Premier League wrap: Arsenal v Man United clashes have lost their spark
The once absorbing battle between Manchester United and Arsenal has simply lost its spark, writes Alex Sharp
Gone are the days of pizza fights and press conference point scoring, the battle between Manchester United and Arsenal has simply lost its spark.
Think back to the Highbury clashes with Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira squaring up and everyone can remember Martin Keown’s gorilla leap at Ruud van Nistlerooy.
These volatile and absorbing encounters are now distant memories. Why? As Saturday perfectly displayed, Arsenal are not the force they once were.
It used to be a pivotal match in the calendar, the one which created the most hype off the pitch and often dictated who was the frontrunner for the title.
Now United have won nine of their last 11 games against Arsenal in all competitions, winning countless trophies while Wenger’s side have slipped to challenging for third place.
The demise of Arsenal is epitomised by Sir Alex Ferguson’s damp assessment of their 2-1 win on Saturday: “The whole day was disappointing”.
After losing the title on goal difference last year, that bitter pill must remind Ferguson that United can’t continue to be wasteful up front, especially when they are so dominant.
United had to wait until the 67th minute to double their lead due to complacency and missing a gluttony of promising openings against a wobbling and lacklustre Arsenal.
Robin van Persie predictably scored against his former side and to put his fine form over the last 18 months into perspective, he has now scored against all current Premier League clubs, with Yakubu the only other player to hold this accolade.
The former Arsenal captain has eight goals in the league this season and tormented his former employees on Saturday.
For Arsenal, the issues are the same but becoming more painful with a lack of penetration evoking how much they miss last season’s talisman.
The Gunners’ first shot on target at Old Trafford was in the 92nd minute. That is not a new problem, as Arsenal have struggled to find their attacking prowess in recent disappointing performances against Norwich, Schalke and QPR.
Arsene Wenger now finds his side nine points adrift of United and down in sixth place. Furthermore, this is Arsenal’s worst start to a season under Wenger, one point below the 16 points reached this time last season.
The 8-2 humiliation last year at Old Trafford will have scared Arsenal fans for many years to come but another dismal Old Trafford loss has once again highlighted the inadequacies in the current side.
The chants from Arsenal fans are becoming increasingly angry and aimed at the board after a heated AGM last month.
Calls for Wenger to go are premature and even if he left, who on the market could replace Wenger with the same pedigree and success?
The debate surrounding Arsenal’s spending, transfer policy and vision can rumble on because Financial Fair Flay certainly won’t muscle the big spenders into change in the near future.
Arsenal need to respond immediately otherwise the season could be another damp squib.
Try Theo Walcott through the middle? Put Thomas Vermaelen at left back with Laurent Koscielny in central defence? These aren’t the miracle answers, as attitude and belief is far more important, but if nothing changes then what used to be classic encounters will continue to disappoint.