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No Soul for Old Rivals

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Manchester United's English defender Chris Smalling (L) vies for the ball with Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud (R) during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium in London on February 12, 2014. Photo by Ben Stansall.
Manchester United's English defender Chris Smalling (L) vies for the ball with Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud (R) during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium in London on February 12, 2014. Photo by Ben Stansall.

Arsenal and Manchester United fashioned a dull and lifeless encounter at the Emirates.

The mouthwatering encounter was billed as a clash between two heavyweights – both baring the burden of their recent poor weekend performances.  It was a game that was meant to define either, or both, team’s seasons.

In actuality, while the weather was raging across the English countryside, postponing matches in its wake, both Arsenal and Man Utd showered us with doldrums.

Maybe I’m still hung-over from ingesting the Roy Keane/Patrick Vieira documentary, Best of Enemies, but the passion and commitment displayed and demanded by those two leaders of men is exactly what’s missing from the current versions of each squad.

Soul.

I made a few predictions pre-match that need to be discussed.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin:

I suggested Arsene Wenger give the keys to the Ferrari to Oxlade-Chamberlin and start him in the middle of the park.  Wenger chose to drop him from the starting 11.  Ox didn’t overly impress in the short amount of time he was given, but I will say this, when Oxlade-Chamberlin was put on the park Santi Cazorla took over the match.  Ox gave United plenty to think about and I think it freed up Cazorla to have a brilliant 20 minutes.

Santiago Cazorla:

I suggested that Cazorla would bag a goal and outshine Mesut Ozil – he may not have scored but he was clearly the better of the two.  Cazorla played well throughout the match--but after Ox entered the fray, from the 74th minute on--Santi began spraying through balls, linking up better, and produced two of the game's best shots on frame.  If it hadn’t been for David De Gea denying my prediction and Arsenal’s chance at three points Gooners would be singing a very different song.

Jack Wilshere:

I suggested ‘resting’ him.  Wenger ignored my advice and again started him as Mikel Arteta’s partner as a holding midfielder.  Albeit for the run into the box in the first five minutes of the match to earn a corner, Jack Wilshere had another poor showing.  He gave away possession cheaply on several occasions and more than once Arsenal were lucky to escape unpunished. 

Mesut Ozil:

Many were hoping, myself included, that Ozil was going to turn in a super performance tonight.  He did not.  I give him credit for working harder than in recent memory; clearly the mud generated by his critics about his lack of fitness and ability to impact a match is sticking to his studs.  He offered more effort tonight.  But his play was nebulous and ineffectual.  I cannot say that Thomas Rosicky was much better, a player I called for to be restored to the side, but I sure would have liked to have seen Santi Cazorla (insted of Ozil) take that free kick (that Santi himself won) in the waning minutes of the match.  It looked as though Ozil barely had the leg to reach the goal.

Final Thoughts:

I think Wenger got it right by reinstating Kieran Gibbs.  I’m a big Gibbs fan and I think his speed and willingness to get forward – and the young legs to get back in transition – make him a better choice than Nacho Monreal. 

I cannot understand flip-flopping on Oxlade-Chamberlin.  He starts him through the middle verse Crystal Palace and he looks the most dangerous player on the pitch.  Against Liverpool he’s shifted to the right flank.  Today he only gets 20 minutes.  I don’t get it.

Arteta played admirably today.  Yes, he had the blip where he chose not to play the way he faced, turned into trouble, and gifted Robin Van Persie a one-on-one with Wojciech Szczesny; but that was really his only lapse during the 90 and thankfully RVP chose to squander the chance with his handbag. 

Arteta had a much better performance verse Liverpool (which isn't setting the bar too high).  I think he will welcome back Matheiu Flamini with open arms – he might even let Flamini cut the sleeves off his jersey if he fancies it.

Szczesny came up big denying a header from RVP after being lofted a nice ball from Wayne Rooney. I think, as a goalkeeper, he grows with confidence each time his sheets are kept clean.  Olivier Giroud would best keep his mouth shut regarding Hugo Lloris.

When the final whistle blew at the Emirates the boos drizzled down on Wenger and all I could think was “are you having a laugh?”

There was no soul on display from these two old rivals.