Arsenal lost to Manchester United today in a match that had periods of ascendancy for both clubs, but more chances for United, and those taken better, made the difference in the end. The defeat for Arsenal means they fail to make up ground on Chelsea, Spurs and Newcastle, and they have nobody but themselves to blame for a sub-par performance all around yet again. Here's how it went down:
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a surprise inclusion in the front four for Arsenal, and Thomas Vermaelen returned at left back. Arsenal had the better of the first two minutes, Chamberlain breaking down the left and trying to find Robin van Persie in the six-yard box to no avail. Both sides enjoyed spells of possession before Chamberlain fired in a cross from the right that Anders Lindegaard claimed easily. Aaron Ramsey had a pop from 20 yards on eight minutes, but Lindegaard saved easily. Arsenal were really bossing possession, but aside from a couple of long chances, had generated little final threat.
United looked to attack on the break, Ryan Giggs spraying an attempted through ball for Antonio Valencia, but Laurent Koscielny was alert to the danger. Arsenal looked to counter themselves on 14 minutes, and as Walcott came down the left, Phil Jones went over under no contact with some kind of leg injury. He was stretchered off, a harsh blow for United. Rafael da Silva came on in his place.
United looked dangerous on a 17th minute corner, but Arsenal were able to finally clear. 22 minutes in, Johan Djourou did well to deny Nani a cutback, but United won another corner, which it took a while for Arsenal to try to clear, Giggs finally attempting a near-post shot that Wojciech Szczesny saved.
Arsenal generated their best chance 25 minutes in, Tomas Rosicky robbing MIchael Carrick in the midfield and feeding the Ox on the right. He got past Patrice Evra easily, but his pass for Walcott ended up being shot well wide by his compatriot. United tried to spring free the otherwise-invisible Danny Welbeck, but Laurent Koscielny was up to the task, haring back to deny Welbeck a shot. 30 minutes in, Giggs earned a free kick from Vermaelen and rifled it in, but Johnny Evans headed it out for a goal kick.
After the free, though, United started to grab control. Arsenal struggled to clear their lines for the next two minutes as Nani and Evra combined really well on the left. 35 minutes in, as the pressure stayed on, Alex Song made a huge mistake to let Evra past him to the byline, his cutback lashed on goal from Nani, Szczesny saving well. Two minutes later, Rooney thought he had a penalty, but Mike Dean (!!!!) said that he embellished, a lot, and did nothing. Valencia tried to break on the right, but Thomas Vermaelen ended that right quick with a serious tackle.
Djourou did his best to free Nani into the area, missing his tackle badly on 41 minutes, but Nani's attempt to curl around Szczesny from a tight angle was woeful. Ramsey was booked 43 minutes in for holding back Giggs, the very definition of a professional foul.
Arsenal were struggling to do much, but Ox was around, and he made Rafael look silly before feeding Rosicky for his customary wide shot. Rafael was booked afterwards for touching the Ox, which is clearly illegal in all jurisdictions and galaxies.
Nobody touches the Ox.
Nani continued to trouble Djoruou as halftime loomed, and United knew it--they kept feeding him and letting him go to work. He wiggled free for a shot on 46 minutes, but Szczesny was able to save.
They wouldn't hold on. Giggs attacked the increasingly worried Djourou, and he slung in a great far post cross. Vermaelen could have done better to head it away, but Valencia just came in from behind him and nodded it back across Szczesny. 1-0 to United, easy as pie, right before halftime. A horrible time to concede.
Halftime arrived. It was a pivotal moment of the season, really.
Johan Djourou would not be around much longer, as Nico Yennaris readied himself on the touchline. He started the second half. Almost immediately, Robin van Persie limped off with some kind of knock to his knee, but it wasn't serious enough to keep him off the pitch for very long, thankfully.
The half was pretty drab until 51 minutes in, when Rosicky pounced on a Chris Smalling error to break in free on goal. Instead of shooting, he squared for van Persie, who took one touch, set himself up, and...missed. He just missed. It was a sitter, and he missed. In related news, I will be living in a snowbank for the next six months.
Ramsey shot over from 16 yards two minutes later. Sadness.
Valencia somehow shot at the inverse angle to the cutback that Nani gave him on 57 minutes, but United seemed to have regained their stability, until Arsenal broke through van Persie. Ramsey couldn't quite get to his cutback, but the ball fell for Rosicky, whose shot was blocked. It was a good effort, though, and Arsenal looked to buck up a little from then on.
United had ceased pressing, and space was opening up for Arsenal. To their credit, the players were trying to take it. 62 minutes on, the Ox had a shot from 20 that missed by six inches, Lindegaard beaten. United were still around, though, and Nani played Evra through, wrongly called for offside, but Szczesny saved.
Welbeck did really well to get past Per Mertesacker a minute later, and fluffed the ball past Szczesny, but Mertesacker came to the rescue, stretching every bit of his 6-6 frame to clear off the line.
Welbeck made it through again on 67 minutes, and Szczesny dove out to try to stop him, but appeared to hurt himself. The goal was open, but United didn't score, and the big Pole got some treatment as United lined up their corner, which Szczesny claimed.
Arsenal were on the back foot, but maybe they were rope-a-doping. Koscielny did amazing work to dispossess Rafael in the area, and started a counter. The Ball came to Ox, who fed RvP with a delicious through ball, and this time RvP did not miss. A clean shot across Lindegaard, which he got a finger too, but the ball nestled in at the far post.
1-1. Game on. 20 minutes left.
Ox would come off for Andrei Arshavin on 74 minutes. Nobody really knows why.
United, on 77 minutes, would bring on Park Ji Sung, Arsenal Killer, for Rafael. Valencia would drop back to right back.
Yennaris put in a cross that Walcott tried really hard to get onto 78 minutes in, but Lindegaard was there to claim. In the process, Walcott hit his head very hard on the ground, and was down for a minute before woozily leaving the pitch.
Paul Scholes came on. That is all.
If Arsenal were in the ascendancy, it wouldn't last. Arshavin made some pretty poor attempts to stop Valencia's run into the box, and his challenges only squirted the ball to Danny Welbeck, who lashed home. It was woeful, and it was 2-1.
Park Chu Young came on for Aaron Ramsey on 84 minutes, Arsenal needing something, anything.
They got two yellow cards, which was fun. The first went to van Persie for questioning United's time-wasting, which was silly from Mike Dean. Rosicky then tackled hard, and was given an actual yellow card for an actual offense.
There were four minutes left in regular time.
There would be five minutes of extra, which United would dutifully waste. Crosses would come in from Arsenal to a very crowded area, but Arsenal were unable to put them home. Time ticked on. Mertesacker headed towards goal, but Evans blocked.
It was Arsenal's last chance. United would take all three points, and Arsenal would fail, once again, to pick up points on those around them. It's a familiar story, and the main reason the Gunners are where they are in the table.
Next week: Villa, in the Cup.