With a nod to the great Groucho Marx, Arsene Wenger had a perfectly wonderful week, but this last week wasn’t it.
Two points dropped to Sunderland at Emirates, a loss to Barcelona and an exit from the Champions League and on Saturday a FA Cup defeat from Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Throw in injuries to some key players and now the Gunners are down to fighting on the one front that is the Premier League. The problem is that unless some of the injured players make rapid recoveries the fact that Arsenal only trail Manchester United by three points but have a game in hand won’t really mean much.
Many of the recurring faults were on display once again on Saturday. Almunia is a decent – sometimes excellent shot blocker – but he has trouble with many of the other facets of goalkeeping. The first goal scored by Fabio was an example. The Javier Hernandez header should have dealt with a more positive manner and stopping it was only half the job.
Of course, the goal came from a counter attack and Arsenal was not equipped to deal with such a ploy. Having your team open to a swift counter is like dipping an open wound into a shark pool when your team is facing Sir Alex Ferguson.
Arsenal can get way with playing Denilson against average opposition but the step up is too much for him to handle. As for Diaby rarely have we witnessed a player turning attack into defence as often as he did on Saturday.
Without Fabregas Arsenal play across the park and, as they often do, they constantly checked inside into United traffic. If you don’t have someone who can play passes through and behind a defence then you are going to have difficulty, no matter how much possession you may have.
The alternative is to sit deep and encourage the opposition to come at you but the Arsenal defence is not equipped to play that way. Manchester United sign defenders who relish defending, Arsenal is still producing defenders who want to be regarded as deep lying midfield players.
For Manchester United it was another triumph of simple tactics. Get behind the ball, frustrate, make Arsenal check inside whenever possible and ask Vidic to deal with any crosses that do come in. Get a couple of excellent stops from Edwin van der Sar and when the opportunity arises break at speed. If there is a man in front of you give him the ball and then support him.
Rooney was excellent – particularly in the first half. Given a roving commission he was bright and inventive. Spraying passes, making tackles and getting goal side – looked in fact like a younger Paul Scholes.
Before Rooney started to score goals by the barrel load a couple of years ago I suggested that the replacement for Scholes was Rooney. I put that one up for debate again.
If Sam Allardyce was watching the Birmingham v Bolton match the three goals must have warmed the cockles of his heart. For as much as Owen Coyle has been praised for changing Bolton’s style all three goals on Saturday came from old-style Bolton tactics.
From a long free kick taken by Jussi Jaaskelainen, Kevin Davies fought for the ball, and then came a header from Muamba and wee flick from Klasnic. Suddenly Johan Elmander was in and he produced a remarkably confident finish for one who has gone scoreless for so long.
Davies created and scored Bolton’s second from the penalty spot after Curtis Davies got far too tight on his namesake in the penalty box. Legs got tangled and it is a situation that rarely goes in the defenders favour.
During his career Curtis Davies has sometimes looked like a centre back with a wonderful collection of tools and at other times he has defended like a tool.
The third goal which was to prove the winner came after Coyle made a double substitution. Mark Davies came on for Muamba who seemed to have been offered a much longer leash than usual by the coach while Lee replaced Klasnic – although not a straight swap.
Lee took on his usual role wide on the right while Elmander moved up into attack along with Kevin Davies. McLeish countered not long after with Derbyshire on for left back David Murphy. Beausejour shifted to left back and that too was to be key.
With a ball knocked into the back post it was Davies that towered over Beausejour and his header was met by Lee around seven or eight yards out.
It was at heartbreaker for a Birmingham side that was forced into two important substitutions before the half hour mark and twice they came back to tie the game.
On the first equalizer Cameron Jerome may actually get credit for a goal and an assist. His knock down was poorly played by David Wheater and came right back to him – nice finish.
Kevin Phillips may be 37 and well off the pace of the game but he still carries great scoring instincts. He forced Jaaskelainen into a finger tip save onto the post while his goal was simply a brilliant intuitive finish.
One last thing – the introduction of young Redmond as a substitute for Ferguson added some much needed speed to the Birmingham attack.
A review of Sunday and Stat Facts and more to follow later this evening.
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