I’ll happily take that point, as I would haven taken it if you’d offered it to me at any time before, or indeed during, the game. Yes, even in our 30-minute spell of near total dominance. The idea that this Arsenal side was just going to turn up and beat the current Utd one because they’ve already won the league was always an unlikely looking fantasy. They certainly didn’t look happy to settle for the draw in the second half.
We had them on their heels in the first half because we played with tempo and aggression, and were almost instantly rewarded with Walcott’s goal. Perhaps it’s disappointing we couldn’t sustain the same ferocious pace over the whole game, but it’s hardly surprising. We all wish the team could approach every game as intensely, but maybe the drop off in the second half is the reason they don’t. It doesn’t matter how ‘up for it’ the players are, even professional athletes can’t play like that constantly.
One point is one more than we predicted in our podcast, and given that we also banked on Wigan snaffling a draw against Spurs, Arsenal are up on where we expected them to be after this weekend. So far we’ve called most of the results correctly – (probably should have had a bet on it) – which means Arsenal are still theoretically on course for the Champions League spots.
After the game I’ve seen the argument made that United were there for the taking. Do me a favour. Even if we’d gone into half-time 2-0 up, as we probably deserved to, there’s no doubt they would have come out fired up after the break. The penalty stings because it was so daft, but equally Utd could/should’ve have been level minutes before when *he* headed into Woj’s onrushing boat race. On the balance of chances created over the 90 minutes I’m struggling to feel hard done by with a draw.
As for what that says about Arsenal as a club, well, the answer is surely nothing new. We’ve mostly been shocking against the other top sides this season – accruing just five points from the games against United, City, Chelsea and Spurs. Obviously that’s not good enough, but the key word there is ‘obviously’. It’s been there to see all year. We largely know what the squad is and isn’t capable of, and we certainly know it needs strengthening. If you’re angry this side didn’t win today, I can only assume you’ve been watching a different one over the previous months.
Which isn’t to say the squad is good enough. It isn’t. Let’s be very clear: you’ll struggle to find a fan who’s more pro-spending than me. I’d have happily watched both our major shareholders empty their wallets into the club. But that hasn’t happened and we are where we are. Which, precisely, is 21 points off a United team which could have set a record tally this season. There’s no hiding from that, but also let’s not hammer the players for what they aren’t, and could never be.
Earlier in the week I had a discussion with another fan who claimed the total points you rack up over a season isn’t a true indicator of a side’s quality. I begged to differ, falling back on the adage that the table doesn’t lie. But our eyes can tell us plenty numbers can’t: and compared to the utterly shameful non-performance the players put in at Old Trafford, today was much, much better.
As for the penalty – yeah, it was bad. I mean, of course it was. As a piece of defending it couldn’t have been much worse. But it was still slightly disappointing to hear that Sagna got dog’s abuse thereafter. I once made a mistake at work that ended up on the cover of a national newspaper. I’m grateful to work in an industry where the immediate result wasn’t tens of thousands of people effing and jeffing at me outside the office.
Does it mean he’s finished as player? Not on the strength of one shocker, but in truth it’s looked like he was going this way for a while now – and it’d certainly explain the club’s recalcitrance over giving him a new contract, which I previously moaned about. After the game Arsene had this to say:
"He is very disappointed tonight, he is a boy who gives absolutely everything in every game. I think he made a bad pass, that can happen, and maybe after he panicked a little bit and maybe wanted to repair too quickly what he did, but he had time to tackle. He has saved us so many times that unfortunately it happened today."
So look: I get it. People don’t want him to play for us anymore. But I suspect the manager gets it too, and after this season we’re likely to have a new right back. But for all that it’s frustrating to see Sagna’s decline, imagine how it must feel to actually feel your own abilities, your own body, wane so markedly. That’s sport I guess, but all I’m saying is have a little grace about the criticism.
The rest of the defence, though, was excellent. Koscielny, in particular, was like Gandalf on the goddamn bridge facing down a Mancunian balrog. Per wasn’t far behind, either. After the Spurs game I said, a bit ostentatiously, that I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if any of the defenders were sold. But there really is something to the current centreback pairing that looks worth sticking with.
In midfield Ramsey was excellent, leading the pressing with Rosicky in the first half. Up top Podolski did plenty to show why he doesn’t get picked centrally. Dare I say we looked quite a bit more dangerous once Gervinho came on at the end. I do dare.
Three massive games remain, then. Technically it isn’t in our hands because if everyone wins all their games, but Chelsea lose to Spurs, then we’ll miss out on the inglorious fourth place trophy. Well so be it. Whatever mess we’re in is entirely of the club’s own making, and if that scenario plays out all we can do is accept it. But for now I wouldn’t swap our fixtures for anyone else’s. Keep playing like today, and my only betting strategy will be to stick the kids’ college fund on red?
Just kidding, I don’t have any kids.