When Manchester United beat Arsenal 3-1 in the European Cup semi-final at the Emirates I could hardly believe it. Despite battering them at Old Trafford, our slim 1-0 lead meant we could have had a real battle when we played away.
“And it’s Arsenal, Arsenal FC, we’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen!” their fans sung, waving their cheap flags in the air. However, after ten minutes we were 2-0 up and there was no more flag waving. With an hour played the game had been put to bed with our third, their fans were leaving, and what a goal it was. It took us just 9.2 seconds to get the ball from the edge of our box to the back of their net. One touch passing between Park, Rooney and Ronaldo saw us score what was probably our goal of the season. I’d be chuffed to see that goal go in against anyone, but against Arsenal, whose fans laud their (no-trophy-winning) “beautiful” football over everyone else, on a night their manager had promised a “magnificent” performance, was pretty much perfect.
It was another eight months until our next visit to the Emirates and when a similar game unfolded I couldn’t quite believe our luck. How was it possible that Wenger allowed us to totally outplay them again? One of our goals was pretty much a carbon copy of Ronaldo’s second the season before. Whilst totally grateful that Wenger hadn’t gone back to the drawing board, I couldn’t get my head around it.
Well, Cesc Fabregas, who is desperate to leave Arsenal this summer, has explained it all today, when revealing how Wenger prepares for matches.
“Here they give us much more information than they do at Arsenal, definitely,” Fabregas said of his time with the Spanish national side. “At Arsenal we don’t really look at anything from the other team, we look for ourselves and that’s it. Here, maybe two three days before the game, we start looking at some videos, we know more or less the starting eleven that is going to play, we know nearly everything about them. You just have to have your group of friends here, you play cards, you play Playstation, you have fun.”
Now, like it or not, we all know that Wenger is undoubtedly a very good manager, however, you have to wonder what this is all about. What type of manager does not study the opposition? Has this always been Wenger’s approach? Whilst arrogance is not a feature too far removed from the Vengaboys, surely no team or manager can be this arrogant. Who gives a fuck about the opposition, we’ll be better.
Sadly for Arsenal fans, this is not an approach that has done them too many favours in recent years. Their last trophy was their daylight robbery of us in 2005. Whilst I can still feel the pain of that day, I’d be lying if I said the three league titles, European Cup, three League Cups and World Club Cup we’ve won since then hadn’t numbed it considerably!
Still, this is a contrast to United’s attitudes to games, particularly the captain Gary Neville, as Sir Alex Ferguson revealed after our latest victory over City. Craig Bellamy, whose pace is an envy of many in the league, was in Neville’s back pocket all game, despite him being 35-years-old.
“Craig Bellamy is a handful, but Gary will have studied every bit of him,” said the boss. “That’s what he does. He studies everything about his opponents and he kept Bellamy under control.”
You can’t imagine there’s any way United would go in to a game without knowing all about their opponents. Tactics and team selection can be entirely dependent on the opposition at times for Ferguson, so for a team to go in to a match without looking at who you are playing and only looking at yourself seems totally mad.
Fabregas has let us all in on a little secret here. If Arsenal are having a good day, then you hope your manager has prepared your players well enough to know how to cope with them. If Arsenal are having a bad day, then you’ll beat them, because they’ll have no idea how to stop you.
Roll on December 11th!