Arsène loses plot as United win

United’s record in matches against the top four last season was poor, so Sir Alex Ferguson will have been delighted to walk away from Saturday evening’s match against Arsenal with all three points. With luck on their side, Ferguson’s men got away with a mediocre performance that required a penalty and an own goal to take the honours. But if the manner of the victory was fortunate, then United contributed to its own problems by deploying Wayne Rooney as a lone striker, which left the forward isolated and played into Arsenal’s hands.

United entered the match having played with two strikers throughout seven pre-season games, the Community Shield and three Premier League matches. It was a suprise then when Fergie reverted to type for United’s biggest test of the season, deploying Rooney alone up-front. Ferguson had talked beforehand about countering Arsenal’s new tendency to use three through the centre of midifield. The theory being that Nani and Valencia from the wings would provide ample support. But it was a decision that almost backfired, with Rooney often 30 yards from his nearest team-mates in the opening period, and United’s midfield reduced to punting long balls forward as Arsenal outpassed the home side.

The visitors probably deserved their lead at half-time after Andrei Arshavin’s wonderful strike. Ben Foster, who got both hands to the ball, couldn’t direct the 30-yard effort wide. But Ferguson is a winner and he breeds the same mentality in his troops. United may not have been playing well – possession was lost far too easily in the first 45 – but the team wasn’t about to be beaten meekly. Ferguson’s side, led by the peerless Ryan Giggs, increased the tempo after half time. While the result was certainly not “beyond belief” as Wenger whinged, it was one of those days when the details fell right for United. On other occasions the home side would have paid the price for such sloppy use of the ball.

While Valencia was anonymous on the right wing and Michael Carrick strangely wasteful in possession, Ryan Giggs was superb through the centre of the park. At 35 Giggs’ career should be winding down but on this evidence Fergie can ill afford to leave the Welshman out of the team. Giggs’ ability to change the pace of the game was central to United’s ability to force its way back into the match.

The penalty that brought United back into the game was fortunate but only in so far as Manuel Almunia had no sane reason to make the challenge. Racing out to meet Rooney, who was running away from goal, the Spaniard was always going to make heavy contact. The referee’s decision was spot on, no matter how much Arséne Wenger tries to blow smoke over his own side’s outrageous cheating in the past week.

Indeed, Emmanuel Eboué’s fully deserved yellow card for a blatant dive in the second half exposed the hypocrisy of monsieur Wenger’s faux rage at officialdom in the past week. That Eboué chose to target Evra, who had already been booked, demonstrates the depths to which this Arsenal team is prepared sink. Encouraged by Wenger’s ability to consistently defend the indefensible, the Frenchman’s team has evolved beyond a siege mentality to now act as if they are above all sanction. UEFA and the FA have surely taken note.

There was then some sense of justice in United’s – albeit outrageously lucky – winner. Abou Diaby will forever be an Old Trafford hero for the quality of his headed finish from Giggs’ right wing free kick. That no United player was within yards of the midfielder summed up Diaby’s performance, which was woeful from start to finish. It was a fortunate break but against Wenger’s obduracy all the more satisfying. The Arsenal manager talked about lack of experience in the post-match debrief. Boys against men indeed.

Then came the dénouement and there can have been few funnier scenes at Old Trafford than Wenger’s last-minute dismissal from the touchline. Born of frustration, Wenger booted a water bottle across his technical area. His sanction was obvious but the Frenchman’s refusal to sit in the stands – standing arms outstretched in-between the opposing dugouts – should be met with a lengthy ban. While the League Managers Association chief executive Richard Bevan has stated the Arsenal manager will “receive an apology from the FA,” he also recognised that the decision to send off Wenger was “correct in law.”

That Wenger’s myopia again failed to observe a correct decision by the officials – ruling van Persie’s goal offside – is utterly unsurprising. The man who would be king has become a national embarrassment.

United then will be able to bask in the satisfaction of victory over Arsenal during the two-week international break. It was a hard won match, if an unspectacular performance. But these are the points – and matches – upon which a fourth title in a row may just be built. It could also reignite the old United-Arsenal rivalry, which has been somewhat lukewarm in recent years.

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Comments

  1. jim says

    As a gooner, thats a decent write up. Were sick of Eboue’s diving as well.

    I thought we deserved something from the game, but hey ho. Rooney certainly went down easily, but it was a pen I guess. We’ll win nothing until we replace ‘Englands’ #1

  2. Dave Winchester says

    Arsenal fan here in peace. Wenger’s rage at officialdom was about the inconsistency of UEFA’s actions. Wenger did not think it was a penalty but simply pointed out that this kind of thing happens all the time yet the treatment meted out to Eduardo happens once in a blue moon. Why? The Rooney incident yesterday illustrated what a fine line it is: it was a penalty but he clearly dived before any contact but then made sure that contact was made. Only difference was that Boruc moved out of the way and made Eduardo look silly; Almunia did not. If you think that Rooney’s actions were acceptable, then the only conclusion is that high quality dives are acceptable, poor dives are not.

    • says

      There was no dive by Rooney. Almunia took his legs full stop. That’s just a load of smoke blown up by Arsene to hide the limitations of his team and the pressure that’s now on him. If United play well they win 99% of the time. If Arsenal play well they win about 60% of the time. That’s why there’s been no trophies at Arsenal for five years. Yep, Arsenal were the better side on Saturday but it’s not the first nor last time Arsenal have been ‘better’ and lost. Are you happy playing pretty triangles but losing games like this? Of course not.

  3. Vince says

    The 4th official mishandled the situation, an unecessary “storm in a tea-cup”. Crazy own goal by Diaby, draw or Arsenal win would have been a fair result as we played better, and let United off the hook. Bemused by Ferguson decision to leave out Berbatov.
    However United go the points, that’s football so no complaints from me (gooner). United v Arsenal games are always a great spectacle, so I think we (arsenal and united fans alike) can celebrate that.

  4. Mark Moore says

    Jim, yes arsenal deserved something from the game, just like we should’ve won the 2005 cup final but hey shit happens!

  5. Marco says

    It was a barely deserved win, but we’ll take em all, thank you very much!
    That being said, I’m still in shock over Mike Dean’s decision not to award that penalty to Arshavin. Fletcher’s tackle was as nailed on a penalty as I’ve ever seen and it’s annoying that this will give gooners another opportunity to cry foul, even though if the penalty was given, Arshavin would not have scored that screamer later.
    It was good to have won this game, but we still have a long ways to go if we want to get that unprecendented fourth title and knock Liverpool off their f***ing perch! ;)

  6. j-diz says

    Hhm, not sure why you decided to single out Giggs for praise. He was absolutely awful in the first half, not one of his passes connected, he kept trying fancy flicks that didn’t come off, and got tackled every time he was on the ball in good positions. In the second half he was slightly better, but had two bits of good luck that seem to have tricked you into thinking he played well – his pass to Rooney was average, only Rooney’s willingness (and Almunia’s idiocy) saved it from being a nothing ball, and obviously he got lucky with his free kick. Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, but when he has a bad (or at least average) game, we should just say so.

    Also, I’m glad Fergie said after the match that Fletcher was the ‘real’ man of the match. Complete farce that he wasn’t awarded it, he was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch against Arsenal.

  7. Devilton says

    Giggs may have assisted in the 2 goals, but his first half performance was shambolic. There was nothing fluid about his passing and almost every attack that went through him resulted in the ball being lost. It points to a problem that I fear this win will gloss over. The midfield. It’s simply not good enough. Fletcher was the only player that stood out in that game, and lets face it — even he was lucky not to get at least a yellow card for that lunge. Carrick was dreadful at worst and average at best. Giggs came alive for 15 minutes in the second half but that doesn’t change the fact that he too was very poor in the first half.

    Finally, what on earth possessed SAF to play 451 at home? It was a tacit admission that our midfield is weak. Or that we can’t a Fabregas-less Arsenal at home without the likes of Ronaldo. Why play 5 across the middle at home unless you are worried that they will control the middle, and if that’s the case why not address is by buying a world class midfielder?

    I’m glad we won, but from our performance it’s difficult to fathom how we will beat teams consistently. Our midfield is lacking the goals and as good as Fletcher can be, he’s never going to score more then 5 a season. And Carrick and Anderson…well, the less said the better.

  8. Devilton says

    Oh, and the Wenger sending off was farcical and I think Wenger handled it very well. It’s idiot refereeing at it’s very best to send off a manager for showing frustration and if it had happened to SAF the boards would have lit up with vitrol aimed at the refs. Whatever we may think of Wenger I think most fans will agree that it was the refs who ended up looking like twats that day.

  9. PossePossebon says

    I’m with j-diz. Giggsy wasn’t pretty woeful in the first half and I admit I did hope for Berba to get off the bench in place of him, but Sir Alex knew better as always and he set up the two goals. Well done to him eventually of course.

    Agree that we were fortunate. Arsenal screwed themselves up pretty badly, otherwise it would have ended up as humiliating as the one against Liverpool last season, but luckily for us the Gunners went on to humiliate themselves instead. Much as I love Rooney, Fletcher should have been MOTM.

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