“How did we win that one today?” my mate asked me in the pub last night. North London will have woken up today asking the same question. The football United played in the first half was amongst the worst we’ve seen in recent years. Arsenal didn’t even have to play well to be 1-0 at half time thanks to our woeful display. I would have settled for our lads just being able to pass the ball to someone in a red shirt but that was seemingly too much to ask. When the same side came out for the second half I was flabbergasted! We had a football match to win here and there was no way we were going to do it with that group of players in that formation, or so I thought.
Sir Alex Ferguson showed them too much respect by lining our team up like that. Had we been playing at the Emirates it would have been understandable but at home? There’s no excuse for us playing just one striker. Rooney couldn’t get the ball because he was outnumbered, so every time the ball came his way, he was sandwiched between two considerably taller centre backs. That didn’t stop our players pumping the ball through the air in Rooney’s direction though, a thankless task which was never going to pay off.
Given that we had so many midfielders on the pitch, you had to wonder why we couldn’t keep the ball. Michael Carrick kept passing backwards (sometimes to our players, sometimes to Arsenal’s) and Ryan Giggs was dispossessed time and again, seemingly forgetting he doesn’t have the legs of a 19-year-old anymore and isn’t able to out run Arsenal’s midfield.
Antonio Valencia, who couldn’t get enough of bombing down the wing against Wigan, appeared reluctant to do the same against Arsenal, to the point of being stubborn. When he played for Wigan he was more than happy to run at our left back so I’m not entirely sure what happened to him yesterday. Nani was better but still not at his best. At least he got a few crosses in and took on a few players though.
Our only good chance of the first half came from a good Rooney ball to Darren Fletcher, who controlled with his chest but couldn’t keep his shot down. He was easily our best and most consistent player yesterday and with every performance he puts in like that I feel like I need to apologise. He’s only 25, not yet at his peak, and when he was 21 I said he was shit and groaned every time I saw him in the starting line-up. I’m sorry, I take it all back, time and again. Whilst we can look at the goals from Rooney and Diaby (chortle), I honestly believe Fletcher’s hard work made the difference between us winning and losing. He could have given a penalty away for his challenge on Arshavin, which is irrelevant to the score given that they scored from the resulting attack, but as he said in the post-match interview, he’s due a bit of luck where penalties against Arsenal are concerned! One of my favourite moments of the match, something I only spotted after watching the highlights, was that as the players celebrated our first goal, Fletcher sprinted to the net to collect and ball and ran back to the half way line. It’s that sort of behaviour that sets him apart from so many players.
It looked like a penalty from the stands and having watched MOTD since, I find it hard to believe Arsenal fans have the nerve to compare it with Eduardo’s dive against Celtic. Whilst I whole-heartedly disagree with UEFA’s decision to charge Eduardo and understand the frustration that must make Arsenal fans feel, it is moronic or blind to suggest Rooney dived. The fact that the only player to speak to the ref about the decision was Sagna, whilst Almunia accepted it was a penalty, speaks volumes. A keeper knows when he’s fouled in the box and when he hasn’t. Artur Boruc is a keeper who knew he didn’t foul the striker, Almunia is a keeper who knew he did.
As Rooney stood over the ball I had a couple of thoughts. Firstly, thank fuck it isn’t Carrick, and secondly, please dear God let him score. Please, please, please let him score this. He would have been absolutely slaughtered if he missed and the ‘you’re nothing without Ronaldo’ vultures would have circled, as if Ronnie had never missed a penalty before. But he did score and that changed the game for us. Whilst we had easily been the worst team in the first half, we played with more confidence and were much more assertive in the second half following the goal.
When Diaby made it 2-1 I could hardly believe our luck, given that he was completely unchallenged for the ball. What he was thinking about only he will know but to be honest I couldn’t care less. It was his header that gifted us victory and an all important three points. Minutes later he had the opportunity to make amends but he dragged his shot wide of Foster’s post. Our keeper had a mixed game. At the time, it looked as though there was too much pace on Arshavin’s shot for Foster to do anything about it, but replays show he should have done better. But it was his second half reactionary save against Robin van Persie that made all the difference. Had Arsenal gone 2-0 up it would have been game over.
Wenger will have wished he saved himself and his team some embarrassment in subbing Eboue off a minute or two earlier. His last contribution to the game was to dive under a challenge from Evra. It wasn’t quite as embarrassing as Adebayor’s dive against us a couple of years ago, but it was still pretty dreadful. Patrice is one of the few players who can be happy with his performance over the entire 90 minutes and as he pulled back from Eboue he didn’t appear too surprised to see the player tumble. I assumed that was because he had caught him but when I saw the ref book the Arsenal player I realised Evra wasn’t surprised because he knew what a cheating twat that Eboue is! How humiliating. After all the fuss of Eduardo and Wenger’s outrage, to see one of your players dive like that just days later is totally embarrassing. “Same old Arsenal, always cheating” was the tune of the day, and it certainly got a round or two for that.
When it was announced there was going to be five minutes of injury time I couldn’t believe it, but in the end, United could have won 4-1, with Nani and Berbatov both creating great chances for each other. I couldn’t work out how Berbatov managed to fuck up his chance so badly but replays show the ball bobbled just as he struck it. Nani forced a save from Almunia and if he could have just kept his head he would have netted the rebound.
It was Arsenal who thought they’d snatched the points away from us at the death though when Van Persie left the net bulging. All I could think was ‘for FUCK sake Wayne!’ after he so carelessly lost the ball when we had been keeping possession well for the injury time. Sadly for them, ol’ Willy Gallas was offside in the lead up to the goal and it was rightly not counted. Watching the replay of Wenger dancing around on the touchline only to realise the goal didn’t stand was hilarious. On a day that already felt brilliant enough, it couldn’t have had a better ending, with Wenger then launching a bottle in to the air with his foot and getting sent off. Mike Dean, who had been fussy all day, giving freekicks for most tackles, did nothing for his reputation but it was still hilarious seeing Wenger stood in the middle of laughing and waving United fans.
I went to Cardiff for the 2005 FA Cup final, the last trophy Arsenal won, and saw my team absolutely batter them but we left with nothing. Speaking to Arsenal fans after the game, they seemed to love the fact they got totally outclassed for two hours but still won the cup. See, that’s what makes a good result, when you know how much pain it’s inflicting on the opposition. It was painful for them yesterday, Wenger’s ridiculously bitter post-match interview confirmed that, so that makes it all the more enjoyable.
Arsenal have looked brilliant this season but their trip to Old Trafford was their first real test. Whilst their fans will insist they were the much better team on the day, something I would agree with, for the first half at least, they still didn’t look very good. We were absolutely dreadful for large chunks of the game yet Arsenal still couldn’t make themselves look great. It has to be a worry for them that they can play against such poor opposition and still leave with nothing.
Essentially though, it was a vital three points for us and it means we can sleep easy through this International break, with Ferguson hopefully throwing all future plans for 4-3-3/4-5-1 in the bin and thinking about how we can dictate the game to the opposition, not the other way around!