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The Waiting Ended

Well, much to the surprise of no one, except perhaps Vladimir and Estragon, Arsenal’s waiting ended at Old Trafford yesterday afternoon. After days of building excitement, concern about injuries, and wonder if we could take 18 from 18 points for the first time since 1947 the door opened and in walked a 3-1 defeat at the feet of Erik ten Hag’s squad (on a lighter note, if Erik was a surfer with a cold, would he be called “Erik Hag Ten”?).

And, as disappointing as it was, it was even moreso because I forgot it was my turn to write the review, and was liberal in my use of fast forwarding through the game on the DVR (I was away for the live game). So, apologies to all for the tardy review, which I am writing having watched the game again.

The first ten minutes or so was pretty much all United, roared on by their crowd (though, to say, the Arsenal away support was again stellar, loud and drowning out Old Trafford even if C100 wasn’t there to add his voice). When Saliba! missed a shot in the 9th minute from near the spot high and wide, it looked like this might not be our day. And yet, it was at the end of a move from a freekick that seemed to be an indication of us playing our way into the game, figuring out what United were doing and putting them on the back foot. Oh, and Scott McTominay is a nasty donkey. The foul for the freekick was a push in the back of Martinelli that could have led to an injury to the Brazilian.

Even though United kept us under pressure, controlling the ball well, suddenly it was 1-0 to the Arsenal. Erickson fell over near midfield under a challenge from Ødegaard, who passed the ball to Saka. To say Saka’s through ball was perfect is an understatement, regardless of the absoluteness of perfection. It was beyond perfect, into the feet of Martinelli who stroked it home far corner past DeGea. And then the ref decided that he needed to look at what the VAR wouldn’t decide, and chalked it off as a foul. That was the moment the door handle turned and the door opened.

So much for “letting the game flow” at the start, what we’ve been hearing all season long. And that’s all that I am going to say about it.

The half continued back and forth, though we continued to control more and more of it. Zinchenko and Ødegaard played well, and the back four was largely competent. We couldn’t seem to put many chances together, even as we pressed from the right through the excellent Saka. Jesús put a header wide from a corner (one of the few times he could get away from the arms of Varane). Saka tripped in the box, definitely not a penalty, just before Saliba! earned a yellow for not really tripping up Sancho. There was a hilarious moment when McTominay and Antony ran into each other trying to intercept a pass from Ødegaard. Lokonga did a good job from deep, and got his studs down the back of Fernandes on one tackle that brought a big moan from the home fans (and their surfer of a coach).

In fact, not one of our players had a bad game. Martinelli was outstanding down the left, probing and forcing United’s defense to scramble again and again. We had a period of dominance in the middle of the first half that led to a Saka cross Martinelli headed across goal that was palmed away by DeGea. A lesser keeper would have waved that into goal (it felt a little like Martinelli’s volley for a goal against Emi). Our defense was purposeful and created little space in which United could play. Some of our passing was gorgeous…the only thing we really lacked was our final ball.

We didn’t allow United many chances, either. Until their goal. They were limited to breaking, and then a bunch of stepover fluff from Antony. Until their goal. Eriksen split the midfield to Fernandes, with Martinelli and Sambi sucked upfield. Gabi had to tackle Fernandes (he fouled him, but the Tierney let it play on, correctly), leaving White, Saliba!, and Zinchenko 1v1 on their men. Zinchenko moved centrally to cover for Gabi, leaving Antony open behind him to receive the pass from Rashford in the middle. And he made no mistake, going far corner on Ramsdale with a fine shot.

Arsenal 0-1 Manchester United (Antony, 35′)

We started the second half elaborating in and around their box. We were perhaps guilty of over-elaborating, at times, trying the backheel where a better decision could have been made, or continuing to push forward and giving the ball away rather than recycling the ball to go in again. In the 52nd minute we worked down the right through Jesús, who drove towards the box and pinged a pass to Ødegaard, who put his sidefoot woefully wide. We were able to get it back in the box to Saka, whose shot to the far post was just wide.

After a quarter hour our pressure from the front told. Four of our players surrounded Varane and Rashford just inside the halfway line; Martinelli touched it to Xhaka who passed to Ødegaard. He brought the ball to the middle of the pitch with Jesús making a driving run inside Dalot. Mø sent a pass inside to Jesús, and Dalot just got enough of a foot on it to kick it towards Saka, while colliding with DeGea. It was simple for Saka to 5-hole Martinez and bring us to level.

Arsenal 1-1 Manchester United (Saka, 60′)

After our goal we seemed to relax, just a bit. And it cost us. We had a warning when Rasford was adjudged offside when the pass came in from our offensive half. Zinchenko and White were tucking in very deep, with Gabi and Saliba! on the halfway line. It cost us, it very much did. In the 65th minute Sambi passed loosely to Jesús; it was intercepted by Dalot, who passed to Ericksen who touched it on to Fernandes. He passed his second touch behind Saliba! into the path of Rashford, who was away, and onside. White raced down and across the field, sliding across Rashford just as Ramsdale came out, and the Manc took his shot. Unfortunately the ball nicked off White’s ankle; the deflection took it over Ramsdale and into the net. There was a shadow showing through the opened door.

Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United (Rashford, 66′)

Almost immediately we were put under the cosh yet again, with a poor ball out from the dallying Ramsdale intercepted by Fred, whose pass to Fernandes was taken first time. Ramsdale atoned for his dallying with a fine, onrushing save, making himself big enough to block Fernandes’s shot. McTominay, probably pissed off from the excellent tackle Gabi laid on him in the box minutes earlier, suddenly wrestled Jesús to the ground like a second-rate WWE poseur, earning him a deserved yellow. Shortly after, Jesús flashed a shot wide right; Arteta rolled the dice and brought on ESR, Vieira (congratulations on your debut!), and Eddie for Mø, Sambi, and Zinchenko. And almost immediately United scored.

We gave away a throw in our half, and after Ronaldo tipped it to Fernandes, and the latter slid a beautiful pass to Ericksen, who was played onside by White. Ericksen had Rashford to his left; the Dane waited out the Ramsdale’s decision, then passed to Rashford who doubled his talley into the empty net. Our line was insanely high, and disorganized after their throw-in, though credit to White for nearly blocking Rashford’s shot. We should never have been bunched on that side of the pitch, it was simple for Ericksen and Rashford to use the balance of our half in which to run. It was a goal we’d love to have made for ourselves. And the shadow became a figure, and it was Defeat, staring us in the face.

Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United (Rashford, 75′)

Tomi came on for White (who had a good game excepting a couple of momentary lapses, but at this level those can be, and were, fatal) just after United changed three, including Harry McGuire, who earned a yellow in his first defensive move: tripping Jesús just above the D. But the freekick was notable only for two things; first, Xhaka fell over the ball, allowing Fred to pass crossfield into the path of Ronaldo. Second, it showed the “great one” should really now be “the bronze bust”, as Ramsdale beat him with footspeed to clear the ball.

Vieira looked active and tidy on the ball, he even put a volley over the top corner in the 86th minute. His pass to Martinelli just in front of goal that McTominay had to put over for a corner was a peach. He also was back on defense to cut out a pass that could have led to another United break. Once he adjusts to the pace of the game, and bulks up a touch, I think we might have another versatile, quality player on hand. There was time for Saka to earn a yellow card for a late tackle on Malacia, who made the most of it. Smith Rowe had an opportunity for a snap shot after Jesús had kept the ball well, but he sent it over.

And that was that. The shadow of Defeat sat at the table, not even bothered to get up and look through the little cardboard box with the rest of the guests. If life had followed the art, Defeat never would have showed up and Arsenal would never lose another game. Unfortunately, life IS art, as John Lennon used to say. Will this be remembered as a blot on an otherwise beautifully rendered piece, or will it be the start of Arsenal’s blue period? If this season is like last, it will be the latter. But I, for one, trust the process that Arteta is leading this team through, and believe they will use this as the learning experience it must be, and perhaps a galvanizing one.

We are off to Zürich for our first taste of Europe in two years this Thursday, and we can only hope we see a resurgent, strong, galvanized Arsenal introduce the Swiss team to the guest they met in Manchester. COYG!

One Drink to “The Waiting Ended”

  1. 1
    scruzgooner says:

    because i forgot i was to be the one writing this report, TTG also wrote a report. in deference to, and appreciation of, his efforts, i am posting his piece immediately after this. comments from the united game, and on both posts, can go below his piece.

    thank you, ttg, for stepping into the breach!