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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie