Arsenal outplayed & outthought as Wenger sticks to tried and failed formula

After they slumped to a disappointing defeat at Old Trafford, the same old questions over the Gunners manager's lack of imagination rear their ugly heads once more
By Tom McKeown

It may not have matched the 8-2 drubbing suffered at Old Trafford last season, but Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat at Manchester United on Saturday lunchtime was an all-too familiar tale for the Gunners as they yet again failed to produce in a big game.

Arsene Wenger’s side lacked any sort of spark or imagination going forward, and the defence which has shipped the fewest goals in the Premier League this season was easily exploited by United’s wealth of attacking talent.

What is more worrying is that the Gunners boss chose to stick with an XI that barely scraped past a poor QPR side just a week earlier.

Andre Santos looked well out of his depth on the left of Arsenal’s defence, and was run ragged by the ever-threatening Antonio Valencia. The former Fenerbahce man struggled where youngster Kieran Gibbs may have succeeded, and he certainly didn’t match the £6.2million fee paid for him at the beginning of last season.

Wenger aim is surely to build a strong back four echoing the classic defence from the late eighties and nineties, but times have changed and the 63-year-old needs to be able to adjust his side to fit their opponents, and not stick blindly with the same tried, tested and failed formula.

Thomas Vermaelen had a particularly poor game for the Gunners, shanking a clearance which inevitably created the opening goal for Robin van Persie, and almost making the same mistake again when the former Arsenal striker robbed the Belgium international and nearly provided a goal for Valencia.

Aaron Ramsey has also struggled for form since returning to the side after his horrific leg break, and the Wales international never truly looked comfortable deployed in a wide position. Theo Walcott’s introduction early in the second half proved futile as the Gunners struggled to string together any meaningful periods of possession.

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Had the England international started the game it could have been a different story, but his fall to the lower depths of Arsenal’s squad meant he was always unlikely to earn a spot in the starting line-up. His fantastic display against Reading in the Capital One Cup had many clamouring for him to start, though Wenger may have argued that, after playing 120 minutes of football, his charge may have struggled with another full afternoon.

These are worrying times for the Gunners, when it is hard to see where the goals are coming from. The injured Gervinho’s threat was missed, but the Ivory Coast forward only has three goals in the Premier League this season, and new signing Olivier Giroud is still struggling to settle into life in England.

One of the key problems is that Wenger is not renowned for being proactive and reacting to match situations. Jack Wilshere’s red card was a perfect example of these shortcomings.

Less than ten minutes before Wilshere picked up his second yellow of the game, Sir Alex Ferguson hauled off Tom Cleverley – also on a yellow – when referee Mike Dean gave him a final warning after the midfielder fouled Arsenal’s number 10.

The United boss saw the impending danger and immediately reacted. Wenger did not, and Arsenal ultimately paid the price as they failed to make any serious inroads into the Red Devils’ two-goal lead.

The gap between Arsenal and the top is ever-increasing. Wenger has to be prepared to adapt if the Gunners are to have any hope of picking up silverware this season, including the “fifth trophy” of Champions League qualification.

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