagger skying his penalty risibly over the bar? Oh, wait, I got something.


Anyway, last question.

Question 4: "Surely, Madame Speaker will indulge my tiresome paeans to the teams of the recent past...but can my right honorable friend explain why we have gone from devastatingly-quick counter-attacks to a slow and plodding style that allows the other team plenty of time to get back into their defensive positions and pack 403,843,283,240 people behind the ball?"

Remember when the other lot's attack would break down, the defense would get it out to Pires or PV4 or Freddie, who would hit a streaking Henry or DB10 with a long, killer pass to get in behind the opposing backline? It was 3 or 4 passes, 8 or 9 seconds, and it was box-to-box with a world-class striker bearing in on the hapless keeper.

Now? Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Lose the ball. Get the ball back. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Lose the ball. Get the ball back. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass.

No matter the offensive skills of our players, it's a lot harder to beat two banks of four than it is to beat a team in transition.

To sum up some other loose points: Chesney was fantastic on his debut - were it not for him, this could have been 3-0. The central defense did OK given the circumstances. Sagna looked lively at times and it has to be said that he had a decent game. Chamakh had no support, and the subs were largely ephemeral.

The Modern Gooner Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Clichy 4, Koscielny 6, Squillaci 7, Sagna 7, Arshavin 5 (Walcott 6), Wilshere 6 (van Persie 6), Song 5, Rosicky 5 (Fabregas 6), Nasri 6, Chamakh 6