The last time Arsenal were thrashed 3-1 at home by United, the result was triggered by an unfortunate slip by Keiran Gibbs, deputising for an injured Gael Clichy. Cristiano Ronaldo then fired in a thunderbolt free kick past Almunia. 2-0 nil down and the game was over after 20 minutes. That result followed an appalling performance at Old Trafford, and an abysmal lack of will in the FA Cup semi final against Chelsea.
Several people have said that there is no comparison between those Utd games and yesterday's encounter. Well I think the similarities are stark. Ronaldo did not beat us by himself last year. Fat Wayne was there last year and he did us again yesterday. Ji Sung Park is now well on the way to being a specialist anti-Arsenal player. He was terrific in both games in terms of workrate and commitment. Fletcher, as well, epitomises everything that is missing in Arsenal's team.
We should also look at the abysmal defending against Chelsea at home in November, against Everton at home in December. The sheer number of times we concede goals due to "individual errors" is quite incredible. So I am going to throw my tuppence into the hat on Arsenal's problems at the back. The answer, I think, is blindingly obvious - we only have one good defender. We just don't want to admit it.
A good back 5 (4 defenders plus keeper) play as a unit. They communicate almost instinctively, a nod of the head, a flick of the hand is all that is required, because they spend the entire game reading the threat posed by the opposition and collectively moving against it. Watch Chelsea's back line next week for guidance.
The only defender Arsenal have who would interest Chelsea or Manure is probably Tommy V. And he is our only "proper defender". But Tommy's clear ability as a defender has led us to believe this season that we are better defensively, which we are clearly not. We have conceded more goals this year.
A defence starts with its keeper. And Manuel Almunia's time is up. Forget the own goal yesterday, just ask the basic question - does Almunia inspire confidence? The answer is a resounding "no". And that applies to the fans as well as his team mates. When was the last time you saw Almunia "high fiving" with another player after a miracle save. Exactly. Its never happened.
Gael Clichy and William Gallas I am going to lump together. They are both potentially very good footballers, potentially world class. But neither is a great defender. Neither is good in the air, neither is particularly physical, but both are excellent on the ground, like to get forwards. We might be able to cope with one player like that in the team, but we struggle with two. Ashley Cole got away with it at Arsenal because he had Sol Campbell and Keown at centre-back. The first thing Mourinho did with Cole was tell him to stay at the back and defend.
Bacary Sagna is a mystery to me. He started off looking like a good player after a season of Eboue mistakes. He seems solid enough defensively, I guess, but somehow seems to make a lot of mistakes as well. For a big strong lad he seems quiet, well behaved and a bit reserved. Which are none of the characteristics that make a good defender. People like Lee Dixon and Lauren knew that occassionally you need to just pole-axe your opposite winger. But the same accusation could probably be said about Clichy and Gallas as well. We are far too polite in our defending.
Those defensive frailities are then compounded by the fact that of the midfield, only Alex Song knows how to defend. Denilson is beyond bad. And Nasri and Cesc seem to treat the 4-3-3 system as a free pass to skip defensive duties. Frankly, I have no idea what Nasri does. Rarely have I seen an Arsenal player who is so anonymous for large parts of the game. Only Rosicky seems to have a clue about getting back to tackle, and he is hardly diligent at it.
So when an opposition team counter-attacks us, if they have a decent runner or two in their team, then you can virtually guarantee them a good scoring chance against Arsenal. Because if they evade Song and Tommy V, then our defensive ability is very, very suspect.
We have all been saying for some time that the balance in the team is completely wrong. The line-ups in our title winning seasons are immensely strong compared to this rag-tag bunch of lightweight midgets. I would swap the technical ability of Clichy, Gallas and Sagna for the blood, sweat and tears of Keown, Dixon and Winterburn at a drop of a hat.