Anybody see where he was hiding on Sunday?
The performance at Manchester United on Sunday was a real disappointment. The Manager has said that the players were "nervous" in the first-half. It's not the first time I've heard him say something like that in the last couple of years. As I've said in the past, if the players are nervous then that's a failing of the Manager as he sets the players up for any game. There is certainly no doubt that the attitude was wrong. Our players were too timid right from the off and failed to stamp their authority on a poor Man Utd team. Take out Rooney and Van Persie and this is a less than average group at Old Trafford. We should have been straight on top of them in midfield, showing our superiority.
I don't think the team selection did us any favours. Regardless of the sickness bug that went through some of the players I am certain that Flamini (more on him below) and Arteta would have started. This particular selection does us no favours in a game we should be looking to dominate as it means Aaron Ramsey moves out of the centre. When you've got someone playing as well as Ramsey is I don't understand why you'd stunt his impact by playing him out of position.
The change at the back, with Vermaelen coming in for Mertesacker, was actually fairly seamless. I thought Vermaelen played well. However, I was really disappointed at the way he and Koscielny allowed themselves to be bullied by Rooney and Van Persie before half-time. We all know that both of those players can be wound up by a bit of cynical play, especially Van Persie. Vermaelen should have been showing his hard-man credentials by leaving Van Persie on the ground in the 50-50 tackles. To let him get the ball down and play at times was a sign of how shy our players seemed to be on the day. As for Rooney, he might have been made man of the match on Sky, but only Michael Oliver knows how he stayed on the pitch. He should have been at least booked for a heinous late foul on Vermaelen. The incident, according to Martyn Tyler on Sky, showed Rooney's "tremendous attitude". I'm sure it's wonderful that England's most talented footballer is lauded for running 50 yards, totally out of control, with the sole intention of mowing down an opposition defender. Make no mistake, if that happens in Brazil next year England will be a man down.
In the second-half we started to get hold of the ball a lot more and had two opportunities to create very early on. On both occasions Mesut Ozil was put in to the box, on the run, with things opening up for a shot at goal. For some reason he played square, first-time passes, rather than take responsibility. Ozil was nothing short of a disgrace on Sunday as he hid pretty much throughout the game. The way he ducked under Aaron Ramsey's inch-perfect chip over the top later on was the absolute end. All it needed was for Ozil to stick his head on the ball and we would have been level. I have no doubt we'd have gone on to win from there. I've seen the usual carping about Nicklas Bendtner failing to get on the end of one of a series of excellent Sagna crosses, but that's all far too easy. Why do I see people constantly wanting to blame a limited player who had just ten minutes on the pitch, while failing to address the elephant in the room of a £45m signing going through the motions? Ozil will come good, of course. But that doesn't excuse his displays in the last couple of weeks.
One other element, and no small one, to the defeat on Sunday was once again the referee. I mentioned the fact that Rooney should have been sent-off, but the rest of the game saw Mr Oliver being as one-eyed as it's possible to be. Every pull, nudge and tug by a Man Utd player was ignored. Non-existent fouls were given against Arsenal players, even in the final minute of injury-time when Koscielny was adjudged to have fouled Rooney despite taking the ball away cleanly. The injury-time itself was a disgrace. Three minutes was, at best, only half of what should have been played. Will there be an investigation in to the performance of Michael Oliver? No. Should there be one? Of course.
One final word from Sunday and it concerns the way Mathieu Flamini was wearing his Arsenal shirt. Thomas Vermaelen, as Captain on the day, decides what length sleeves the players will wear. After a few minutes my 8 year-old observed that Flamini was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. I wasn't sure if he was and wondered if he had just rolled them up in the same way that Theo Walcott does. I was disgusted to see, when we got a close-up of Flamini, that he had actually had the long sleeves cut away from his shirt. This is unacceptable. The Captain called long-sleeves, so everyone should be wearing them. If you want to roll them up, fine. But don't ever question the authority of the skipper in this way. This is Arsenal, not some tin-pot rubbish like Spurs. Flamini should be fined a weeks wages as far as I'm concerned. I never want to see that again.
Of course it was a chance missed on Sunday. The other results gave us a huge opportunity to get some daylight between us and the pack. We also missed the chance to put Man Utd away once and for all this season. An 11 point gap over a side already with the press questioning the new regime would surely have been too much. Having said that, Sunday also showed me that Arsenal have nothing to fear. This Man Utd team ran away with the Premier League last season. They beat us on Sunday simply because we played badly. I get the feeling that they were pretty much at full throttle. Of course I stand to be made to look stupid, but United looked a busted flush to me. As I said above, take out their two World Class forwards and what else do they have?
As with last season it is a Premier League lacking in genuine quality. This is not a particularly good Arsenal team. But at the moment they are the best side in England. The results since January tell you that they know how to win games, not always with flair. They've battled and scrapped their way to 1-0 wins, just like last week in Dortmund. At other times they've turned on the skill. Sunday might have been a knock, but the players now have to prove it was nothing to concern them when Southampton visit at the end of next week. We're unlikely to get a better chance to win the Premier League than this season. Arsene must instill that belief that was lacking on Sunday. I never want to hear him tell us that the players were "nervous" before any big game ever again.