EPL 2005: Day 25 (Arsenal 2 – Manchester United 4)

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
February 2nd, 2005 • 12:54 am


I am afraid the season is well and truly over for the Gunners now. It’s not mathematically over. It’s psychologically over. Mathematically, Arsenal are just two points behind Manchester United, and there’s no reason not to expect Manchester to drop points between now and the end of the season. They might not have lost a game in a while — but Roy Carroll knows very well that they did lose at Old Trafford against Tottenham a couple of weeks ago. So this “unbeaten” run doesn’t mean much. And United don’t look particularly “invincible” or irresistible to me.

But there is no denying that they have the psychological edge. We simply seem to be unable to deliver consistently against the big teams. The Highbury game against Chelsea in December was a good game, but it was still only a draw. And now this… It’s all about results. And the results are simply not there.

Where Manchester irresistible yesterday in the second half? No, they weren’t. The Gunners just played very poorly. There is simply no denying that with a defence leaking goals like this, we are not going to get anywhere. We were the first team to score two against Chelsea in December, and again yesterday we were the first team to score two against Manchester United in a long time. But conceding three or four goals simply isn’t acceptable. Even against Manchester United. Especially against Manchester United. At Highbury.

That said, it’s not just a problem with the defence. I am afraid that, after a game like this, questions about whether Arsenal are “all style and no substance” regain some of their validity. Who was there in the second half to inspire the team to come back and get a result? No one. Instead, we get Robert Pires becoming invisible and Thierry Henry keeping himself busy trying more fancy flicks. I am sorry, but this was no time for fancy flicks. This was about showing leadership and guts. One would expect the captain, Patrick Vieira, to take on that role. But he seems unable to do so.

And then there is the goal keeping situation. Here again, the goal keeping was highly questionable on at least two of the Manchester goals. Almunia had one good stop in the first half against Rooney, but that’s it. Not good enough, I am afraid. And I don’t think Lehmann is any better. So there we are. No world-class goal keeper and a shaky defence. Not much you can build on that. The Champions’ League? Forget about it. There’s just no way. Even Real Madrid can no longer pull it off on a regular basis. If you leak goals, you are out. It’s as simple as that.

Of course, one could argue that it’s all a matter of money. This recent article in The Guardian makes it quite clear: Arsenal do not have the financial means to compete with the big guys. The new stadium is supposed to remedy this, but it won’t happen for a few years.

Still, the idealist in me would like to see them succeed without the money, through sheer elegance and class. And there is still great potential in the team and in the manager in that respect. But they badly need to shore up the defence and find inspirational players who can steer the team away from danger when necessary. Right now, it’s not happening.

6 Responses to “EPL 2005: Day 25 (Arsenal 2 – Manchester United 4)”

  1. Pierre Igot says:

    I don’t believe much in stats… If stats were an indication of greatness, I think Liverpool would have won the league a few times in the past few years. Houiller would always say “we created so many chances”, but in truth the chances they create are rarely very good/threatening. That said, I’ll readily admit that, in this kind of game, I am not very objective and find it hard to see things from the neutral’s perspective.

    As for the penalty, at least this time there was contact — even if the referee didn’t see it :). It was quite clear on the replay.

    I agree that Graham Poll did a pretty good job (except for that penalty, maybe :-)). I remember my first exposure to Poll, which was the Newcastle victory at Highbury a few years back, when Parlour was sent off… Back then, Poll totally spoiled the game. Even Shearer pleaded with him not to send off Parlour. Poll definitely has come a long way…

    And I will readily admit that Manchester United were too strong for Arsenal last night. But they weren’t strong in a way that will make me change my mind about the team as a whole and Alex Ferguson in particular :).

    Finally, I don’t know about this generalization about the English game being “physical”. I watch games in other leagues and see as much foul play. The difference might be that there are even more theatrics in other countries… For example, Heinze comes from PSG and I saw him play for PSG quite a few times over the past few years before he joined Man U. I already disliked him then :). Always getting away with nasty fouls, etc. In other words, a typical Man U player before he even joined them :). I think my main problem is that Man U attracts this type of player. Was there ever any doubt that, of all the top teams, Rooney would join Man U? He was a Man U player before he even joined them. Big foul mouthed bully… Sure, scores some nice goals (even some from outside the penalty box, unlike some other big bully I know), but still — not a likable player from my point of view. Never will be. And it’s the same with too many Man U players. I like Giggs, and I find Ronaldo funny to watch more than anything else, especially when he huffs and puffs and twists and turns and then sends the ball in no-man’s-land :). But on the whole there are too many players in this team that have an ugly side that’s just too apparent. And that, to me, is down to the personality of the manager himself.

  2. LoonyPandora says:

    The stats don’t bear out your assertion that Arsenal didn’t make many chances – you gave me a few scares, let me tell you! According to the SkySports Match Report – Arsenal had 9 shots on target, 3 off target, and 1 blocked. This is more than Man Utd’s 7 on target, 2 off target, and 2 blocked. Although you can prove anything statistics, I think Man Utd took their chances better than Arsenal, I distinctly remember Carrol making a great save from Bergkamp in the second half.

    Where you see defensive mistakes, I see Man Utd pressurising the defence into making those mistakes. Where you see a penalty not being given, I see Pires falling over thin air – I guess it’s all about perspective :)

    Rooney, was his usual stupid self, I won’t argue with that. A sending off would have been a little harsh IMO, but it would have been understandable. Arsenal were just as guilty as us of hounding the referee, although I think it was better than how everyone behaved last time we met. The referee handled the situation admirably.

    I also agree that we were a bit on the physical side in the first 30 minutes, but that’s what English football is about, and it’s what Arsenal must have expected. They coped with it quite well, as at the end of the first half you were winning! The second half was where all the entertainment came, we played some great football, Arsenal played some great football, and it was fun!

    When we lost to Chelsea in the cup last week, that was an entertaining game even though we lost. We played well, but were beaten by a better team. I think that Arsenal played as well as they could with their injuries/loss of form, but we were just too strong I think.

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    OK, forget about the money thing :). I don’t know enough about overall wealth and all the dealings — but obvious this chart doesn’t mean all that much if Chelsea is ranked 11, even for last year. It doesn’t reflect the fact that a billionaire can afford to run a huge deficit every year. But anyway…

    As for the quality of Manchester United’s goals, I see one huge deflection (albeit after a nice build-up) and three goal keeping / defensive errors. Yes, the finish on the first Ronaldo goal and on the O’Shea goal was great — but they should never have had the space to shoot in the first place.

    I don’t know about the entertainment value of the game. Once again, Manchester United tried right away to impose their physical presence with actions bordering on illegality. Rooney acted like a prick and should have been sent off. A penalty was not given. Etc.

    Yeah, I guess it’s usually entertaining when things go your way. :-)

    I am sorry, but this was not really what I call “real end-to-end stuff”. Arsenal simply didn’t create enough clear-cut chances. Roy Carroll didn’t have a single real save to make. And Manchester took the chances that they created. Good for them. Now if they could only do this without bullying their way around and insulting the referees at each and every opportunity, we would have some nice football. But it isn’t going to happen with players like Scholes, Heinze, Rooney, etc. Sorry.

  4. LoonyPandora says:

    Please don’t roll out the same old “we don’t have enough money” argument out every time you are beaten. Arsenal are a very rich club, 2nd richest in the Premiership, and 7th richest in Europe in fact. These figures are for last season, as the latest rankings are not available. Source – This same team was good enough to go well over a season unbeaten, and come close to winning the Champions League, what has changed? – Wenger has the funds, but they are either not made available to him, or he chooses not to spend them.

    I really enjoyed that game, I wasn’t at Highbury, but it was the most entertaining game of football I’ve seen in a long time, real end-to-end stuff. Lots of passion (which boiled over a little, but didn’t spoil the game IMO) – We didn’t look invincible, but then again we never claimed to be. We looked a better team than Arsenal on the night, and that is all that matters.

    We put you under a lot of pressure, with some crisp, and dare I say it beautiful football in the second half – So I think it was a bit of poor defending, exploited by a United team who were playing on top of their game.

    I agree that your team needs a lot of work, as does our own. However I don’t think you give Man U enough credit for putting 4 goals past you, at home (something that hasn’t been done for 5 years) – Regardless of how poor you think your defence is, Man U worked hard to get those goals.

  5. LoonyPandora says:

    Yeah, I agree Man U tend to attract that kind of player, and it is down to the manager. We have a lot of UK/Irish players that like a bit of argy-bargy. Just like Arsenal are full of French airy-fairy, wussy type player because of Wenger ;) :P – Give it a few years, and Chelsea will be full of cocky Portuguese players who actually win everything… Not a nice thought, but I love Mourinho as a manager. He backs up his boasting with results, and you can’t fault him for that.

    I like the rough and tumble attitude though, there is something that appeals to my ‘manly urges’ about football I guess :-/ – It can go too far of course, by no means am I condoning thuggery, and I dislike it when any player sets out to harm another. But I like to see a bit of ‘toughness’ and ‘steel’ in my team, as long as it’s done in the right way. This is what gives us our famed resilience, ability to come from behind, and never give up. Since Arsenal don’t have that toughness, they don’t seem to be able to grind out results, or come from behind often. When this toughness results in headbutts and stamps, it’s gone too far. I see nothing wrong in giving the opposing team an extra-strong shoulder-charge though ;-)

    I hope Rooney can go down the route that Alan Smith (My personal favourite player) went down. When he was younger he was a petulant brat too, but now he channels that aggression into his play, and he is much better off for it.

    The physical aspect of the game is not about the amount of foul play, it’s the general feel on the pitch – It’s been mentioned by many players (Particularly South American players, who generally aren’t the biggest/strongest people out there) that the game over here is too fast and physical for them to cope with. A Good example is Diego Forlan, a poor striker while at Man U, sell him to a Spanish club, and he’s second top scorer in the league!

    I like playing devils advocate myself, I guess it’s just my personality but I always make an argument with myself, and try to be as objective as possible.

  6. Pierre Igot says:

    Mourinho does seem to have everything going for him right now. It’ll be interesting to see if Chelsea can extend their domination beyond the EPL and beyond this year, though.

    Last time I checked, Alan Smith still had trouble controlling himself sometimes. But he’s still young :).

    I guess it’s the same with everything. What would be truly great is the perfect balance between toughness and elegance. Maybe that’s exactly what Chelsea are achieving — but I am not convinced yet (and we have had to endure a lot of watching Chelsea this year over here).

    Oh well. It’s just a game :). But I do enjoy our little arguments!

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