BY the end, those little red and white posters were fluttering once again behind ArsÃ¨ne Wengerâ€™s dugout. â€œEnough is enough,â€ was the message, and these are the moments when it feels like the mutiny is growing and it is not entirely clear how Arsenalâ€™s manager can pacify the people who want a change. The malaise feels too deep and the gap to Chelsea at the top of the Premier League is more accurately described as a gulf, now 15 points and climbing.
It is no wonder the â€œWenger Outâ€ camp has found its voice again, no matter how unappealing it is to see the abuse a fine man has to suffer.
Briefly, there was a ceasefire after the fit-again Olivier Giroud, on as a late substitute, let fly to score with a wonderfully taken shot that was still rising as it flew into the net. That, however, was four minutes into stoppage time and the volume went back up again at the final whistle.
Arsenal had taken an awfully long time getting past a vulnerable Manchester United defence and it was not enough for Wenger to argue that fortune deserted his team.
That was not bad luck when Wojciech Szczesny went to punch a cross and crashed into his team-mate Kieran Gibbs in the chain of errors that led to Unitedâ€™s opening goal. Granted, there was a considerable amount of luck attached to what happened next when Antonio Valenciaâ€™s off-target shot skimmed off Gibbs, still on the floor, to find the net but the thwack between goalkeeper and left-back was just another indication of the chaos that frequently undermines Arsenalâ€™s defence.
The frailties were there again when United, defending a corner, broke from the edge of their own penalty area and Arsenalâ€™s back four had gone awol as Wayne Rooney clipped a stylish finish into the net.
Wenger admitted afterwards that he was mystified why they had left only one defender at the back and it was the same again shortly afterwards when Ãngel Di Maria burst free only to try something similar and chip wide.
Arsenal have now won only one of their last 15 games against these opponents and the most galling part of this one was that it was against a team that had Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair and Chris Smalling making up the defence, in a return to the 3-4-1-2 system that most United followers must have hoped had been seen off in conker season.
It was a scratch team and Arsenal really ought to have done more to exploit it during an opening half an hour when they did at least remind us of their ability to play quick, penetrative football.
They were ultimately undone by their own wastefulness and what Wenger described, amid suffocating deja vu, as â€œnaiveâ€ defending. It has been the recurring theme in a season that has brought them only four wins in the league, all against sides currently in the bottom seven.
Szczesny was forced off with a sore hip after the collision with Gibbs and Wenger looked notably unsympathetic when he reported it was merely a bang. He will, however, be far more anxious about a worryingly early departure for Jack Wilshere, who limped off in the 55th minute after a crashing tackle from McNair connected with one of his weakened ankles.
Wilshere had been fortunate in the first half to avoid what by modern-day standards could easily have been a red-card offence, taking exception to one of Mike Deanâ€™s decisions, aiming a mouthful of invective at the referee and then responding to Marouane Fellainiâ€™s indignation by jutting his forehead into his opponentâ€™s chin.
The suspicion was that he was more aggrieved with himself than anyone else, having just squandered the outstanding chance of the first 45 minutes. Danny Welbeck will also reflect on his own chances. Welbeck was lively against his old club but his accuracy rate hardly blew apart Louis van Gaalâ€™s theory that the striker lacks refinement.
Yet United were on the rails for most of the opening half, bar some sporadic, brief flashes of danger when Di MarÃa was on the ball. Robin van Persie is no longer the player the Arsenal crowd used to fear so much on previous United visits and Van Gaal gave the impression afterwards that he had been unsparing in his criticisms at half-time.
Perhaps most surprisingly, he stubbornly refused to praise David de Gea, saying only that the goalkeeper had many qualities but needed to improve. Manchester Unitedâ€™s manager is a hard man to please: De Gea had been crucial to this win.
United, like Arsenal, looked like faded old champions but, for all the hairy moments earlier on, they defended with great vigour once they had taken the lead. They also had to contend with Luke Shaw twisting his ankle early on and Van Gaal said afterwards that the long list of injuries â€“ staggeringly, there have been 40 of them in his four months at the club â€“ had made it virtually impossible for him to keep to his usual ethos of playing roughly the same team every week.
In the circumstances, their second-half display represented their best work of a difficult season. Rooneyâ€™s goal was the result of quick, incisive counter-attacking starting with Fellaini deep inside his own half and culminating in Di MarÃa playing in Unitedâ€™s captain to dink a shot over Emiliano MartÃnez, Arsenalâ€™s substitute goalkeeper.
Giroudâ€™s finish was even better but it was not long before the dissent could be heard around Wengerâ€™s dugout again. – The Guardian