24 hours before the match, if you had asked Arsenal fans what the result would be, I’m guessing most (if not all) of them would have predicted a victory for Man Utd. And who could argue with that prediction? Without Arteta, Henry, or a proper full back, Arsenal would have difficulty beating even the mid-table teams, let alone the number two. Personally, I just wanted to avoid enduring another 8-2 massacre. So in that sense, the mission was accomplished.
Our starting XI received a boost with Vermaelen’s return, and the speedy Oxlade-Chamberlain received his first Premier League start. The bench was particularly worrisome, though: Almunia, Squillaci, Arshavin, Benayoun, Park, and two young guns (Miquel and Yennaris). So we really needed to do our damage early in the game before the inevitable substitutions took place.
As the first half progressed, Man U pressed hard and were eventually rewarded when the ageless Giggs set up Valencia at the end of the half. Down only 1-0 at half time? I was satisfied with that (such is our season). I knew that the team would make adjustments after the break, and play better. And they did.
MVP10 equalized at the 71st minute, set up by AOC15. If we didn’t have to rely on that woeful bench, we might have stolen a point (or three) from the match. Instead, Valencia outpaced Arshavin and set up Danny Welbeck for the winning goal.
A lot of pixels will be shed over Arsène Wenger’s decision to put in Arshavin in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain. It’s a natural reaction to want to keep AOC in the game, but if you look objectively at the situation, it was the first EPL start for an 18-year-old, and Wenger saw that he was getting fatigued. I leave it up to the statistics wizards at 7am kickoff, but I’m guessing that very few players play the full 90 minutes in their first start. Arshavin was the best choice on the bench, I’m afraid. So if AOC or Walcott had to come off, Arshavin was the logical choice. If you put in Benayoun for AOC, then you’re only hoping to escape with a 1-1 draw. That’s not Wenger’s mentality. We were at home, and there was a slight possibility that Arshavin might have sparked a second goal. Then we’d be talking about what a genius Wenger is. That’s football.
Instead, Arshavin was directly involved in Man U’s second goal, and the Wenger haters will have a field day. But the bottom line is, I was expecting to lose this game, and the team did not give up in the second half. There are some positives to come out of the match: Oxlade-Chamberlain’s impressive debut, and Van Persie’s goal (through the legs of a defender, off the fingertips of the keeper, and off the post). They squandered some good goal scoring chances (typical Arsenal), and they did get away with some bookable offenses. But as soon as we get Arteta back, we’ll return to our winning ways. We can still claim fourth spot in the table.
Next week, we’re at home versus Aston Villa for the 4th round of the FA Cup, on Sunday. Then, a mid-week game against Bolton. Three days after that, we’re back home to meet Blackburn. Come on you Gunners!