Two excited youngsters are met and whisked off to enjoy a pre-match pizza. Mum asks, “what is your prediction this afternoon?”. I tell her I fancy we have learned our lesson and will win 2-1. “What lesson?” Nearly every time we have played them in recent years they sit back and catch us with one or two lightning breaks, I explain. We can’t be that naive again, surely?
We arrive at the ground early and two wines and a couple of fizzy drinks cost half as much as the feast we have just enjoyed. Snaps are taken as the boys enter Block 26. Wide eyed, and smitten they are. I’m just a bit nervous. I thought the family section was in the corner, not behind the goal. When the match kicks off so does the abuse of van Persie, and Tottenham. That won’t stop, but why are the club selling junior Gunners tickets in this area? Everybody stands, again something I don’t object to, but it means the youngest has to stand on his seat to see the match.
What the boys see in the first half is encouraging. Some of the football from Arsenal is memeric, but the lion is somewhat toothless and clawless. A couple of chances for Danny Welbeck and one for Jack Wilshere came and went before Jack was put clear through on goal. Setting the tone for the afternoon he placed his effort straight at De Gea. A big moment it would prove to be. De Gea had magnetic qualities as far as the ball was concerned. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain rounded him but he recovered to block when once again the opening goal seemed imminent. Sanchez too put an effort straight at him.
Arsenal were becoming nervous, the confidence seemingly draining out of them towards the end of the half, and Di Maria curled an effort just past the far post. This was a warning that United were up to their old tricks against us. We didn’t heed the lesson. At half-time we could at least sit and encourage each other. The beaming grins of pre-match had turned to nervous expressions but we were surely going to win playing like this, weren’t we?
Again De Gea didn’t have to move far to clutch an Alexis effort as Arsenal poured forward. Then the inevitable happened, Wojciech Szczesny and Kieran Gibbs collided as both attempted to deal with a hopeful Fellaini punt and Valencia’s wild effort was deflected into his own goal by the prone Gibbs. Cue a deafening silence at the Clock End for what seemed like a minute before the first obscenities starting gushing forth. The atmosphere deepened further, and the first rumblings of ‘friendly fire’ were heard.
Off went Szczesny, on came Martinez. We poured forward, finding De Gea it seemed with every goalbound effort. Olivier Giroud’s arrival almost brought an instant reward, but his header was too high. As we streamed forward United again countered. Two against one, Di Maria set Rooney free for a second. Shambolic defending for a young central defender and a tiny goalkeeper to witness. Hopefully this (Sunday) morning they don’t do as poorly.
The home support started to dwindle rapidly. We were able to sit again with clear rows in front of us. Eight added on minutes finally saw two young boys cheering when Giroud smashed one high and wide of De Gea into the net. Arsenal being Arsenal there had to be hope, didn’t there? United though ran down the clock and frustrated as tempers frayed on the pitch as well as off it. The frustration was understandable, but the reaction infantile and self-defeating.
Shorn of defensive stability and discipline this current Arsenal team is seeking elusive ruthlessness. The pretty patterns and sharp interplay in and around the box is desperately seeking finishing touches. One gets the feeling that a poorly organised opponent will get terrorised one afternoon soon, but Arsenal need something else against stronger rivals. United, equally hapless at the back came with a tried and trusted gameplan, and it worked.
When will we learn that lesson? When will our luck turn? When will Kos, Mesut, and Theo return? Will they alone solve what ails us? The January transfer window is gaining added significance with every passing poor result. Hopefully when the young defenders return they will see a better example to follow.