ARSENAL (1) vs MANCHESTER UNITED (2)
MANCHESTER 2 LONDON 0
ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger confessed he was at fault for the bungled substitution that contributed to a third consecutive Premier League defeat which by his own admission left his side facing an uphill struggle to finish in the top four.
Robin van Persie’s 19th league goal of the season cancelled out Antonio Valencia’s first half header for Manchester United and seemed destined to earn his side at least point against the champions.
But the decision to withdraw 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was outstanding on his first Premier League start, stunted Arsenal’s momentum and was met with disbelief from the stands and appeared to be greeted with equal disdain by club captain Van Persie.
The discontent boiled over soon after when Chamberlain’s replacement, Andrey Arshavin, made a half-hearted attempt to prevent Valencia’s run that led to Danny Welbeck’s 81st minute winner.
Asked whether the fans were right to question his judgement, Wenger said: “I can understand that the supporters are upset about the substitution, especially when it doesn’t work.
“A 1-1 it looked like we would win but in the end one tactical mistake lost us the game. I do not want to dwell too much on that now but one second of inattention can cost you.”
Arsenal’s frustrated fans might contend their side were guilty of more than one moment of “inattention” with United’s willingness to attack makeshift right-back Johan Djourou looking like it would yield success long before Valencia powered home a Ryan Giggs cross in the second minute of first half injury time.
The hapless Swiss defender was hauled off at the interval with another 18-year-old, Nico Yennaris, handed his top flight debut and the change appeared to galvanise Arsenal.
Van Persie, Aaron Ramsey and Chamberlain all went close before the skipper finally restored parity in the 71st minute, capping a flowing move with a typically precise finish.
Arshavin’s lack of defensive inclination, however, paved the way for Valencia and substitute Ji-Sung Park to tee up Welbeck for a goal which kept United within three points of leaders Manchester City and left Arsenal five points adrift of fourth placed Chelsea.
“It leaves us in a very difficult position because we couldn’t afford to lose,” admitted Wenger. “But the way we responded in the second half is a positive thing. It’s difficult to have a reaction like that and come out with no points at all.”