Arsenal for once started strongly but they failed to continue that momentum in the 1-1 draw against Manchester United
Throughout this season, Arsenal have started home matches extremely tentatively, a problem Arsène Wenger has acknowledged. When quizzed a couple of months ago, the club captain, Thomas Vermaelen, had an interesting explanation. "We're looking at how the opposition has set up and reacting to it, rather than playing our own game," he conceded. His deputy, Mikel Arteta, admitted he was aware of Arsenal's contrasting records in a "first half" and "second half" Premier League table, and added his side had "missed the first 20 to 25 minutes" too often in big games, and "gave the opposition too much respect".
For a passing side determined to dictate play and control the tempo, this was a significant problem, and Arsenal's tendency to compensate for poor starts with a desperate rally towards the end became a neat microcosm of their season overall. However, Sunday's game was the complete opposite – Arsenal were aggressive, proactive and brave with their defensive play early on but failed to continue that momentum over the course of the game.
From the first minute, Arsenal's pressing was intense and their tackles fierce. Against a Manchester United side that celebrated their title success into Tuesday and barely trained until Friday, creating a high-tempo contest was an understandable approach. Arsenal were quicker to every ball as United's late tackles brought a succession of bookings – the home side won possession high up before attacking with great fluidity.
The stand-in striker Lukas Podolski dropped deep, while Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky alternated between the left flank and the top of midfield, providing easy forward passes for Arsenal's midfielders.
Theo Walcott scored within two minutes but gradually Arsenal's pressure dropped, and while Bacary Sagna's inexplicable double error for Robin van Persie's penalty was hardly the result of a grand United strategy, Sir Alex Ferguson's side were having great joy down that flank. Two first-half chances – Phil Jones's mistimed free header, and Van Persie's effort that Wojciech Szczesny saved with his face – both followed left-wing crosses. After the break, Van Persie flashed a low ball across the six-yard box from that wing, while Patrice Evra found space to cross for a Wayne Rooney header. Width and crossing was United's main approach, an unusual way to celebrate a title victory achieved despite poor contributions from wingers.
Sagna can legitimately complain that Walcott's position high up against the opposition defensive line – which brought Arsenal's opener – leaves him exposed, but it wasn't an issue when the Frenchman was at his peak a couple of seasons ago, and he was fortunate to escape a second booking.
Wenger's side were incapable of raising the energy levels in the second half, and were considerably more passive without the ball, gaining possession in deeper positions when United had time to organise themselves and get men behind the ball. Arsenal's best spell was the opening 15 minutes, usually their weak period – but then they became less threatening when they often rally. As ever, true consistency struggles to elude Arsenal.