Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal: Capitulation

This match was a microcosm of the relationship between these two clubs over the last six or seven seasons. United asserted their dominance without ever having to go beyond first gear, while Arsenal submissively played out time and displayed enough nervousness defensively to gift the opposition two stupid goals to ensure defeat.

Second verse, same as the first...and third, and fourth, and fifth...

The first worrying sign was how warmly Robin van Persie was greeted in the tunnel before the match. The same tunnel which used to see rows and ructions between the sides now saw laughs and smiles for the man whose departure was a professional slap in the face to each and every one of them. I was never one who believed that he left for money - he left and went to this particular club because he did not believe that his teammates were good enough to win things, and he believed his new teammates are.

Last season's horror show here left me apoplectic at the time, but not at the XI out on the pitch. They gave everything they had that day, they were just overmatched and never should have had to play as a unit in a fixture of that magnitude. That was a catastrophic failure of management, whereas this match was a catastrophic failure of desire and belief. Even now, about an hour after the final whistle, I'm gobsmacked at how little fight these experienced professionals displayed on the day.

Frankly, they approached this match the same way a Wigan or an Aston Villa would have, and it showed.

How else do you explain our captain, the Verminator, the man who is supposed to lead us into battle nervously air-balling a clearance three minutes in to gift Judas his goal? That is a man playing scared, on a team playing scared.

Make no mistake - we lost this game before a ball was kicked.

Of course, once you gift United an early goal at Old Trafford, a difficult job becomes nearly impossible. The infuriating thing is that despite all that, the home side were desperately poor themselves. I mean, they couldn't string three passes together at times. Had we gone in at halftime at 0-0 with their lot playing like that, I'd say we could have probably gone on to win it.

As it stood, Arsenal had a good amount of the ball but never came within 75 astronomical units of threatening David De Gea's goal. Just about everyone in an awful Grimace-purple shirt played up to the worst feelings the supporters have of them - Andre Santos was eviscerated time and again down the left, as positionally sound as a broken compass. Aaron Ramsey was spectacularly useless, albeit partially due to being shoehorned out on the right again. Lukas Podolski was an apparition, having as much to do with events on the field as I did. Olivier Giroud failed to hold the ball with any regularity.

The only positives were the continued excellence of Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta, and an uncharacteristically composed and commanding performance from Vito Mannone in goal. 

Still, for all that, it was only 1-0 heading into halftime. Well, that is, until the odious Mike Dean (who as awful as usual) gifted United a penalty kick for a harsh handball on Cazorla. Don't get me wrong, he definitely handled, but I highly doubt it was intentional (which is, you know, the rule and all...but don't let that minor detail stop you, Mikey!). 

Wayne Rooney stepped up to take it, and screwed a hilarious effort wide of Mannone's post. That turned out to be the only moment we could cheer for all day.

When you think about it though, surviving a half like that only down one goal, with the opponents floundering and having just missed a penalty kick - this is the sort of situation that should galvanize a team and have them coming out for the second half ready to run through brick walls to take advantage.

Instead, the captain once again made a hash out of a clearance 30 seconds after the restart, allowing Judas to steal the ball and cross to an unmarked Antonio Valencia. How he missed his side-foot from six yards out, I'll never know. Once again though, the man who is supposed to lead us was found wanting in a big moment. Once again, he set a horrible tone that the side never could pull themselves out of.

As bad as Laurent Koscielny has been this season, I don't see any good argument for Vermaelen playing the next game.

Arsene Wenger made an early and quite welcome change, the horrendous Ramsey coming off for Theo Walcott. Sadly for us, the latter was fairly putrid himself and never provided the pace or the width that we so badly needed. Oh, and somehow, Andre Santos played all 90 minutes. Answers on a postcard for that, as well as if anyone thinks this guy should ever suit up for us again after running to go swap shirts with Judas at halftime like an adoring schoolgirl. I'm sorry, but that was an absolute goddamn disgrace.

Right before the hour mark, Tom Cleverley, already on a yellow, clattered into Jack Wilshere. It was a nailed-on second yellow, but that motherless bastard Dean didn't call it. Naturally, when Wilshere, on a yellow, clattered into one of their lot, he flashed a red object quicker than a bullfighter. He'd be the worst referee on the planet if it weren't for Phil Dowd's comedic stylings.

Admittedly though, the contest was over before Wilshere walked. After Mannone made a brilliant save, the resulting corner was played short. Seven or eight purple shirts all stood around the area waiting for Godot, while Rooney crossed in. Patrice Evra (a left back, might I remind you) ran onto it and outjumped The Captain to head it past the helpless Mannone.

Last season in this fixture, I gave Carl Jenkinson a 1 in my match ratings. In retrospect, that was beyond unfair and I've adjusted my rating scale accordingly. But, if I were still using that model, Vermaelen would have been a -25 today.

I don't know if the red card changed the boss' mind on his substitutions, but the second one wasn't made until the 82nd minute. Andrei Arshavin came on for Casper the German Ghost, and immediately we looked more fluid and dangerous. Look, I get why Arsene is reluctant to play him - he's burned us so many times in the past. But given his current form, would it bloody hurt to start him next week? Can we at least try something different?

Anyway, going back to my point from the opening about this being a microcosm, how fitting is it that Cazorla was the one to score? Sure, United had pretty much stopped playing by this point and I'm not sure if they'd have been defensively shoddy enough to allow three whacks at it before it went in. Still, it was nice to see his effort rewarded when he kept trying to find a way through. After a few blocked efforts, he collected his own rebound, took advantage of the preposterous amount of space given to him and hammered an unstoppable shot into the top corner of the net. Lovely stuff, and frankly miles more than we deserved.

That was the last kick of the game, mercifully. So, here we are again - a demoralizing loss at Old Trafford, though this time for different reasons. We don't have a closing transfer window to save us now, so how do we get out of the mire this time? Hey, maybe we have an easy game coming up to rebuild the confidence...

(Checks fixture list...........sees it's Schalke '04 away....)


The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Mannone 8, Santos 3, Vermaelen 2, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Arteta 7, Wilshere 5, Podolski 5 (Arshavin 7), Cazorla 7, Ramsey 4 (Walcott 5), Giroud 5

Man of the Match: I never thought I'd write this, but Vito Mannone. He made some great stops and was not remotely at fault for either goal. This may be partially because he was able to display his strengths (shot-stopping) against opponents that didn't send in too many crosses (his glaring weakness). Still, it was a heartening performance and hopefully will give him a jolt of confidence heading into a tricky game in Gelsenkirchen.