Standing in the corner of Old Trafford in advance of Saturday’s game, with all the Gooners around me eagerly awaiting their opportunity to lambast our latest Judas with a chant of “you’re just a Dutch Jimmy Saville”, I turned to my neighbour to suggest that I would gladly accept a draw. He replied that he’d be happy just to avoid a repeat of last season’s humiliation. Yet despite suffering a mere 2-1 defeat, in some respects I felt far more depressed travelling back to London on the train, than I did following the embarrassment of the 8-2 fiasco.
You could write last season’s carnage off, as one of those footballing anomalies (much like the magical madness that we enjoyed at Reading in midweek). Besides which, the transfer window was still open and Wenger was still able to react to the catastrophe, with his last minute “Supermarket Sweep”.
By contrast Saturday’s insufferably insipid performance felt far more like a heart-breaking affirmation of the Arsenal’s more humble positioning in the Premiership pecking order. I might have vented my wrath at ref Mike Dean at the time, along with everyone else around me, but I’ve no complaints about the combination of fatigue and frustration that resulted in the rash challenges responsible for Wilshere’s red card. In fact it was a small crumb of comfort that there was at least one player on the pitch willing to rage against the dying of the glorious Gunners’ light.
Sadly, the highpoint of Saturday’s game proved to be Wayne Rooney’s penalty miss just before half-time. As Dean awarded the spot-kick, we all assumed the game was up and that the best we could hope for would be a resumption after the break at 2-0 down, in which the Arsenal attempted to salvage some pride. But after the “fat granny shagger” screwed his effort wide of the post, there was suddenly a glimmer of hope that the Gunners would come back out for the second half and take advantage of the gift of Rooney’s glaring miss, as the inspiration for the sort of shift in momentum that might result in us taking the upper hand.
After all, this is what we’re accustomed to in contests with Man Utd. Despite having endured an all too persistent succession of defeats at the Theatre of Dreams in the recent past, there was always some solace, in the sort of shifts of momentum that would occur between two fairly evenly matched sides, where we would at least be able to enjoy a period of the encounter in which we applied some concerted pressure and made the opposition graft sufficiently in front of their goal, to at least feel that they’ve earned the right to triumph over us.
However, despite the fact that the porous form of the Utd team that we faced on Saturday hardly places them amongst the most formidable of Fergie’s teams, in all the Arsenal’s plodding and far too predictable sideways and backwards possession on Saturday, the Gunners demonstrated negligible evidence of our belief in our ability to turn up the heat and take the contest to our hosts.
But then, in truth the only surprising factor about such an impotent performance is that, as a masochistic sucker for punishment, I actually travelled up to the North-West in the misguided belief that anything was possible. I was sorely tempted to stop indoors, instead of getting up at the crack of dawn and wasting 75 quid on a train ticket to more misery against Man Utd. Especially when I could endure the same anguish in the warm, with my feet up on the sofa in front of the telly.
Yet after the ignominy of last season’s outing, I didn’t dare go AWOL on this one, for fear of being punished by the footballing gods and missing out on the rare pleasure of the Arsenal upsetting the odds at Old Trafford and being condemned to umpteen more depressing outings to the Theatre of Dreams, waiting for the law of averages to prevail once again.
However we travelled up there fretting about the likelihood of Santos being a liability. All the previews in the papers pondered on how best Fergie might take advantage of the liability that is our left-back. And surprise, surprise the Brazilian “defender” more than lived up to his predicted shortcomings. Moreover watching the Arsenal old and new performing on the same turf, only highlighted quite how laughable it is that anyone should expect our new French striker to be able to hold a match, never mind a candle, to the feats of our former prolific front man.
Seeing Van Persie caress the ball and glide easily across the Old Trafford turf without breaking sweat, compared to the cumbersome and ungainly exertions of Olivier Giroud, is like comparing the respective merits of a predatory cheetah and a vegetarian mountain gorilla!
I despise these midday kick-offs, as the Gunners customarily fail to start these matches with anything like the necessary intensity. Yet the significance of our results against Man Utd would’ve always provided sufficient motivation in the past to spark the fire in the Arsenal bellies before too long. Yet I fear that our chief-executive’s “sustainable” mantra has become all-pervasive, to the point where our players are going about their business on the pitch, as if their only ambition is to get to the end of 90 minutes and collect their astronomic wages.
Fortunately the impact of Saturday’s defeat upon Arsène’s imaginary 4th place trophy was mitigated by results elsewhere. But unless the Gunners rediscover a more spirited mojo before our midweek trip to Schalke, our Champions League campaign could end up being no less distressing.--
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com