Usually it’s opposition supporters singing ‘same old Arsenal …’, but yesterday it might well have been the home fans as Wenger’s team were humiliatingly made to look like used goods by Manchester United, not for the first time. And are the fans surprised or was this just another case of Same Old Arsenal?
‘Men against boys’ Patrice Evra had claimed when Manchester United brushed aside Arsenal in the Champions League semi-finals last season. On Sunday morning, Denilson had reminded his team-mates, the fans and Evra himself that this was an improved Arsenal side, that they had learnt from that experience and how insulting the French defender had been to publically burn his team in this way.
By calling them boys, Denilson had presumed Evra meant by their physical demeanour. Perhaps Evra’s reasoning though was deeper than just the toothless bite Arsenal are typically associated with, as yesterday afternoon it was men against boys not because Arsenal are scrawny or feeble, but because of their child-like naivety to switch off against the current champions just as they did against Chelsea earlier in the season. Same Old Arsenal.
It would be harsh to criticise Denilson solely for Arsenal’s defeat. As a unit, Wenger’s men were unorganised, shapeless and predictable. Still, many see Denilson as a weak link in this Arsenal side. Some – myself included – fail to see what is so invaluable about the Brazilian and so when players are marked as Denilson is their errors become more exposed.
Wayne Rooney’s goal (United’s second) brought out the boy in Denilson. Like a child he balled-watched and failed to concentrate on the players rushing past him in stark contrast to what his holding role requires. The more focused United marksman strolled by to receive the cross and send Arsenal on their way to defeat. Denilson had proven Evra right, as his attention span measured that of a boy even if his reputation for strength had yet to be destroyed.
The Gunners had actually started the game quite brightly. Andrey Arshavin was weaving his magic on the shoulder of Rafael, and on two occasions he could have scored, yet scuffed one shot and had another flash wide. Arsenal looked positive and United were standing off, although appearing to have the upper hand was no more than a false illusion as Arsenal lacked the striker to apply the finishing touch. Same Old Arsenal.
At Finsbury Park there are two pubs, The Blackstock and The Twelve Pins. If you don’t know, ‘The Pins’ has an entry fee of £7 and you get two drinks free inside. The Blackstock is cheaper and typical custom will be those unwilling to hand over cash upfront, preferring to sip slowly on one pint for the duration of the game. It is here you would find the frugal Mr Wenger who has been against forking out for the striker Arsenal desperately needed yesterday.
The formation was a flat back four and six midfielders. At times one of Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky or Arshavin would burst forward only to be swamped out by United when the support ahead wasn’t there. On every occasion the man running with the ball was the furthest forward, looking dangerous at speed but without a striker to link with dead ends and blind alleyways were all that lie beyond.
Crosses to imaginary forwards were dealt with by ease by Johnny Evans and Wes Brown. Intricate short passing was broken up in and around the United penalty area, and Theo Walcott made some impression as a substitute with lightening speed only to over-hit crosses. Same Old Arsenal.
A friend had said to me prior to the game, that he would have felt more comfortable were the game at Old Trafford. A strange thing to say considering Arsenal have found form at the Emirates this season, nonetheless by half-time it was clear that the team’s casual approach at home is what bothered him so much. In the comfort of playing at the Emirates, Arsenal’s defence had become wild and irresponsible to the point of self-destruction.
Thomas Vermealen and William Gallas have been stoic at the back for Arsenal this season. In particular, the Belgian defender has added the bite that Evra claimed was missing last season while also rejuvenating Gallas who firmly believes in the sort of graft Vermaelen embraces.
A defender though must defend first before torpedoing downfield to carry forth the job Arsenal’s attackers couldn’t do. In their innocence to career forward, Arsenal’s defence were left exposed to Manchester United’s much wiser counter-attacking plan. It was the height of crimes to be caught so short at the back and allowed Park Ji Sung to amble unchallenged and kill the game at 3-0.
It’s not the first time this has happened either, so needless to say: Same Old Arsenal. While it’s great to have goalscoring defenders, Vermaelen, Gallas and Gael Clichy must remember their first responsibility; DEFEND. Then again, where was the commanding voice to pull them back into line, the scream to correct the lunacy of bombarding forward in reckless tandem? I doubt it was Manuel Almunia and once again I make Evra right, it purely was the stuff of boys.
I actually spent that little bit extra and watched the game in The Twelves Pins yesterday. There were no songs to the tune of ‘same old Arsenal [insert something derogatory here]’, instead a resounding voice of support and belief. It was the only credit anybody wearing red and white in north London warranted, and at the same time quite ironic: Same Old Arsenal yet Same Old Entrenched Arsenal Fan. It seems nobody has moved on.

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