Comment - Arsenal 0 Manchester United 0: Mesut Ozil and Juan Mata let the sweat of honest toil blind their creative gifts at the Emirates


the emirates

The weather is not the only force of nature that halts the run of play. We saw here at the Emirates two teams frightened to go forward with real conviction for fear of falling further behind. This was felt most keenly in the creative feet of two players bought at great expense to make a difference.

An early tackle by Mesut Özil on Juan Mata on the halfway line proved symbolic; the future of these two great clubs colliding in an uncertain present in a part of the pitch where they are least effective.

Mata is still finding his feet in the Old Trafford environment. Özil is in search of a second wind at Arsenal after setting out in a blaze of creativity, and you felt the weight of that demand attaching to his ankles like a medicine ball.

We are told Özil is investing heavily in gym routines to add ballast to the artistry when all he really needs is the muscle that comes with scoring goals and winning matches. Mata is labouring under a different curse it seems, trying to answer the criticism of his former manager Jose Mourinho by tracking back in the service of his full-back.

David Moyes should fine him every time he steps into his own half, or conversely offer a bonus for every can-opening pass delivered from the inside-forward channel, just as he did in the 23rd minute to set Robin van Persie clear in the box.

This was the kind of chance gobbled up by Van Persie during his first season at Manchester United. Here he dithered, shuffled the ball back on to his right foot and missed the target wildly. The move summed up United’s lot; there is still pedigree in some component parts but insufficient rhythm, a feature reflected on Wall Street, where shares in the red shirt slipped a further four per cent.

By increments this will change. The United ownership has expressed patience and faith in the Moyes project, just as Arsène Wenger has in his record purchase. Özil, in this phase, is beset by thinking too much. You can almost hear the mental machinery churning through the gears.

The examples piled up in the opening half. A fantastic break by Özil down the left disappeared in a cul-de-sac after a pass to Tomas Rosicky. In August and September he was less inclined to move the ball on at the earliest opportunity and revelled in the responsibility of having a go.

In his enthusiasm to deliver, Özil popped up all over the pitch, the next time mining the right of midfield in search of an opening. Once again the move fell down via the combination with Rosicky. The work ethic is all well and good but Wenger would rather see Özil advancing on the opposition box rather than tidying up on the edge of his own.


The play was too safe from Özil and Mata, the fear of the mistake seemingly too much. And this was a night when United were off the hook of expectation. They have zero chance in the league, and remain a long shot for fourth place. The United board has written off the season in deference to the long game, conditions you might expect would remove the shackles. This was a different manifestation of the Moyes team, the absences of crosses a telling feature. 

With a minute of the half remaining Özil was at last set free with purpose through the inside-right channel. Surely this was the moment to let instinct take over and go for goal? But no. He checked, came inside, passed to Rosicky and the life ebbed from the move.

This fixture has defined the very best of United in the last great period under Sir Alex Ferguson. The victory here in the 2009 Champions League semi-final, and again the following January, were as good as it gets. Five years on the pendulum has swung back to London, yet Arsenal ultimately struggled to escape the circumstances of the night.

It was better in the second half. The tempo was quicker and the reflexes more in auto mode. Arsenal rediscovered more of their best yet United might have nicked it had Van Persie’s header found the back of the net.

With a minute of normal time remaining fate beckoned Özil to the piece when Olivier Giroud was clattered outside the box. He stepped up to take the free-kick, a last chance to pierce United’s armour and reclaim hegemony at the top of the table.

Perhaps the most telling detail was the lack of faith among the Arsenal fans. They didn’t fancy his chances any more, you suspect, than he did.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments