…And we’re back. Back in the top four. Back to winning big games. Back to keeping clean sheets. And back to being given penalties and back to scoring them.
Where to start? OMG, that was so enjoyable. It felt a little like last week. We came out and dominated, we were aggressive and created a number of chances that we managed to spurn. But then they also repaid the compliment. Lukaku hit the bar when it was easier to score and, Fred hit the post and in-between Shaw created multiple chances for them.
Again, Leno was outstanding today. Two weeks running now he’s literally saved us. Today was even more impressive. His positioning and reading of the game helped nullify one Lukaku breakaway in the second half. He movement off his line in the first half block Lukaku. His distribution was better. And overall, his calmness stabilized our defense.
Sokratis was brilliant again. He and Kosclieny form a solid partnership. Kosclieny always looking one tackle away from another injury. But between them they nullified ManU. But Sokratis demonstrated controlled aggression throughout the game, read the game perfectly and imposed his character on the game.
The team selection, again, surprised me – like last week. But, again, OneEye got it spot on. I could not believe he played both Ozil and Ramsey. And he dropped Ob1. And Mickeytarrien (though he could be injured). And Guendouzi. And he played Maitland-Niles and Kolinsac. And he played both Cigarette and Aubameyang. And he reverted the shape of the team to a back three. But it worked perfectly. In the first 20 minutes ManU had no response to our onslaught.
Cigarette should have at least gotten onto one of Kolinsac’s crosses. We should have troubled De Gea more than we did. It took a spectacular and speculative shot from Xhaka to beat him. But we deserved it. With Ramsey playing deeper alongside Xhaka we restricted their ability to play through the middle. And our wingbacks provided cover for the back three. Down both flanks we out played them. We dominated possession and controlled the game in the first half. Ozil was involved and Ramsey worked so hard to track Pogba that Pogba was barely in the game.
The second half was a little bit more subdued than the frenetic pace of the first half. Man U had more possession but they created few outright chances because of the organization and physicality of our defense. Whether it was Xhaka diving into tackles in our box or Kosclieny throwing himself into block shots, they are put their bodies on the line – including Leno.
Maitland-Niles was a brave choice. He started the game with inconsistent distribution and took time to find the pace of the game. But as the game wore on, while still giving the ball away or losing the ball too much, he grew in his defensive duties. He had a testing time with Shaw, Rashford and Martial. But his recovery pace and concentration saw him, especially in the second half, win all the important tackles. By the end of the game he was completely wiped-out and desperate for the final whistle. He is a strange bird this one. He simultaneously shows calmness and maturity and yet makes some shit passes and gives away possession too easily. But he was a much better choice than our German Kamikaze meathead who, thankfully, stayed on the bench the entire game – his perfect position.
Both forwards squandered too many chances today. Cigarette though adds so much more to our overall game though. He works much harder and links up play much better. But each of them is going through a dry patch. It’s amazing we keep winning without any real goal contributions from them. Cigarette had another gilt-edge chance right after our second goal after the ball bounced over Lindelof but he somehow managed to miss the target. Too often the two of them would pass up the chance to shot in order to pass to the other. They have to be more selfish; they have to stop trying to be so intricate inside the box and just shoot.
Kolinsac is such an effective wing-back and yet a crummy full-back. With Monreal behind him, Kolinsac can dominate and create down the left. Throughout the game he bullied Young and set up numerous chances. Xhaka was able to continuously feed him the ball. Ramsey and Ozil linked up well with him. Most of our breakout came down that side. He even defended every now and then.
Of course, Man U are hobbled by injuries. But for a club and team who’ve spent, literally, billions of dollars on their players, they deserve no sympathy. They certainly had enough quality players on the pitch to mount a serious challenge and they had enough chances. Thankfully though they fell to Lukaku. But we outplayed them for too long. And they were too slow to react to our tactics. Thank you Ole!.
And thank you Lee Mason for the penalty. That’s some kind of Arsenal record – two penalties in two premier league games. Both in the same area of the box and neither of them seemed like penalties. We’ve, of course, seen them given against us way to often so it’s nice to see them go our way. And this time Aubameyang managed to actually score. From that point on I was way more relaxed. I thought Man U had one goal in them but not two. We continued to create chances and failed to convert them.
Ignoring the NoHopaCup, that’s 4 points from two top 6 games. We deserved six and should have had six but I’ll take 4 and would have taken that gratefully before these two games. In both games we played with energy and drive. And each was based on a different tactical set up. One was a defensive masterclass whereas today we were more expansive and attacking. And that is a credit to OneEye. I’ve been quite critical of him in the past few months and have doubted his suitability. I still remain skeptical but I’ve certainly been more impressed over the last month or so. His selections have been braver and his tactics more varied. I have little doubt that with the wonderful AW we would not have gained these results.
Here we sit in the top four with just 8 games left. Of course, we have ample experience to find a variety of ways to through away this advantage. I’m just grateful that we’re even in this position. Through the ebb and flow of the season I would not have predicted we’d be in this position. I believe we have fewer challenging games required to secure Champions League football via the premier league than through the NoHopaCup. I did not see the Rennes game but did see all the usual dramatic, bleating from Arsenal fans after a loss. We were one nil up and had a man sent off. We then lost. Go figure! Sure, we could have managed the game better and only lost by one goal but shit happens. Our fans are like petulant children (I think I have a few of those) who go into meltdown with one poor game. We just have to win by two goals and keep a clean sheet. It’s not like we’re playing Barcelona (shame it’s not PSG or Real Madrid). You need to be able to come back and win these games if you want to progress. So, let’s see if we can win with eleven men. We had a great reaction to Thursdays game. But that game was a shit reaction to the Sunday game. Let’s hope we don’t have the same reaction to this result.
We know that European referees just love to give out yellow and red cards. The very best European refs are better than ours in England but the average European ref is even worse than ours (except for Mike Dean). Let’s hope we get home field advantage this Thursday. And then we’re onto another (and final) stupid fucking international break.
Did I ever mention how I hate FIFA? This is the worst time of the year to introduce these breaks just as the season is coming to a climax. After 30 games (with other breaks) it’s just starting to get exciting and yet we have to hit pause. Pretty soon FIFA would have expanded the World Cup to +150 teams so all these qualification and friendly games will be completely irrelevant. But they still schedule them in order to fill their coffers with yet more money. It’s all about their money.
With eight games left the top four has some interesting permutations. Chelsea are inconsistent and it’s not clear they have the mental fortitude to get into the top 4. Manchester United, even after todays’ loss, have clearly regained their mojo and will surely find their way into the top 4. If only they could have retained Mourinho for longer.
But in terms of pressure, you have to imagine that the Rental Boys are starting to sweat. As they get ready to move into their redecorated home they have to be considering the nightmare situation unfolding. As they lose to Burnley and now Southampton, with upcoming games against Liverpool and then Man City, they are in danger of not making the top 4. If we can hold steady for eight more games we just might be able to send Sp*rs into a financial meltdown situation. It’s too early to get too optimistic. But if they can lose a few more games and fail to qualify the financial impact ($70mm+) combined with the debt burden of their redecoration could impair their ability to both retain Erickson and Ali while also failing to attract any new players. If the gods are kind to us we could see everything implode under the financial weight of their debt and then see Pottechino leave under too much pressure. Oh what a wonderful dream this would be. I would even sacrifice our position in the top 4 to Chelski if that assured us that Sp*rs were locked out of the top 4. Happy days indeed.
A great day today and a wonderful weekend of results. Once we get past Thursday (one way or the other) we’ll enter suspended animation for a couple of weeks but we can sustain ourselves with the awareness of the pure panic that must now be running through the management and ownership at Sp*rs. We managed to navigate our way through our new stadium. Let’s hope they fail epically.