Sunday 22 April 2018

Ben Rumsby: Just like the old silent stars, Arsene Wenger is in danger of being left behind

IT is the film that has taken the industry by storm, the story of the silent movie star left behind in the new era of sound.

And just like the hero of 'The Artist', the box office draw of Arsenal v Manchester United has begun to dwindle in recent seasons.

Already no longer a game that decides the destination of Barclays Premier League titles, it has looked in danger of losing its status as the biggest match between the north and south of the country.

Manchester City versus Tottenham certainly did everything to lay claim to that mantle yesterday thanks to what was an cast-iron classic at the Etihad Stadium.

United and Arsenal's closest rivals had also thrown down the gauntlet in August's reverse clash, only to be upstaged hours later - if not in quality than certainly in terms of drama - by the game that needs only be described as 'The 8-2'.

And the long-time rivals were close to doing that again yesterday, not by a result that cast doubt on the competitiveness of this fixture, but by producing one of the most evenly-contested and fiery affairs between the sides for some time.

It was end-to-end stuff on occasions in the second half, with the chances and controversy flowing at equal rate, leading to seven yellow cards dished out in total.

That had hardly looked like being the case after a largely insipid end to the first period, thanks to a Gunners defence that seemed barely more competent than in the shambles at Old Trafford, despite having been bolstered by the arrival of Per Mertesacker and the return of Thomas Vermaelen.

The hapless Johan Djourou was simply clueless when it came to dealing with Nani, with the only surprise that it was actually a cross from Ryan Giggs - rather than the veteran's latest successor on the left wing - that finally punished the makeshift right-back in first-half stoppage-time.

Although playing out of position, Djourou's half-time axing for the rookie Nico Yennaris said everything.

United's right-back did not even last that long, Phil Jones' ankle giving way beneath him inside 15 minutes and forcing him off on a stretcher.

That should have been the cue for Arsenal to turn the screw against an injury-ravaged defence they had actually caused problems early on.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott's pace were weapons that would really come to the fore after half-time.

Making his first top-flight start, Oxlade-Chamberlain was irresistible at times and it was no surprise to see him lay on Robin van Persie's equaliser.

That made amends for a horror miss from the Arsenal captain, who looks set in 2012 for another crack at Alan Shearer's Premier League goalscoring record for a calendar year.

So influential was Oxlade-Chamberlain, home fans reacted with fury to his 74th-minute substitution, with Andrey Arshavin given the most hostile of receptions from his own fans.

And the Russian played the pantomime villain to perfection, failing to deal with Antonio Valencia's surge into the box, which ultimately gave United their victory.

At the final whistle, the only question on everyone's lips was what on earth Arsene Wenger had been thinking when making that substitution?

For while there may be plenty of life in this particular fixture, the same longevity might not apply to Arsenal's manager in his current role if those kinds of

decisions begin seeping into his management.

Having himself been one of the great innovators in English football, Wenger is now in danger of being left behind, like many great artists before him.

Press Association

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