It was a single incident which summed up the mood inside Old Trafford at Saturday lunchtime. With Arsenal trailing Manchester United by a single goal at half-time, left-back Andre Santos trudged off down the tunnel having gratefully received former teammate Robin van Persie’s match shirt, a premature souvenir from a torrid day, perhaps.
In years gone by, Arsene Wenger took his teams to the North West with the realistic possibility of coming away with a victory. Saturday’s match was a sign that the raucous, passion-filled atmosphere of Manchester United versus Arsenal in years gone by is now well and truly confined to the history books.
The eventual 2-1 scoreline in favour of the hosts was a marked improvement from last year’s 8-2 mauling in Manchester, but in many ways it flattered the Gunners. Arsenal offered very little in the way of invention going forward and struggled to stamp their authority on the game – despite the much-anticipated return of Jack Wilshere who was overrun in midfield by Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, before being sent off late on.
But amidst the abundance of problems and worries at Arsenal, the defeat to Manchester United again highlighted the team’s huge fragility down the left hand side. The weak point is the aforementioned Andre Santos.
A £5.6million signing from Turkish giants Fenerbahce last summer, Gunners supporters have failed to warm to Santos ever since his arrival at the Emirates Stadium. Despite being almost exclusively employed by manager Wenger as a full-back, Santos portrays himself as somewhat of a frustrated winger, attempting to get forward at every opportunity.
As a result his defensive work leaves a lot to be desired, as does his intelligence and positional sense around the pitch. Many supporters then were perplexed to see Wenger, aware of the Brazilian’s shortcomings, select Santos against United at the weekend and therefore hand him the unenvied task of dealing with one of the Premier League’s best wingers – Antonio Valencia. Predictably, Santos suffered a dire 90 minutes and was at fault for the hosts’ first goal.
But in attempting to prove his worth to the North London faithful, Santos does not do himself any favours.. Having taken van Persie’s shirt halfway through the match on Saturday, Arsenal supporters are beginning to grow tired of the languid left-sider.
Arsenal do have an alternative in that position. Bacary Sagna’s return to first team football has eased the Gunners’ defensive worries. The obvious change would see Sagna shifted to left back while Carl Jenkinson, who impressed in the Frenchman’s absence, could slot back into the right side of defence. Alternatively, Thomas Vermaelen could shift over from his central position, meaning Laurent Koscielny would be reinstalled to the starting XI.
Either way, Wenger needs to neutralise his team’s clear point of weakness. Unfortunately, with two months to go until the transfer window opens and with Kieran Gibbs’ injury woes continuing, there may only be one solution to a square peg in a round hole: a square peg in a round hole.
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