Once More Into The Breach, Once More Empty-Handed

So here we are, another match with a title rival come and gone, and another loss for Arsenal. It finished 1-0, and the scoreline didn't lie. Man U were far from great, but we did what we usually do, stoop below to underperform even an underperforming United side. We didn't defend particularly well (nothing new there), but we troubled the United backline not at all.

Partly of course, this was tactical: Ferguson loaded up the middle of the pitch and pressed us to allow Arsenal zero space. Quite often we saw our fullbacks with the ball and two United players on them, forced to either give the ball up, put it out into touch or pass it back to the debutant Szczesny (again and again). United defended the way that Arsenal need to but never do, and respect to them for it.

We did see some horrendous personal performances on the Arsenal side. Arshavin once again went missing and did very little at either end. Rafael had him in control all match long, and the Russian once again left Gael Clichy completely abandoned to deal with Nani on his own. Clichy didn't exactly cover himself in glory, although Nani could hardly claim to have dominated. Clichy made a few well-timed challenges, but gave a number of them right back, and was caught out of position more than a couple of times. To be sure, Clichy was victimized by the lack of effort from Arshavin. I think the issue many fans have with Clichy (and it's a legitimate claim) is that he once was the best left-back in England, but he's no longer the same player. Whether that is down to injuries, lack of confidence or a combination of factors, he's no longer the best left back at Arsenal. Sean wrote in his last post that Gael is the worst left-back in the Premier League; I think that's the essence of hyperbole, but can we expect better? I think so.

To me however, the biggest glaring hole for Arsenal was Alex Song. It's no longer a secret that Arsene is the one having Song bombing forward in attack, that he's not merely "gone rogue." What we have is a quite good holding midfielder who has not just been given license to act as an attacking midfielder (where he's no good at all) but has been encouraged to do so. Not only that, while he's rightly left unmarked, he also leaves players better suited to attack to pick up the defensive side of things, and when he loses the ball (as normally occurs), our already weak back line are left completely exposed. It's as well that United couldn't capitalize, but on another day and against a better team, we cna and likely will be victimized by this sort of thing. I don't know what the manager is playing at here, I really don't.

The truly depressing thing is that this was a very beatable United side, Howard "Man U 4 Life" Webb notwithstanding. And what happened? We flubbed another one. Not only that, but the cunt Evra is proven right to a degree, which really stings. Were there things Wenger could have changed that might have influenced the outcome? Perhaps. I don't think I'm the only one wondering what Rosicky was doing in the lineup with Theo and van Persie on the bench, and Nasri thrust out wide where he barely touched the ball. But tactics in one match belie more serious fundamental issues, and I think our league position is papering over some of those cracks. For one thing, we have completely abandoned the press and counter-attack ways that the 49ers were so devestatingly good at. We don't press at all (which unfortunately is necessary for success in the 4-3-3, a la Barcelona), and when we do win the ball, it turns into the same pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-lose ball-win ball-pass-pass-passpszzzzzzzzzzzzz. Teams once feared to attack us too much that we would win the ball and storm down and jam a goal down their throats. Teams are much more daring now, and with greater success.

The main problem we have is not low-lying or secret. Our defense is not good enough. I'm not referring to the personnel; if you look at our 4 centre-half players, they stack up well against those of United, Chelsea or whoever else. Vermaelen's injury throws a wrench into things, but it's the lack of organization, the continuous and often disastrous attempts to play the ball out of the back instead of clearing the damned thing, that rankle me. It's a flaw in the mindset of the club, and that comes from the manager and filters down the staff to the players. If we don't start stressing the importance of defending as a fundamental necessity in football, then I fear we'll win nothing under this manager again. I won't call for his head, he's earned more respect from us than that, but for his own sake I do hope he can adjust.

We have Stoke on the weekend, and once again, the bespectacled middle-aged dick in a baseball cap who calls himself their manager has been talking up his side's disciplinary record in relation to ours. Okay, we've had a few more cards. But several have been for dissent a few more cards on blown calls by the ref. The only really bad tackle from our side has been Wilshere on Zigic, and he was rightly sent off for it. So while the record is in Stoke's favor, they still play like a bunch of shitkicking dirty cheating fucks, and refs don't like us much (nothing new their, either). It doesn't change the fact that Ryan Shawcross, who in Pulis' zeal to make him a martyr for the cause of dirty cheating fuckstains has made him Stoke CAPTAIN, is a mindless cunt who throws his body around with no regard for the safety of his fellow professionals. He is a golem, a frankenstein's monster, a lump of humanity without a brain to captain that ship. A pneumatic leg-breaking machine.

Still, I expect us to give Stoke the business. We handled them well enough the last 2 times we've had them at home. While they will be physical and try to muscle us out, work long throw-ins with maximum time-wasting, and generally be the practicioners of anti-football we know them to be, we should have more than enough skill to pick them apart. Pulis, as much as he is an idiot, will likely do just what other teams have since Fulham and put 2 men on Nasri as soon as he touches the ball, but we ought to have Cesc back in the fold too, which should open things up a bit. I think it's time our home form went back to being something we were proud of, and no time to start like right now. We've got a mostly healthy squad, we're at home and with home fans baying for Shawcross' blood (regardless of the type of player he is), it's time for a win and a rousing one at that. COME ON YOU REDS!

Before I part, yes, we did draw Barca in the next round of the Champions League. They're not unbeatable, but they won't be easy of course. I'm not terribly confident (many of the reasons why being spelled out clearly earlier in this commentary), but it's a funny old game. And anyway, it's nothing we need concern ourselves with until February. All we can do is Keep The Faith, whether or not you enjoy 1980's Billy Joel.