Football

Take heart Arsenal - it's not over yet

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Probably the toughest eight days of Arsenal's season have been and gone and the Gunners have come through it largely unscathed: the only blemish has been Arsenal's 1-0 defeat at the hands of their old rivals Manchester United.

Due to Arsenal's slide after the "Invincibles" era the rivalry between Manchester United and Arsenal has diminished over the years in that in recent years the two clubs haven't really been fighting each other for the Premier League title.

However with Arsenal five points clear at the top of the table, Arsenal's title credentials could not be questioned at that moment in time. Some of the more cynical fans would have claimed that Manchester United are no longer fighting for the title this year, their victory shows that they are very much in the hunt; although had they lost they would have been eleven points off the pace.

Arsenal went into this run of games against Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United off the back of some scintillating form in the league (despite losing to Chelsea in the Capital One Cup) and the only criticisms that cynics were offering were that Arsenal's recent history suggested that they wouldn't be able to keep it up and that Arsenal's fixture list in the league had been very easy up until the Liverpool game.

Some were expecting Arsenal to lose all three games and for things to fall apart after that, but Arsenal immediately prevented that from happening with a sensational 2-0 win over Liverpool.

The Gunners performed like title contenders on that day to say the least: Suarez and Sturridge could barely get a word in; Arsenal's midfield was firing on all cylinders; Giroud, despite not getting on the scoresheet, was one of the most influential players on the pitch. That was one of the best ninety minute performances Arsenal have produced since they moved from Highbury; by which I mean to say that in other strong performances there will have been fifteen minute lulls in which Arsenal may have conceded.

Liverpool did create a few chances but Arsenal dealt with them brilliantly and the 2-0 result didn't flatter Arsenal at all; had they not seized up and gone for the jugular after Ramsey's wonder-strike then the scoreline could've been very messy. Coupled with Arsenal's sensational win in the Westfalenstadion over Borussia Dortmund, Wenger's side were showing the world that they must be taken seriously.

Therefore on Sunday when they travelled to Old Trafford confidence was very high. In those sortd of games form goes out of the window so Arsenal had to be wary of all threats from the Manchester United team and were going to have to continue the performances of the previous week to stand any chance of victory.

To me, it seemed unlikely that Arsenal would be able to keep up the intensity of the preceding two games quite simply because it is nigh on impossible to play that brilliantly for three consecutive games, particularly as those three games were against three top teams in the space of eight days.

Plus, Arsenal's sudden outbreak of illness really hindered their chances. However, had Arsenal battled to take a draw form Old Trafford they would have still been three points clear at the top of the table and eight points clear of David Moyes's side.

But alas, it wasn't to be and, despite being in the game for the whole ninety minutes, Arsenal never got going and were beaten 1-0.

However, Arsenal should take some comfort from Sunday's match. In recent years when Arsenal have gone to Old Trafford regardless of how well they have played, Manchester United have totally played them off the park.

Arsenal were very poor on Sunday: none of the midfielders were firing in any shape or form; the defence was far too easy to break down; Arsenal kept giving the ball away and yet they stayed in the game for the whole ninety minutes. Manchester United by no stretch of the imagination thrashed Arsenal: the Gunners had 60 per cent of the possession and United only had one real chance from open play.

Surely the fact that Arsenal were able to keep up with United without hitting top gear suggests that they have moved up a level from recent years? Arsenal even did it with some of their key players not fit.

One key component of the Arsenal machine which was missing was Per Mertesacker: it was evident that the Vermaelen-Koscielny partnership just doesn't quite work. I think that Vermaelen and Koscielny are both excellent defenders. Both put their bodies on the line and make impossible tackles and do all the dirty work with admirable bravery.

Both, despite being small for defenders, are excellent in the air. However, the two of them are both so gung-ho in their approach to defending that they do make a few mistakes every game. Both have pretty poor positioning and so there will be a few moments every game where one of them is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Look at the Manchester United goal: both of them were far too far up the box and needed to be much deeper. However, with Per Mertesacker that mistake would have been covered. The German lacks the pace of the other two but his positioning is so excellent that he is able to make up for it.

Therefore when you combine either Koscielny or Vermaelen's ability to stop attacks from developing with sensational tackles and headers with Mertesacker's ability to cut attacks short when they do develop, you have a fantastic partnership. But if you just double the strong characteristics without making up for the weaknesses disasters will happen.

I've stated before that title-winning teams are good at drawing games and a more experienced side in winning trophies would surely have either ground out a 0-0 draw or found the breakthrough needed to equalise and just take the point.

Once Arsenal went a goal down it felt like they were looking to score two goals at once instead of concentrating on bringing it back and then building from there. It was the same problem in the Dortmund game at the Emirates.

In the second half Arsenal were much the better side than Dortmund and threw everything at trying to find the winner. This meant that once Arsenal started committing more and more men forward and the fullbacks were worrying less and less about the space behind them that when Dortmund had the opportunity to counter-attack the goal was inevitable.

It would have been much better to have stroked the ball around and wear the Dortmund midfield down with the occasional overload instead of constantly trying to tear the defence to pieces.

However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and Arsenal now have a break to lick their wounds and must come back stronger when they play Southampton.

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Topics:
Football
Arsenal
Thomas Vermaelen
Laurent Koscielny
Per Mertesacker

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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