Arsene Wenger admitted he prioritised physicality in his team selection for yesterday’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United, as Arsenal toiled at Old Trafford once again. The Gunners went with their most conservative midfield axis of Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny, with Aaron Ramsey tucked in off the left for added security in the middle of the pitch. Granit Xhaka and Alex Iwobi were benched, which suggested Wenger was willing to give up some technical quality in favour of players who could cover the ground. The end justifies the means, and though a point at Old Trafford is a very decent outcome it is impossible to argue that this strategy worked. Speaking after the game to the club’s in-house media, Wenger said:
“I knew it would be a bit more of a physical battle so I chose players who have experience and fight.
“That’s why my selection was because of that. At the end of the day, everyone gave their maximum and there is a special spirit in the squad. That’s why we came back, because the players who came on made the difference. That’s remarkable.
“Considering the first half, yes [it was a fair result]. We had a lot of possession but in the second half when we came out of the dressing room, we dropped. We offered less going forward, but when we were 1-0 down we found the resources again.
“We want to be about style and steel but today we were more about steel than style.”
A safety first approach in a big away game is understandable, but a team expected to challenge for the title must show more than Arsenal did yesterday. Wenger has been heavily criticised in the past for not taking his opponents into account enough and being too open, but his side were too cautious if anything. The weakest part of United’s team is the back four and, as Olivier Giroud’s equaliser showed, it wouldn’t have taken much to have them in trouble. In hindsight, it was perhaps a day for Arsenal to go from back to front to Giroud and keep that back four occupied. Arsenal’s goal was not fantastically intricate football, but a simple piece of wing play from Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and an old fashioned centre-forward’s header.
The Gunners could have used the technical security of Santi Cazorla, yesterday and he has travelled to Barcelona to try and cure his Achilles problem. Cazorla has missed a month of football with the injury, and will seek treatment from Dr Ramon Cugat who has been used by Pep Guardiola and Barcelona previously. The achilles injury is similar to the chronic condition Xavi endured towards the end of his career. Cazorla is out of contract at the end of the season, and Arsenal might be reluctant to hand him a new deal if this problem persists. Arsenal have had three league draws from four games in his absence.
Finally, Corriere dello Sport reports that Inter Milan are interested in bringing in Diego Simeone as manager. Simeone used to play for the Italian club, and has been linked with the Arsenal job come the day Wenger stands down. However, the idea of Simeone and Arsenal being the right fit for one and other has always been treated with some scepticism. Simeone has also turned down Chelsea in the past and opted to stay at Atletico Madrid, and Serie A is not quite as attractive as it once was.
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