1. After the man that should have been sent off for a nasty stamp won and scored a match winning penalty in injury time for Manchester City, you had to wonder whether today was going to be our day. There had been plenty of talk of “revenge” from Arsenal players ahead of kick-off, in reference to the 8-2 battering we dished out at Old Trafford, so we knew they would be up for this game even more than usual. To get all three points from one of our more difficult games of the season is definitely an achievement, particularly given how depleted our squad is currently.
2. Patrice Evra was named Man of the Match, which I certainly enjoyed given how much he is hated by Arsenal fans, but I’d argue Antonio Valencia was more worthy of the award. Evra did really well going forward, encouraged by the fact Arsenal are struggling for someone to fill in for them at full-back, but he did still have a few lapses defensively. In contrast, Valencia scored our opener and assisted the winner, meaning he had more influence on us picking up the three points than anyone else. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching him play over the past couple of months. He always seems to have the confidence to take on a defender or two and more often than not is successful in doing so. He did really well to outjump Thomas Vermaelen for the goal and did all the hard work for the second goal, cutting inside and beating a couple of players to set up Danny Welbeck.
3. Another player who is in brilliant form at the moment is Michael Carrick, who has just stepped his game up a notch or two over the past few months. He works hard defensively, putting in important challenges, but is also showing off his vision and ability in picking great passes for our forward men. It’s worrying to hear that he played the second half with some hamstring problems as he is currently our most important player. Another injury blow was Phil Jones who, despite initial reports, looks to be out for a few weeks with ligament damage. After going off on a stretcher, the reporter on the touchline claimed United thought it was just a twisted ankle. Sadly, it’s more serious than that, meaning yet again we are totally stretched in midfield. Nani, who also had an impressive game, despite his poor decision making with the final ball, was subbed off and seen wearing a protective boot as he got off the train in Manchester. Scholes and Giggs as our central pair for Anfield?
4. Neither Wayne Rooney nor Danny Welbeck played particularly well today but maybe we were always going to see less of them given our game plan was to make the most of Arsenal’s weaknesses out wide. At 1-0, Welbeck was clipped by Mertesacker, the last man, just outside the box, which put him off balance as he shot. After beating the keeper he couldn’t get enough on his effort as a result and Mertesacker was able to clear it off the line. Had he gone down it would have been a red card for the German. I’m not going to lay in to him for being honest but when players are diving under no contact, I would have been happier to see him go to ground when he has been clipped. Trying to stay on your feet isn’t rewarded in the Premier League, so why bother. His real crime came very late on in the game when he had a perfect opportunity to put us 3-1 up. After hurtling forward and doing all the hard work, he seemed to bottle it when he got in the box, losing the ball under his feet without a challenge, and Arsenal got it away. However, he did score us the winning goal and he does work hard off the ball. I love seeing him in our starting XI and any complaint I had of him today will be corrected with experience.
5. Not even the return of Thierry Henry can silence the complaints of Arsenal fans though, with them booing the team off at half-time when the scoreline was just 1-0. The worst reaction came when Wenger, in all his wisdom, decided to take off Oxlade-Chamberlain and replace him with Arshavin. The youngster was a real threat and Rafael had a tough time trying to contain him. Just minutes after setting up Arsenal’s equaliser goal he was replaced with Arshavin, who has looked dreadful all season. The fans booed the decision loudly whilst captain Robin van Persie was incredulous. There could only be one player who would allow Valencia to then skip past him so easily to set up the winner. “He doesn’t want to be here,” Gary Neville said of Arshavin after the game. “He said he doesn’t like London, doesn’t like England, thinks our women are ugly, he doesn’t want to be here. I think he wants to go back to Russia. So go back, because honestly, Arsenal fans don’t want him out there.” Wenger admitted the mistake he made. “When it was 1-1 it looked like we would win but in the end one tactical mistake lost us the game. I do not want to dwell too much on that now but one second of inattention can cost you. I can understand that the fans are upset about the substitution, especially when it doesn’t work, but he (Oxlade-Chamberlain) had started to fatigue. He was sick in the week. Arshavin is captain of the Russia national team. You have an 18-year-old kid making his first Premier League start and a player who’s captain of his country and they are querying the substitution? Let’s be serious.” I’d have fancied us to win regardless but we were certainly helped by this decision. Will it be Spurs and Chelsea who join the Manchester clubs in the Champions League next season? I hope so. Wenger’s stubbornness has irritated me for a long time. He would rather do things his way and fail than adjust his plan for the sake of success. Arsenal fans used to bleat on about how well Wenger ran their club in light of our debt and Chelsea’s ridiculous spending. You won’t catch many arguing the same anymore.
6. The defence deserve a mention today for a good performance. We’re playing with a different combination of defenders every game due to injuries which is incredibly unsettling. To limit Arsenal to just three shots on target at home is an achievement. Played lads.
7. It was vital we got the points today and I’m very happy with how we played overall. It was frustrating to see us sit back in the second half and I worried it would cost us. Why don’t we just go for the kill in that situation? Still, to concede fairly late on but still go out and get the win is worthy of praise. We’re down to the bare bones at the moment and it’s going to be a real struggle whilst we’re waiting for players to come back, but we’re one more difficult game out of the way and the distance has remained the same. Well done lads.