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Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United: Instant Reaction

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Arsenal failed to deliver in a big game, again, this season.

Michael Regan

The only way Arsenal's response to their 5-1 humiliation against Liverpool was if Wojciech Szczesny hadn't made his miraculous save of Robin van Persie's goal-bound header with 10 minutes remaining. The defining moment of this very poor match, though, was Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny passing to each other with a minute left, and then, after receiving possession, Jack Wilshere's loss of the ball to Wayne Rooney, who, instead of countering, turned back. Mertesacker and Koscielny are not to blame for the lack of Arsenal movement, though, and they, along with Kieran Gibbs, Szczesny and Mikel Arteta (aside from an early mistake) were superb in marshalling Rooney, van Persie and Juan Mata, with the latter two not scoring against Arsenal for the first time ever.

Mesut Özil did his best, effectively having to take on the entirety of Manchester United with the movement ahead so lacking. Olivier Giroud was woeful, Santi Cazorla brightened late on, and Tomas Rosicky was error-strewn. Special mention, though, has to go to Jack Wilshere, who has worryingly become a liability in the centre of the park. He loses the ball too much in his own third, he gives Mikel Arteta too much ground to cover, and he doesn't offer a great passing option when Arsenal are building. His best moment came when he made a very nice run into the box, but that didn't happen enough. The time has come for Wilshere to either be dropped or pushed into a wide right position.

As for Arsenal's title challenge, this is a setback. With Chelsea dropping points against West Bromwich Albion yesterday, and Manchester City's match postponed, Arsenal had the chance to put down a marker. Instead, they were very, very flat. They created very little, and didn't show much initiative off the ball. Neither was initiative shown from the bench: when Oxlade-Chamberlain came on, he played from the right, where he is perhaps least threatening, and neither Lukas Podolski nor Nicklas Bendtner were summoned, despite Giroud having a very, very poor game.

After a bright January, Arsenal have stuttered, with only 5 points from their last 12. It's allowed Liverpool to creep only 3 points behind Arsenal. Too often in the last month or so, Arsenal have been ponderous in possession. Mesut Özil is a fantastic creator, and the criticism of his play is simplistic: he has very little ahead of him without Walcott and Ramsey. Arsenal could've gone for a change by taking Wilshere off and putting Oxlade-Chamberlain in central midfield, but instead, they went for the safe option. The safe option is decidedly unexciting, as was this match. Arsenal have now taken just 9 points from 8 matches against the top 7. Thus far, those who had doubts about Arsenal's ability to mix it with the best of the best in the Premier League have been proven right.