“Are you City in disguise?”, rang the cry from the away section at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. Frankly, had Arsenal successful masqueraded as City, they would have put on a better show than this shambolic performance.
For the second successive home game against their closest rivals Arsenal not so much wilted as capitulated. United were excellent, but their quality was in the simple execution of footballing basics, the bare minimum to be expected from a tie of this nature. They pressed Arsenal hard in midfield, and went narrow when defending their own box, forcing wasteful cross after wasteful cross to be hopefully punted into the United area.
The performance was one typical of United this season; built around some solid foundations (Carrick and Fletcher were particularly excellent) and driven forward by the cutting-edge brilliance of Wayne Rooney. What is most worrying for the hosts is that such an approach forged not a tight single-goal victory, but a dominant humiliation of a side credited just a week earlier for finally possessing a backbone.
It would seem fair to suggest that neither of these sides have the mettle to challenge Chelsea, but on this evidence one side is still criminally behind the other.
Wenger was tactically outclassed, but his team’s attitude was most disturbing. The passing was so poor in the second half that it failed to elicit groans of disappointment. Each loose ball was met with a depressing, accepting silence.
Arsenal’s defending was especially woeful as, much like in the Chelsea game, they went two goals down having faced little pressure. Indeed this time only one shot on goal was required; Manuel Almunia helping Nani’s cross into his own top corner. Certainly, the cross was bound for Park at the back post, but for a Premier League goalkeeper to be unable to get a firm touch on a ball no higher than the crossbar is criminal. Almunia’s position has long been under question for his inability to command his area or make meaningful saves, but if he starts making such serious errors, his days in an Arsenal shirt should be numbered.
Of even greater worry were the abject performances of Gael Clichy, and especially Denilson. The former can at least claim rustiness for his part in all three goals, but he was beaten far too easily by Nani for the first, whilst his failure to at least try and cut out Park’s open run from the half way line for the third was just baffling.
Yet it was the latter in receipt of the fans’ ire. Demoralising it must be to have your substitution cheered, but Denilson deserved it. He was breezed by for the first and gave the ball away for the third, but it was his attitude for the second that really summed up his performance. When Rooney played the ball wide to Nani he was thirty yards from his own goal. Denilson was on his own half way line yet he simply jogged gently back, blissfully unaware that Rooney was storming past him. A fabulous break; shocking defending.
Denilson is supposed to be a defensive minded midfielder, yet he doesn’t tackle, can’t pass over more than five yards and brings no energy to the game. Rooney stormed by his lazy jogging as easily as Sidibe had done for Stoke the week before. An embarrassment to Fletcher and Carrick’s work rate. Scholes was able to pull the strings unmolested, by comparison Fabregas gave the ball away repeatedly, Song alone insufficient to shield him without a willing partner.
In a game which may well do no more than decide second place, Arsenal allowed their limitations to cripple them. United on the other hand, turned theirs into positives. A typical winning mentality, and of course the peerless Wayne Rooney, will at least keep them in the race ’till the death.