I don’t even remember the fourth goal. It didn’t matter by then; it was decoration. Obviously it mattered to an Arsenal fan, I’m not trying to diminish it. If I were an Arsenal fan, it’d be the forth that I’d be happiest with. It’s the point that the whole thing becomes emphatic. It’s an underlining. It says, ‘We did this to you’. It puts us in our place. And our place is looking dangerously like a battle for fifth. The third that looked likely a couple of weeks ago is now - post injuries, post suspensions, post any kind of cohesion in the shape of the team - quite possibly a pipe dream.
We were lucky to escape the first five minutes with any hop for the next 85. Two world class saves by Mignolet ensured we still had interest in the competition, both forced by the fact that Arsenal came out, harried us, panicked us, terrified us, out-footballed us. I spent the first ten minutes trying to figure out what our formation was. So did the lads in the black shirts.
Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe we should have worn the yellow; dazzled Arsenal, confused them with colour. Anything that would hide the fact that we looked half the team that we looked a month ago. No Gerrard, no Skrtel; both victims of their bizarre decisions to stamp on United players. Toure in for Lovren; a thirty four year old in for our record defensive buy. Dejan, lad, that’s as large a criticism of the standard you’ve set as you’ll ever see. Maybe it’s not your fault; maybe we signed the wrong defender for the system we’re using. Maybe we just signed the wrong defender in general. Toure wasn’t the right defender though. Mistakes all over the place. Most of the threats on our goal in that initial Arsenal onslaught came courtesy of Kolo. The ones that weren’t his belonged to our midfield. Stray balls, loose passes, no possession, no bite, Lucas playing like a man who’s just returned from injury, Henderson like a man who’s in the wrong position, Allen like the Joe Allen that we didn’t rate rather than the one who dictated play against City.
No forwards on the pitch. Sturridge not as injured as Hodgson intimated last week but not fit enough to start. Balotelli not even on the bench; self diagnosed with a bit of a sore knee the poor lamb. In their place, Sterling carried out a far more effective contract negotiation than an obviously stage managed BBC interview; our only real threat. Played as a forward he took men on, challenged the Arsenal back four. If Markovic had been able to play the most basic six yard pass in history then we’d have had an undeserved lead in the first half.
As it was, we managed to wake up. We were hitting Arsenal on the counter. We were letting them have possession, letting them harry us when we had it and then hitting swiftly on the break. We pulled ourselves forward, moved twenty yards up the pitch and took the game to them. For twenty minutes we were the better team. We were the team that looked most likely to score.
And then Arsenal hit us. Eight minutes, three goals. Game over by half time basically. Looking for an Istanbul level of miracle that was never going to happen. Moreno stands off Bellerin; the right back curves a lovely left footed shot in and we’re behind. We haven’t even registered this fact when Sakho commits an unnecessary foul (only thing he got wrong all day so we’re forgiving him) on Ozil. Ozil grabs the ball, makes the decision, puts it to MIgnolet’s right again. Two minutes later and Sanchez has blazed it above Mignolet. All done thanks. Anything else is decoration. No fault for the keeper. Any goalie who makes three world class saves in a game has pretty much done his job; he stopped it being an embarrassment, prevented a rout.
As it is, we know how Arsenal felt when we blew them away with our opening blitz at Anfield last season. It’s not pleasant. It’s a two day hangover. Glad Daniel Sturridge felt able to tweet about the party he went to on Saturday night, the rest of us didn’t really feel like it to be honest. Maybe he was miserable all night, maybe the loss hurt him; you’d like to hope so, you’d like to think that everybody in a black hooped shirt felt awful on Saturday night, hope that they’ve spent the weekend looking at themselves and figuring out how they’re going to fix it.
Saturday was more than a bad day at the office; it was a putting in our place. It was a shrugging off, it was an Arsenal side letting us know that they were superior to us. It has to be a catalyst to put together another run. It’s still only the second time we’ve lost this calendar year. United STILL have a harder run in than us but we’re now counting on them to lose three games more than us to make the idea of Champions League football possible for next season.
We need to be perfect for the next seven weeks. Need to win every second of every game that we play in. Including Chelsea away. We can’t let the Arsenal game, the United game, happen to us again.
It’s going to be a long hard run in.