Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are well famed for their mind games, both more than willing to make a cheeky remark or two to the press in the hopes of it unsettling their opponents.
Whilst United have managed to keep rather level headed over the past few weeks, despite falling five points behind title rivals at one stage, Arsenal seem to be showing signs of buckling under the pressure.
Firstly, United managed to embarrass Arsenal with a 4-0 victory at Old Trafford. Both teams played weakened sides, but United showed the strength of their squad when battering their opponents. Arsenal seemed to lose the plot, kicking out at our players and tackling hard, something Wenger has often accused his opposition of doing when they can’t beat his team by actually playing the game, but United cruised to victory regardless. After the match, Wenger defended his players for kicking Nani, claiming they were “rightly incensed.”
Then Arsenal travelled to Birmingham, where in the opening few minutes Martin Taylor came in tough on Arsenal striker Eduardo, with the result being a broken leg for the Croatian. It made horrible viewing and the looks on the players’ faces said it all. Since, we have learnt that Eduardo should be playing before the end of the year, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
It was the events after the game that again tilt in the mental battle in United’s favour, with meltdowns from both Arsene Wenger and William Gallas. When Gael Clichy gave away a penalty deep in to injury time, Arsenal captain, Gallas stomped up the field to the half way line. He had given up before the kick had even been taken. From United’s point of view, fortunately James McFadden slotted the penalty away, but imagine for one moment that he hadn’t. Imagine Almunia made the save and the player Gallas should have been marking slotted away the rebound. What kind of captain abandons his team at such a crucial moment?
Gallas attacked the advertising boards, having to be pulled away and back on to the pitch, as he broke down in to tears. He sat in the centre circle, sobbing, as if Arsenal had just lost the title. No doubting it was a tough day for Arsenal, seeing their team mate’s leg in bits and having to carry on playing. But if Gallas was so concerned for his team mate, why was he not running off the pitch at the final whistle to find out the latest news, rather than wallowing in self pity? Both manager and fans have defended his actions, saying he showed himself as someone who cared about the club. For me, the only thing Gallas showed himself caring about was himself, concerned with his feelings, not the feelings of the team, and concerned with his hurt, rather than the hurt of his team mate. If a United captain behaved in such a way, I’d want the armband ripped from him, never to return, and I imagine that is exactly what Fergie would do. You want a captain who leads you forward, grabs you by the scruff of your neck and drags you in to your next game, after giving you a good kicking on the training ground all week. Not a melodramatic prima donna who cries after drawing a league game, regardless of when or how the equalising goal was scored, showing no leadership or balls.
Whilst highly critical of Gallas’ behaviour, I see it only as something that gives United yet another advantage. With a few months left to go, I am made up the captain of our rivals is prone to a break down. If that is the way he carries on after an away draw at Birmingham, I cannot wait to see how the Arsenal captain would respond to a more crushing result.
Also, it was the behaviour of the manager post match that put us in a more favourable position. Clearly emotional because of his injured player, Wenger leaped in to a scathing attack on Taylor, claiming he should be banned from the game for life. Just a week after his players were thrashed 4-0 whilst kicking United intentionally all over the place, Wenger said the only way teams could stop Arsenal was to kick them. The hypocrisy of his attack was clearly lost on him. He later retracted his remarks over Taylor, but this didn’t stop the Arsenal fans sending death threats and setting up hate sites.
Another week passes and Wenger is showing further signs of losing the plot. He has ranted and raved about how his team are victimised. “The real basic problem in this league is that for the past three years we are the team which has committed fewer fouls than any other team,” he moaned. “We are the team who is fouled more than any other team and we are punished more than any other team. It’s not a suspicion, I just look at facts. Facts are facts. Every four fouls, Arsenal gets a yellow card and every nine fouls some other teams get yellow cards. The numbers are available for everybody to see.”
However, despite claiming he is talking about “facts” and these statistics being there for everyone to see, Wenger is actually talking a load of old rubbish. This season, United are in fact the team who are fouled more than any other team, (1,467), followed by Everton (1,465).
In terms of his talk about Arsenal being the most heavily punished team, this is again, rubbish. Where he pulled out the figures of one yellow card for every four fouls, I’m not too sure, but regardless, it is not factual. The Independent reports today, “there was no doubting the passion of Wenger on this subject but the statistics do not agree. Over the last three seasons, including this one, Arsenal have picked up a booking every 7.95 fouls. It is a much higher average than Chelsea (7.51) and Bolton Wanderers (7.81). Blackburn Rovers, perceived as a dirty team by some, have the same average of 7.95 fouls per booking. Over the same period Arsenal have averaged 2.33 red cards a season, a record that puts them tenth among Premier League clubs.”
Quoting inaccurate stats in an attempt to portray his team as the victims? It’s all getting a bit desperate now isn’t it.
The final mental blow dished out today was Ferguson’s remarks made about the Taylor. The man who Wenger claimed should be served a life ban has been defended by Fergie today. “I’ve known Martin since he was a kid at Blackburn and he’s just a nice footballer,” he said. “He’s never been an aggressive player. But he can take comfort from the fact that everyone appears to have acknowledged that, which I think will be his best help. I don’t see any problems for the boy.” Trust Ferguson to dig the knife in.
There’s still a few months to go and United have been playing some quality football more recently. However, football titles aren’t always won purely by event on the field, but events off it too. Three points behind, with Arsenal yet to come to Old Trafford, the mental advantage we currently have could be what we need to push us on to another successive title.
Will United continue to collapse under the pressure?
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