I was happy with the line-up. Whilst I wasn’t expecting Anderson and Carlos Tevez in the starting eleven, I appreciated the senitments behind it. We needed a bit of fight in us against Arsenal and those two are more than happy to do that.
Starting where we left off against Tottenham Hotspur, United were easily the better team from the off, totally dominating Arsenal. Before our goal on 17 minutes, Rooney saw his looping header kept out by a fully-stretched Almunia, Ronaldo had got a shot away, and the keeper had to make a brilliant save to stop Tevez. Arsenal on the other hand had maybe ventured in to our half once or twice.
Watching the first half was just thrilling. I’d hoped our second half performance at the weekend wasn’t a one off and we were shown it wasn’t. All season I’ve been waiting for these kind of performances and as time was running out, us still in a great position, I was wondering if they would ever come. In reality, these types of displays couldn’t have come at a better time.
In the second half Arsenal had a bit more of the ball although didn’t do anything with it. The only save Van der Sar had to make all game was for a tame shot from Cesc Fabregas in the first half. They threatened our penalty area more as the game went on but didn’t really ever look like scoring. In contrast to United.
Our best attempt of the second half fell to Ronaldo twenty minutes from time, with his 30-yard-strike rattling the crossbar. Almunia was nowhere so an inch or two lower and it would have been his second sensational goal in two games in Europe.
All in all, I was happier with the performance than I was with the result. Walking in to the ground my general thoughts were in agreement with Ferguson, that I’d take a 1-0, but after that performance, we really should have scored a goal or two more. That would make the Emirates a lot less nerve wracking. As it is, we have to travel there with the target of scoring just one goal and to keep tight enough at the back. I certainly fancy us to do it and history shows we always score there but it’s a funny old game, isn’t it?
Whilst I won’t go in to too much detail, Ronaldo had a period of ten minutes or so in the second half where he reverted back to his old hateful ways, much to the annoyance of the home fans. I can only assume this stuff doesn’t get shown on the telly for United fans to be so quick to defend his petulance. After not being awarded a free-kick yesterday, Ronaldo again watched the opposition charge in to our half. He sulkily and slowly walked back towards the halfway line when the ball was played back towards an Arsenal player ten yards or so away from him. He made no effort to run for the ball, continuing with his sulk. It’s a sad state of affairs when you hear fans yelling “This is a fucking European Cup semi-final, Ronnie!! Go to the ball!” and “Who the fuck do you think you are?! GO ON!!”. I’ve never seen anything like it. For him to be so consumed with his own feelings of injustice to get on with playing football for us is a massive worry. I can’t get my head around the fans who think that sort of behaviour is acceptable. We’re on a knife edge at the moment, so close to repeating the remarkable achievements of last season, and we need everyone on board to do so. We can’t afford the time for a player to have a sulk whilst the game is going on around him when we need 100% from everyone. Good performance from him otherwise though, so come on Ronnie lad, book up your ideas again!
Darren Fletcher was brilliant again. I find it odd to think how much I didn’t rate him before. I’d groan every time I saw him in the starting line-up whilst now I’m actually relieved to see him there. His workrate is absolutely fantastic and most of the time he pulls it off. He will usually either win the ball or put the player under enough pressure that they are forced in to a mistake which wins us possession. He’ll never be the most gifted player but he is certainly one of our most useful ones at the moment.
Aside from the goal, I think John O’Shea was pretty solid too. I think Samir Nasri would have been a much bigger test for our Irishman but thankfully Wenger, in all his wisdom, opted to play the man who scored two goals against us from the left in our last meeting in a holding midfield role. Genius. Whilst being good defensively he also put in a couple of decent crosses and could have got himself an assist for a Ronaldo header early on had Almunia not decided to play like a half decent keeper!
Wayne Rooney didn’t have his best game so I’m hoping he’s saving that for the Emirates, as he often does pretty well against that lot. It was his decision making more than his ability that let him down. He played some beautiful long range passes but too often at a crucial moment he fluffed it. He wanted to do the special thing rather than the sensible thing, which can be applauded when we’re 3-0 up, but let’s just stick to basics until then!
Tevez was his usual hardworking self but I’m a bit tired of the martyr routine. We get it Tevez, you’re not happy. You tell the press every chance you get. But don’t go shaking your head when you’re subbed off after playing 70 minutes in a European Cup semi-final. Maybe I’m being harsh and maybe my expectations of our players are too high, but I’d rather they save that stuff for behind the scenes. If you’re not happy, by all means, express that to the manager, but don’t do it for the World to see. What purpose is it serving? The fans know how much you want to play, so keep playing your heart out (and if possible, start getting a few more shots away. You are a striker after all!) and save the rest of it for when the cameras are switched off.
Evra looked better but maybe because Walcott posed nowhere near the threat Lennon did. He just hasn’t really seemed the same player since coming back from his ban and injury. I’d put him in our top three performers, easily, for the first half of the season, but he’s just dropped off since then. Come on Patrice, show us what you’re capable of again!
All in all though, it was a very pleasing performance, which gives me more confidence ahead of our trip to Middlesbrough. You just never seem to know how United are going to play at the moment but I hope, if our last two games are anything to go by, that we’ve turned a corner. It feels incredible to be so close to such great success but like this time last season, there are still the pangs of anxiety. It could all get taken away from us still and the thought of it being Liverpool/Arsenal/Chelsea who deny us another league and European Cup double is sickening.
My expectations at the beginning of the season were never to repeat what we just had done, regardless of what the players and manager were saying about their hunger for more success. A league title would have been more than enough for me. But we’re just seven matches away from doing it again. God, I love this team!