Well that wasn’t what we wanted to see, was it? Reports of a bug sweeping through the squad prior to kick-off proved to have a degree of veracity to them. Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky were ruled out, Mikel Arteta and Serge Gnabry played a part despite also suffering.
The loss of the BFG and little Mozart proved pivotal. The goal by which United secured the points arrived from a set piece, headed home as Robin van Stapleton got the run on a static defence. We have conceded goals like that before, but the German giant would have strengthened our resistance to such a sucker punch.
To that point I thought Arsenal would have been pleased, happy to draw United on before attempting to damage them on the break. For once though the Gunners slick passing game was not quite at the level we had hoped beforehand. Rosicky’s absence meant a start on the right flank for Aaron Ramsey, but he knows his best work is done in the centre now and so we suffered a little from a lack of width as he constantly looked to move infield. Ironically in the centre Mesut Ozil too was having a hard time.
We had a scare when Wojciech Szczesny was clattered into by Phil Jones, and not long afterwards Mathieu Flamini collected a fifth booking of the season for a challenge surely meant as a warning to the same player. His absence against in-form Southampton in a fortnight will save Arsene from another selection problem, providing of course that both Arteta and Ramsey are fit to anchor the midfield.
If we had shown a lack of urgency and belief in the first-half at least we displayed greater desire in the second, and particularly after the arrival of Jack Wilshere as a substitute around the hour mark. Half chances were created from corners and crosses in open play. The decision to summon Bendtner, albeit with only twelve minutes remaining, was an obvious one. The best chance to nick a point from the match came in added time when not for the first time Bacary Sagna delivered a superb ball in from the right but the Dane waved a leg in the vague direction of the ball and his big moment was gone. Arsene saw the game thus,
“We lost too many balls and we rushed our game in the first half. In the second half when we played our game we played in one half and they counter-attacked a few times but we didn’t find the opportunity to equalise. We had the opportunities but we missed always a few inches to push the ball in the net and they were well focused to defend and defend and then try to catch us on the break. That happened once or twice in the game.”
It is fair to observe that this was a disjointed performance by the Premier League leaders, but at the end of a week in which Liverpool and Dortmund were also conquered, and given also the bug alert on matchday, I think it was perhaps understandable that we lost our ‘unbeaten away since March’ tag. United were not at their best either, save Rooney whom we had eyed covetously in the summer. He deserved the man of the match award but would someone please nail the odious sod early at the Grove. Mathieu, we have another job for you.
The week that was going to expose us as title fraudsters has ended with two big wins out of three, and three goals scored against one. We are top of the two leagues that are priorities for us. We went into November with some claiming that would not be the case tonight. We go into another infernal international break needing somehow to convince them all over again.
What is important now is the reaction to a rare defeat. Bring on the Saints.