Arsenal 1 Man United 2: Lessons from a gripping top-flight clash

What lessons did we learn from Arsenal's Premier League defeat by Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday?

Premier League, 22 January 2012, Emirates Stadium
team1
Arsenal
1 - 2
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Man United

Oxlade-Chamberlain wins battle of the Southampton youth products

Making his ninth appearance of the season for the Gunners since joining from Southampton in August, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain thoroughly out-shone Arsenal’s other former Saints star Theo Walcott. The 18-year-old was confident in possession throughout and was not afraid to put himself about. The two wingers’ contrasting afternoons were summed up by a passage of play mid-way through the first half, when Oxlade-Chamberlain did well to carve out space on the left, cutting back for Walcott to scoop his shot pitifully over the bar. And after capping a brilliant display by setting up Robin van Persie’s second-half strike, Arsene Wenger bizarrely opted to withdraw him after 74 minutes. He was quite simply the Gunners’ best performer.

Nani torments Djourou into submission

Johan Djourou is yet to convince most Arsenal fans he is worthy of a regular spot in the Gunners’ back-four and Sunday’s display will have done little to help his cause. Nani got the better of the Swiss defender with ease on almost every occasion in the first half, and presented the Portuguese winger with a glorious opportunity after needlessly diving in to a challenge, only for Nani to spurn the chance. The Arsenal defender then failed to close down Ryan Giggs just before the break, leaving plenty of space for the Welshman to whip in a delicious cross for Antonio Valencia to nod home the opener. Djourou was replaced by Nico Yennaris at half-time – and little wonder, too.

Ryan Giggs continues to roll back the years

Never mind Benjamin Button, Ryan Giggs is a curious case of his own. To be featuring regularly for a club of Manchester United’s stature aged 38 is a feat in itself, but to still be capable of influencing the play to the extent that he did on Sunday is nothing short of remarkable. The Welshman’s inch-perfect cross picked out Valencia for United’s opener and he was a force in central midfield throughout for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. He has already made 20 appearances for the Red Devils this season and looks set to be as key as ever as the business end of the season approaches.

Where did it all go wrong for Arshavin?

Arsene Wenger’s decision to withdraw Oxlade-Chamberlain with 15 minutes left sparked a chorus of jeers from the home fans, as well as a look of sheer bemusement from Van Persie. His replacement, Andrey Arshavin, was simply feeble in his short spell on the pitch. Offering little going forward, the Russian had been involved for less than 10 minutes before he failed to prevent Valencia from cutting inside from the right and picking out Danny Welbeck, who drilled his close-range effort past Wojciech Szczesny to hand the visitors victory. Visibly lacking in confidence and spending most of his time on the bench this term, Arshavin is surely set for an Emirates exit after failing to perform for so long in red and white.

A classic game of two halves

What was a fairly placid first half was sharply contrasted by a highly entertaining and open second period full of chances. Neither side really got going before the break, with Valencia’s goal the only clear sight on goal. But the game sprung into life in the second 45. Van Persie missed a sitter and then netted an equaliser for the Gunners, and Welbeck’s effort was only cleared off the line by a last-ditch Per Mertersacker clearance before the England striker smashed home the winner nine minutes from time.

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