Following United’s away defeat to Bolton, who previously had been massively struggling, the press had a field day slating United. “Is this really the strongest Manchester United squad in Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at Old Trafford, as he recently claimed?” Steve Tongue from The Independent questioned. “A United team not up for a scrap? Surely not,” quipped Ian Whittell of The Guardian. The wankfest over Arsenal continued that day, however, after they saw off the mighty Wigan at home, leaving them standing three points clear with a game in hand.
A week and a half later, Sir Alex Ferguson was questioned about our title challenge, and whether we were capable of overthrowing Wenger’s team. “Arsenal are playing well, but it’s a long season and they know that, too,” Sir Alex Ferguson, in all his wisdom, declared. “They will drop points, there’s no doubt about that.” In the following five games, leading up to today, Arsenal have dropped seven points from the possible fifteen they could have won. In that same time, United have won five out of five, which pushed us to the top of the league yesterday.
I look at our squad now, and see that at varying points in the season, we’ve spent months without Scholes, Rooney, Hargreaves, Saha and Neville. Every other player has missed at least one game through injury. Despite our rubbish start to the season, we’ve managed to fight back, and now have the best goal difference by six goals. It all seems pretty incredible, when you consider that in our first eight league games this season we scored just seven goals. It has been the depth of our squad that has allowed us to pull through the difficult times, when the injuries really could have damaged us.
With the second half of the season upon us, a period where historically we have been stronger, it is looking more and more likely that the title will stay in Manchester this season. I don’t want to come across as too arrogant, but I’m happy enough to say that back in August I was claiming the title was ours. That’s what comes with being a content fan, looking at the quality your much loved manager has laid on a plate for you. If we won the title easily enough last season, then it should be a doddle this year, with Tevez, Hargreaves Anderson and Nani thrown in the mix.
I wrote Arsenal off at the start of the season and I am happy enough to concede I was wrong about that. Not because now I think they will win the title, because I don’t, but I have to concede they will come closer to winning it than I previously gave them credit for. The fact that Chelsea and Liverpool, the supposed other half of the top four, aren’t putting up much of a fight enhances Arsenal’s chances all the more. Well done to them for proving their strong start was more than a fluke, and that they do have the strength of character, as well as ability, to enable them to play and keep up with the big boys. However, yesterday just seemed like the beginning of the end for them. Well, I suppose the beginning of the end arguably came in their 1-1 draw at struggling Newcastle, a result which flattered Arsenal more than it did the Geordie lads.
I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see us draw or even lose to West Ham, considering we played spinelessly against them in our loss at Upton Park around Christmas last season. We’d won ten of our last eleven league games before making that the journey down south, the one game we didn’t win being the 1-1 draw against Chelsea. Our first XI were fighting fit and up for a victory to keep us clear at the top of the league. However, we lost, our lead was cut to two points, and none of us could really work out what happened.
This year could and should be slightly different, however, when taking in to consideration we had a stroll in the park yesterday for our 4-0 win over Sunderland. We rarely got out of second gear as we brushed Keano’s team aside. This is in contrast to last season, with derby day preceding the West Ham clash, and despite boasting a 3-1 scoreline, we had to work bloody hard for those points! Possibly this season should grant us with an easier match, with their manager settled in for some time now, and not looking for a miraculous result on his first game. The match will also be special for our Argentinian, who kept the Hammers in the Premiership last season with a goal against us on the final day, and I imagine he will be greeted with a respectful reception.
Still, before looking too far ahead; to West Ham, to 2008, to May, it is nice just to take a breather and live in the moment. We are top of the league (without relying on more games played) for the first time this season, and it feels good. We have shown our class to come back and outplay our opposition. We have seen moments of brilliance from our players just as often as we’ve seen the grit and determination to grind out a result. Our lads want it, they’ve got the taste for success, and there was no way they were going to surrender their trophy without a fight. There’s a long way to go yet, but the sooner the talk about it being “a four horse race” stops, the better. It’s embarrassingly inaccurate.
Well done United, top of the league, now do all you can to keep it up.