Many pundits said that a victory over Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final would pave the way for further successes for Arsenal, ironically their defeat at Wembley has proved to do the exact opposite. Beaten by a defensive mix up then, followed by a footballing lesson in the Nou Camp and now out of the FA Cup by the hands of Manchester United – Arsenal’s season is hanging by a thread.
Both Manchester United and Arsenal were ravaged by injuries but United fielded a team with 7 defenders and still ran out 2-0 winners. Twin brothers Fabio and Rafael played admirably on either flank, the former even managing to open the scoring. Edwin Van der Sar was again inspired between the sticks, with a string of sensational saves most notably from Koscielny at 1-0, which was immediately followed up by a Rooney header to double the Red Devil’s lead.
Ferguson will be delighted by his central defensive pairing of Vidic and Smalling who were dominant on the edge of their own area. While Smalling might not have the calming assurance Rio Ferdinand brings to the back line, he has all the ability which could see him permanently displace the England captain.
Arsenal fielded a relatively strong side considering their absentees, yet see themselves knocked out of another competition in which they harbored a real chance of obtaining their first silverware for 6 years. They played their usual style of short passing build up play which in all fairness did fashion numerous opportunities, but lacked a clinical finish when it mattered most.
When things go wrong for the Gunners the lack of a ‘plan B’ is so agonisingly evident, this is something Wenger must address to transform his team from contenders into winners.
In terms of the title race, United can take away the confidence only a good performance over their rivals can give them. They can also welcome back Antonio Valencia to help cope with the injury to the highly productive winger Nani. Whereas Arsenal will be dismayed at the week they’ve just had plus losing their best available defender in Johan Djourou to what looked to be a serious shoulder injury just rubs salt into their gaping wounds.
The most optimistic of Arsenal fans will see this as a blessing in disguise, allowing the Gunners to put all their eggs in the Premier League basket. In reality Wenger needs to do something to pick his side off the floor.
Man United will eagerly await the semi-final draw, if City can see off Reading a Manchester derby is still on the cards for the final.
Last month’s talk of a quadruple for Arsenal as been replaced by that of a treble for United, and I for one wouldn’t rule it out – unless of course Man United are drawn with Barcelona.