Man Utd 1 Arsenal 0: RVP’s Strike Throws Title Race Open
Even if this fixture took place in November, it’s importance was highly significant as both sides knew what the ramifications of a loss could cause. For Manchester United, pride and points where at stake as the Gunners had not won on their home turf since Emmanuel Adebayor’s winner in 2006. For Arsenal, it presented an opportunity to continue their good form as well as going 11 points clear of their eternal rivals, which was definitely a scintillating prospect.
The game started on a rather sad note for the Gunners as two unsung heroes that had been instrumental in their recent run of good form, Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky, caught the flu and every through bred Gooner can attest that they were sorely missed.
With no disrespect to Thomas Vermaelen, but Mertesacker and Koscielny had played a lot of games together and had forged a telepathic understanding that yielded benefits at the back. Vermaelen and Koscielny shared the same traits and either of them required to have a Mertesacker to calm things at the back. Arsenal also missed the grit and determination of Rosicky, that pressed effortlessly further up the pitch.
Shinj Kagawa and Patrice Evra worked in tandem on the left to fashion a chance for Shrek but his shot was saved by Wojciech Szczesny in goal. Aaron Ramsey attempted an impudent chip for Olivier Giroud that controlled the ball superbly before teeing up Mesut Ozil but the German schemer was blocked before he could make any real contact with the ball.
Shrek and Vermaelen were involved in a tussle for the ball on the left hand side and after the Verm intercepted the ball for a throw in, Shrek’s trailing knee hit the Belgian Verminator on his face. Vermaelen was alert to the danger in the box when he nodded Shrek’s cross over the bar for a corner kick.
The United forward took responsibility for the corner and swung it into the box but Robin van Persie reacted quicker than Giroud to loop the ball over Szczesny and Gibbs that stood on the far post to put the home side a goal ahead. The Dutchman’s elation knew no bounds as he ran to celebrate his goal with the provider as Old Trafford erupted to a rapturous roar.
Arsenal tried to respond from falling behind and a corner lofted into the box was punched hard by David de Gea. Ramsey dinked in a cross for Giroud but the Frenchman’s wayward header sailed over the bar.
Giroud was involved in the next noteworthy action as he came back to do some defending inside the box but he made a strong challenge on Shrek and won the ball but the angry mob at Old Trafford voiced their thoughts on what they felt was a penalty but the ref gave a deaf ear to their pleas.
A scary moment arrived when Phil Jones tried to attack the ball from a corner kick but ending up flattening Szczesny was stayed motionless on the ground for some seconds, making my heart to skip a beat. Thoughts and quotes of the Hugo Lloris head injury incident with AVB started surfacing and after some good work by the physios, he was deemed fit to continue.
Shortly after the Szczesny injury incident, there was another cause for concern when Flamini clashed with Nemanja Vidic leaving the Serbian defender concussed and he wasn’t fit enough to continue and was replaced by Tom Cleverley.
Arsenal had a limp attacking performance in the first half and tried to be more penetrative in the start of the second 45 minutes. Vermaelen sent a free kick over the bar and Ozil had a shot that rattled the side netting.
Manchester United had a chance to double their money when Kagawa flicked the ball to Shrek that made mince meat of Sagna before drilling his effort wide. The home side were almost gifted another chance when Arteta was robbed off the ball by van Persie and he teed up Antonio Valencia that darted with the ball before feeding Shrek. The Englishman attempted a chip that went far off the mark.
Sagna found some space and sent a sumptuous cross into the box but it evaded everyone. Shortly afterwards, Arsenal had a corner that was headed out of the danger area into the path of Kieran Gibbs that fired a one-timed volley towards goal. It got a slight deflection off RVP but de Gea had his eyes on the ball.
Wenger summoned Nicklas Bendtner for an ineffectual Santi Cazorla. Jack Wilshere also came on for Flamini in the Gunners bid to salvage something from the game.
Wilshere committed a needless foul on Evra and van Persie swung in a dangerous cross but Chris Smalling failed to connect well with the ball and good chance went begging for the hosts.
Wenger’s last throw of the dice was to bring on Serge Gnabry for Arteta and the youngster almost made an instant impact when he drilled a cross into the danger area but no Arsenal player was in the same wavelength.
Late on, Sagna swung an inch-perfect cross that was begging for a touch from any player on yellow but Bendtner failed to oblige. At the sound of the ref’s whistle reality donned on everyone that Arsenal had lost a key fixture, throwing the title wide open yet again.
Szczesny (7) dominated his area as you would expect from a keeper in fine form.
Sagna (8) had a good game and his distribution was a highlight in Arsenal’s second performance.
Gibbs (7) worked hard on the left and balanced his overall play superbly.
Vermaelen (7) did okay in Mertesacker’s absence and made a couple of vital interceptions.
Koscielny (7) was steady at the back and worked in tandem with his captain.
Arteta (7) was as industrious as ever and tried to dictate the play for his team.
Flamini (7) didn’t do have badly in his return to the squad.
Cazorla (5) played very poorly in my honest opinion and failed to capitalize on the chances you’d expect him to finish off.
Ozil (5) put up another below-par outing and looked out of sorts at times.
Ramsey (6) didn’t stamp his authority on the game from the right. Came to life when he was deployed to the middle.
Giroud (5) had a shocker. Made no genuine attempt on goal and was starved off service.
Gnabry (7) tried to make things happen when he arrived.
Wilshere (7) ran at the defense with drive and determination.
Bendtner (5) had little or no impact on the game. Would have been a hero if he converted Sagna’s chance though.
The loss to Man Utd has seen the table have a compact outlook with Liverpool just two points off the Gunners following an emphatic 4-0 thrashing of Fulham. Chelsea had to rely on the antics of bad officiating to salvage a point while Manchester City and Tottenham lost their games.
The international break comes up next and I’d say that it’s a relief. It’s always nice to focus on something else after a defeat and this time, it would be international football.