Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal: Never at the Races

Most importantly, I hope Johan Djourou is all right.

Beyond that, there's not a lot to say about this result. Arsenal were well beaten by superior opposition, despite the fact that said opposition had just as many injuries and just as bad of a recent run as us. I have harped on this point several times this season, and I am gutted at how I keep being proven right - winners win, losers make excuses. Teams that have winning in their blood find ways to overcome obstacles, teams that don't bemoan the existence of said obstacles and use them as a crutch.

You will read in the match reports today and tomorrow that Edwin van der Sar was the Man of the Match, and that in some ways he stole this result for United. Every single one of those reports will be wrong. He had a fine game of course, and did everything he was supposed to. Other than one save where he got fingertips to a low shot heading into to the corner (from van Persie, I think?), everything else he faced was the kind of thing a top-level goalkeeper is expected to save. When it comes down to it, Arsenal didn't have that many serious attempts on goal in the game, and much of what they did have was right at the big Dutchman.

Photo: Yahoo!

If you want a MOTM from the United end of things, I think it would have to be that Shrek-looking bastard, Wayne Rooney. He was always a danger to our defense, and hate him or hate him, you have to respect his ability to track back and harry the opposition center-halves when they have the ball.

Anyway, Arsenal lined up with Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna at fullback with Laurent Koscielny and Djourou in central defense, Denilson and Abou Diaby in central defense with Jack Wilshere in the hole behind the striker, Andrei Arshavin and Samir Nasri on the wings with Robin van Persie up top. Accounting for the injuries that the squad has, you can't fault Arsene Wenger for the team selection - this was pretty much the strongest XI we had short of going to a 4-4-2 (always a danger away at Old Trafford).

For the most part, the Arsenal players each had a decent game individually, two exceptions aside. It strikes me as ironic that Denilson ended up being taken off early in the second half, as I thought this was his best effort in quite a while. He put in a few saving tackles, harried the player on the ball fairly well, and even passed the ball forward once or twice. Arshavin continued to look lively on the wing and more than once had beaten his man but then had to put a weak shot on goal as no one was supporting him (or there were too many men back for United).

Speaking of which, that was the problem once again today. All too often, United had pushed men forward, but then Arsenal dallied on the ball and continued to tippy-tappy it around which allowed United to reset their formation and make defending a much easier proposition for them. Not only that, but the fact that this team is utterly bereft of confidence is painfully apparently for all to see. I've described the team several times this season as being like a metronome that is one beat off, and that was the case again today. United stood off the Arsenal players for the most part until they came into their half, and then would press. When that one last killer ball was required, it inevitably failed to materialize.

More often that not, the particularly dreadful Diaby was at the center of a misplaced pass or turnover. He had one or two moments where he did well to win the ball back and I remember one pretty nice move to get past a defender, but for the most part he was abominable once again and never should have stayed on the pitch for 70 minutes like he did. Personally, I would have withdrawn him at halftime for Aaron Ramsey, who did end up making a long-awaited return to the side at that 70' mark.

Photo: The Guardian

The real goat of the match though, in my mind, was Koscielny. He has very much been a feast-or-famine defender all season, and today was emphatically the latter. For both United goals (neither of which I care to go into great detail describing), he seemed to be at the center of confusion on both occasions. On the first one, he was jogging back towards the man he left wide-open (Fabio Da Silva, I think?), allowing him an easy tap-in after Manuel Almunia had made a brilliant save to keep the first shot out.

Speaking of which, while there are slim pickings for Arsenal MOTM, the much-maligned Spaniard won it at a canter. He had zero chance on either United goal, made some pretty good stops to keep it close, and even had the best individual save of the match when he recovered from being on his back to claw away a ball that was looping over him (that save deserved to win a game, not prevent one from getting to 3-0 late on). Whatever waning chance we have to win the league is going to hinge on him continuing his recent form.

And then, of course, there was the injury to Djourou. It was just one of those things, a scramble after that great save from Almunia resulting in Sagna colliding with his teammate. The Swiss defender now misses the rest of the season with a dislocated shoulder. What can you do? Fate seems to conspire against us this season.

Photo: Yahoo!

So yeah...I'll get slated for this, I'm sure, but I am hard-pressed to see a turn of events that results in us winning the league. We've just handed a massive psychological boost to the pace-setters today, who had been struggling badly in the league. Our best defender is now probably out for the season, to go along with all of the other injuries. The players we have left are wildly out of form and playing with absolute zero confidence.

I'm sorry, my friends. I just don't see it. I desperately hope to be proven wrong, but I have a horrible feeling that my prediction back in November will continue to be correct.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Almunia 8 (MOTM), Gibbs 7, Djourou 6, Koscielny 4, Sagna 7, Denilson 7 (Chamakh 6), Diaby 4 (Ramsey 6), Wilshere 7, Nasri 6, Arshavin 7 (Rosicky 6), van Persie 6