10 November 2013

Arsenal 0-1 Man U: like night and day...

Well, it's a disappointing result, obviously, but not an entirely surprising one. Contrast it against trips to Old Trafford in previous seasons, when last season's a 2-1 loss left us in 8th place, eleven points behind Man U, and in 2011 when that 8-2 scoreline shocker seemed catastrophic. Sunday's 1-0 loss,
by comparison, seems like little more than a shoulder-shrug given how much things seem to have changed. Losing to Man U, in other words, has recently felt demoralizing and symbolic. This time 'round, however, feels like little more than a wasted opportunity. The loss signifies less than the win would have, and as wonderful as it would have been to seize three points, we knew that winning at Old Trafford is a dicey proposition regardless of the current squad's form (theirs or ours). Had this result happened in the first few weeks, when Man U seemed to be in shambles, it might feel like a sharper disappointment. Even given our impressive week, I came away from the loss stoic if a touch deflated. In my match preview, I predicted a 2-1 win. So it goes...

On a day when other rivals suffered more-surprising setbacks—Spurs lost at home to Newcastle, City lost away to Sunderland, Chelsea salvaged a draw at home against West Brom under the shadiest of circumstances—it would have been glorious to see us take three points and widen the gap. To point out that we're still top of the table offers a bit of consolation, but the fall-out is not nearly as severe as it's been in seasons past. Of course, suffering the loss on a goal from van Persie cuts a bit deeper, but sour grapes matter little in the broader scheme of things. Speaking of sour grapes, the man celebrated with an intensity that suggests a degree of joyless schadenfreude, as if the goal vindicated his move, finally. In a week when Moyes found it necessary to defend van Persie's move, saying "I am sure he'd say he's made the right choice," this match seems more even more fraught with symbolism for them.

On a day when Man U needed three points desperately and was playing at home, we had to know that they'd come out hard to try to score first. Indeed, they had chances early, and van Persie's goal in the 26th minute came in part because they did succeed in putting us on our heels. Without Mertesacker, we seemed to lack the organization necessary to prevent corners and crosses from happening in the first place or the height to defend them properly when they did occur. Van Persie's headed goal was well-played. It might have been different had Mertesacker been on the field, or if Giroud had arrived a split-second earlier, or if Szczesny stayed on his line instead of drifting forward into the box. For as solid as he's been, that was a mistake—either join the fray to punch clear or stay home to make the save. He got caught in a no-man's land of sorts, and there was little Gibbs could do at the post to stop the ball going in.

Truth be told, though, Man U controlled the tempo of much of the first half, and we were a bit lucky to go into halftime down only one goal down. The second half was a different story as we looked for an equalizer, and the departure of Nemanja Vidic just before the half might have provided us more chances to score. In fact, we created chance after chance after chance but just couldn't finish. Özil teased the faithful by putting a shot into the side-netting, but it did look like we'd find the equalizer in due time. Although Rooney very nearly finished us off in the 59th minute but sent it wide, Sagna delivered two or three crosses that floated harmlessly through the box, and there were any number of scrambles inside the box that amounted to nothing, and despite there being four minutes of stoppage-time, we just couldn't find the back of the net.

Feh. Despite the result, I'm heartened a bit, actually. Aside from the goal itself, I don't think anyone can say we were outclassed or outplayed. We came into one of the most-hostile environments in the Prem and might have come away with a point despite going down a goal early on. This run we've been on was bound to come to an end of some kind, but the feeling I'm left with is worlds apart from previous trips to Old Trafford. Instead of the emptiness or despair of the last few seasons, I'm disappointed. It's more of the "shucks" variety than the soul-sucking, existential angst, though. There's been some lazy reporting claiming that the outcome "blows the title race wide open". We're 11 matches into a 38-match season. Anyone who had written off Man U or even penciled us in as champs should perhaps take a few lessons in patience. It's November. Yes, the table is a bit tighter than it might have been had we won, but the team that loses on one day knows that it has to find points elsewhere on another. Frankly, I'd rather lose now to Man U than lose to some mid-table team later on. If this loss forces us to to refocus, shakes us out of a sense of complacency, Man U just may have done us a favor. I'm nothing if relentlessly optimistic.

Speaking of optimism, I hope you'll help me win in the Football Blogging Awards' "Best New Blog" competition. If twitter votes indicate anything, I'm in second place behind Futbolpulse. I'm hoping that the Gooner family can help me overcome this bigger, broader-themed site. In other words, I hope I can say I've got the Gunners and the numbers:
Thanks, as always for your visit. 'Til tomorrow...