Arsenal’s delusional manager Arséne Wenger criticised Manchester United for playing “anti-football” in the home side’s 2-1 victory over the Londoners at Old Trafford on Saturday. That – somehow – United had won by kicking the victims Arsenal out of the game. It’s a familiar refrain from Wenger, whose brittle team is so often beaten by opponents prepared to do little more than press.
Wenger’s argument was no different in 2004 when United ended the Gooners’ ‘unbeaten’ Premier League run of 49 games. He wasn’t right then; he is ever so wrong now. Wenger’s whinge is little more than smoke blown to mask his increasingly obvious personal and professional deficiencies.
Wenger’s ire was seemingly directed at Darren Fletcher, whose work rate and endeavour helped drag United back into the game. When has football ever been different? The beautiful game has always needed players prepared to put in a ‘reducer’ or two, break up opponents’ attacking play and win the ball back. Without it, football would be little more than basketball played with the feet.
But far from practising anti-football Sir Alex Ferguson is the father of modern attacking football. The man, who when it is really needed, will bet all on red, even when the odds are on black.
Think back to the 1998 – 1999 season. United’s ‘treble’ campaign. Yes, United boasted what is probably the best midfield quartet of the last 20 years. [Pop quiz – name a better one.] In Giggs, Keane, Scholes and Beckham, Ferguson boasted four world stars. But it wasn’t United’s wonderful midfield that won the club so many trophies – it was always Ferguson’s belief that his team would score one more than the opposition. One down in the final minutes of a European Cup final?. Throw on two more forwards. Still haven’t scored? Push the goalkeeper up front too. It was wonderful to watch. Truly a golden era.
Despite the ‘Europeanisation’ of Ferguson’s teams in the intervening years the man is still prepared to take the risks that other managers – especially Wenger – cannot. In May Rant praised the gambler Fergie, who had won United the title, despite Liverpool’s superior late season form, by taking huge risks when it really mattered. It was true in 1999 and it is true today.
On Saturday United’s team – playing badly – was prepared to battle and force its way back into the match. The sheer weight of will and expectation brought two goals. Arsenal could never have recovered from a similar position. Indeed, Arsene Wenger’s greatest strength and principal weakness is his religious belief that his team should always play the same way. Metronomic triangles whether the team is 1-0 up or 5-0 down. There is and has never been a plan b.
Wenger buys players with the same mindset. Andrei Arshavin, Arsenal’s gifted Russian forward, criticised the team’s failure to continue attacking when 1-0 up.
“I am upset with the result,” the Russian said.
“Yes, we suffered a first defeat, which, I think, should just give us additional strength. We will draw our conclusions from how this happened.
“Why did we lose? Once we scored, the team should not have retreated into our half, but instead should have continued to play our brand of game – to attack the goals of the opponent, rather than play to retain the lead.
“In the second half Manchester pressured us a little and this ‘little’ was enough to score two goals against us. After that we started playing again, but it was already not enough. Three points lost.”
Commendable maybe but it’s not as if United’s approach is the catenaccio so loved during the era of Italian dominance. Wenger’s inability to see the wood for the trees is at the very heart of his paranoia. Perhaps he is increasingly detached from reality? The Frenchman seems to believe he is on a higher plane. That is his team has a moral superiority.
Perhaps this is why the public and professional reaction to Eduardo’s blatant dive against Celtic last week was so strong? Wenger holds his team up as a standard bearer. It is not. But by these standards is he judged.
Yet, his team are no more a standard-bearer for attacking football than for footballing fair play. United has, in fact, scored more goals than Arsenal in 10 out 13 seasons that Ferguson and Wenger has faced each other since the former Monaco manager reached English shores. That’s 981 goals by United to 912 by Arsenal in the Premier League. And in the five years since Arsenal last won a trophy United have added three Premier League titles, a Carling Cup and a European Cup.
If this is anti-football, we’ll take more of it.