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Reds set for “match of intensity”

December 13, 2010 Tags: , Matches 94 comments

Manchester United faces its toughest match of the season to date, with Premier League leaders Arsenal due at Old Trafford tonight. Unbeaten in the league but with a series of damaging draws in away fixtures, Sir Alex Ferguson is seeking to impose United’s will in a match the Scot describes as intense.

Arsenal arrives with arguably the Premier League’s most in-form player, Sami Nasri, and a renewed confidence brought about by a more physical approach this season. It’s a change that is sure to impact on tonight’s match, with memories of contests that have spilled over not long in the past.

“It’s Manchester United against Arsenal and the history of both teams always guarantees a match of intensity and, a lot of the time, controversy,” said Ferguson.

“I think Monday’s game will be more or less the same because the pride and history of both clubs determines that.”

Ferguson’s major selection dilemma comes in midfield, with the Scot forced to choose two from four in central areas. Anderson, Michael Carrick or Paul Scholes will line-up with Darren Fletcher in the centre of the park.

It’s sure to be a key contest, despite the absence of the visitors’ talisman, Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard has failed to recover from injury, with youngster Jack Wilshere set to play in Fabregas’ stead.

Meanwhile in attack Wayne Rooney is still seeking his first goal from open play in almost 20 hours stretching to United’s solitary goal away in Munich last march. But the forward has often enjoyed facing Arsenal, including scoring home and away against the Londoners last season.

For the visitors Nasri poses the greatest threat, with the Frenchman excelling despite – or perhaps because of – missing out on this summer’s World Cup in South Africa. Nasri has added goals and consistency to a talent that often looked out-of-place in the Premier League when he first came to England.

“Nasri has probably been one of the best players in the Premier League this season,” says United legend Ryan Giggs, who is likely to make the bench tonight.

“He has got balance and speed, can play on either wing or off the front. He is really versatile and has scored some great goals as well.

“He really seems to have come of age this year. Arsenal deserve a lot of credit for the way they have coped with losing a quality player like Fabregas and still carried on winning.”

Indeed, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says the match is an opportunity to show how good his team is after four defeats to United in recent years, including the 2009 Champions League semi-final, and home and away in the Premier League last season. Twice United has narrowly beaten the Londoners at Old Trafford in recent years, and then caught Arsenal on the break for comprehensive victories at the Emirates.

“We have an opportunity to show how good we are – that is what you want in life,” said Wenger.

“I know that my team will be really up for it, and I always have great belief in my players. I know how hungry they are for success and am sure that will come out in the game.”

Hungry perhaps but after five years without a trophy history says it might not be enough. After all, Arsenal’s record in their last 10 games in all competitions against United and Chelsea is played 10, won none. Arsenal though, has the best record on the road this season of any Premier League side.

History also says that tonight’s result will go a long way towards deciding this season’s title.

Arsenal – 4231 – Fabianski; Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy; Song, Wilshere; Nasri, Walcott, Arshavin; Chamakh. Subs from: van Persie, Szczesny, Denilson, Gibbs, Bendtner, Djourou, Rosicky.

United – 442 – van der Sar; Rafael da Silva, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Anderson, Fletcher, Park; Rooney, Berbatov. Subs from: Carrick, Kuzszazk, Amos, Fabio da Silva, Evans, Smalling, O’Shea, Brown, Gibson, Obertan, Bébé, Giggs, Hernández, Macheda.

Referee: Howard Webb
Assistant referees: Dave Bryan & Darren Cann
Fourth official: Phil Dowd

United – DDWWLD
Arsenal – LLWWWW

Arsenal: stop Wilshere, win the game

December 13, 2010 Tags: , , , Reads 11 comments

Normally one assumes that the central attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 is the most influential player. No longer necessarily so – this might be so in terms of assists and/or goals but not so if one is to canvass the game as a whole. Possession is not a luxury, but a necessity and in the modern game, teams gets nowhere without keeping the ball. 

Indeed, the front three could consist of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi but the team will not score if they can’t get the ball and feed the front three. Crucially, the opposition can’t do anything if you have the ball. Tiki-taka, as played by Barcelona, is as defensive as it is aesthetically pleasing. 

Arguably, the player who harnesses the most possession is the most influential. The idea of a playmaker stems from this school of thought. Possession without intent is just as useless as having no possession at all. After all, football matches are won with goals, not possession statistics. 

But the theory behind playmakers is to have an intelligent player, such as Zinedine Zidane and Xavi Hernandez, direct possession and take advantage by channeling possession through him; to provide the team’s direction. Because most of possession goes through him, the playmaker often ends up receiving and making the greatest number of passes in his side. 

With an abundance of players like Claude Makelele and tactics that are geared to stop the playmakers, the playmakers of the late naughties have been pushed away from their traditional hunting ground. Some, like Messi, found refuge on the flanks. Others such as Andreas Pirlo and Paul Scholes shifted their trade deeper. 

But things just aren’t the same as the past. On the wings, the playmaker naturally became more of a winger. As a modern winger , the playmaker became more of a goal scorer than a creator. Deep-lying playmakers briefly flourished – they found their job easier for they had more time and space to pick out passes. These players also found their job harder for they were stationed further away from their colleagues in attack. In essence they had bought few extra seconds on the ball with impact. 

This change also required another player step into the hole and links the midfield with the offense. Playmakers made a comeback but they weren’t of the old ilk. The modern playmaker still looks for the killer ball but, unlike his predecessor, leaves the possession maintenance to players behind him. In essence, the traditional playmaker has split into two – the deeper player recycles ball out of defense and the advanced player deploys the killer ball. 

Indeed, a modern central midfield trio is often composed of a passer, a destroyer and a creator/dribbler. Think of Barcelona’s trio of Xavi (passer), Sergio Busquets (destroyer) and Andreas Iniesta (a creator/dribbler). 

The further specialisation of midfielders has made the job of countering them harder. Stop Iniesta the creator, then Xavi the passer just directs the play towards the wings. Some argue it is more important to stop the passer. Cut off the supply, and the destroyer and creator become disjointed, ending up with two sub-teams each specialising in defense and attack but with little linking between. 

Tonight’s match is a case in point. Jack Wilshere is Arsenal’s passer. To ‘break’ Arsenal, Manchester United must stop Wilshere. Arguably, the young English midfielder is more important to the current Arsenal side in the absence of Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard is a phenomenally gifted player who has a fine sense of geometry on the pitch and naturally roams to make full use of the space. Without him, Robin Van Persie will fill in but the Dutchman is more of a second forward than a midfielder and he will not be able to make Arsenal the cohesive unit to the extent that Fabregas does. Thus Wilshere must shoulder the greater creative burden. 

Source: Guardian Chalkboards


Which of course pushes Wilshere to the top of United’s ‘to stop’ list. If United lines up as expected in a nominal 4-4-2, Rooney or Dimitar Berbatov will have to drop deep and pick up Wilshere when the Reds don’t have the ball. Should United line up in a variant of 4-5-1 – be it 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 – the most advanced midfielder will mark the Englishman. Ji-Sung Park did a similar job on Pirlo last season in the Champions League. The South Korean could also play the defensive attacking midfielder role with Rooney filling in on the left, where a more draconian option would see Rooney spearhead the attack alone and play Park, Anderson and Nani as United’s attacking midfielders. 

An intriguing option – and very unlikely – is to use Javier Hernández, enabling United to line-up deep with Rooney, Park and Nani supporting the Mexican. After all, the Arsenal backline remains extremely vulnerable to the counter-attack that the pace of Rooney, Nani and Hernández could bring. 

However, Arsenal has been undone twice by more or less this same tactic in recent seasons. Will Sir Alex Ferguson so again? After all, the current Arsenal side remains predictable tactically and has little palpable defense against United’s counter attacking system. 

All that remains is for United to get the ball.

Evra begins war of words but who will end it?

December 10, 2010 Tags: , Reads 19 comments

The needle been missing from the Manchester United – Arsenal fixture in recent years. Certainly Arsenal’s comparative lack of success over the past five years and then Jose Mourinho’s introduction to English football has taken the edge off the bickering between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger.  Patrice Evra just pulled out the whetstone.

Indeed, Evra’s words, bordering on the line between fact and disrespect, are sure to wind up the London side on the eve of Monday night’s fixture between the two sides. Claiming that Arsenal will not winning the title this season, Evra goes on to describe the Londoners as a club in crisis.

“Arsenal is a training centre. I watch them play and enjoy it but will they win the title? That’s what people remember,” Evra said.

“Arsenal are a great club but it has been five years since they won anything and that for me is a crisis. We could lose to them on the 13th but then what? There is nothing, there will be no trophy, nothing.”

Of course, there is little in Evra’s words that is untrue. Arsenal’s much-lauded style has brought no conspicuous success in recent seasons, while the side’s soft-underbelly is repeatedly exposed against top sides home and abroad. That Arsenal’s weaknesses come to the fore against middle ranked sides too has consistently undermined everything Wenger has worked towards with his “young” side.

Like his team, Wenger’s excuses never seem to grow old.

Yet, this season a steeliness appears to have enveloped the Emirates club, with former Red Phil Neville identifying Arsenal’s new propensity to fend off the Premier League’s bullies. But in gaining steel, Arsenal appears to have lost consistency. Losses to Braga, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion, present a case in point.

Wenger, no less myopic than the day he walked into Highbury a little more than 14 years ago, reacted to Evra’s jibe with more restraint than is sometimes the case.

“He gave you some good stuff to make it all hot before the game,” the Arsenal manager told the media today.

“We are guided by the way we want to play football and not by the statements of anybody who plays against us.

“Personally, I believe if you are a big player you always respect your opponent and that is what we try to do.

“We do not want to go into any unneeded talking before a game like that. We want to focus on the way we want to play and ignore any provocation before a game.

“We are motivated by the desire to win the game and by the quality of the football we want to play.”

But in recent meetings United’s ability to break quickly has brought emphatic victories at the Emirates in both domestic and European football. That Ferguson’s side also ground out a 2-1 victory much against the run of play at Old Trafford last August simply proved the old adage that United can win when playing badly.

Arsenal rarely does.

It is, in effect, Evra’s point. That is no value criticising Arsenal’s playing style; Wenger’s defensive response about his team’s football quality misses the point. Teams can and do win with style as Barcelona emphatically demonstrated against the Gunners in last season’s Champions League.

Sometimes even the best need an edge.

Indeed, while United has rarely sparked into life this season as Ferguson’s squad deteriorates in quality, between 2007 and 2009 the Reds won with both style and – importantly – no little grit.

On Monday night United is likely to need plenty of the latter. Fans seek some of the former too; they are not and have never been mutually exclusive.

Should Wenger ever discover this secret Arsenal might actually prove Evra wrong. From this distance, it seems some way off.

Not that Wenger’s side is even that young. The starting 11 that faced Partizan Belgrade during the week averaged around 25. Youthful but not without experience either.

Still, the challenge coming from Arsenal this season, with Wenger’s side currently top of the Premier League, might at least spark a revival in the edge between the sides. At its height the war between Wenger and Ferguson was hugely entertaining, although perhaps not always for Sir Alex who famously ended on encounter victorious but covered in pizza.

Evra has fired the first shot across the bows. How United fans will enjoy any forthcoming Ferguson volley.

Sanctimonious Wenger does Ramsey little justice

March 3, 2010 Tags: , , , Reads

As stricken Welshman Aaron Ramsey lay, leg shattered, the pious cry of Arsène Wenger could almost be heard above the youngster’s screams. But with the dust settling, it is debatable what chasm will heal first: Wenger’s rash assertion that there is an anti-Arsenal conspiracy to injure his players or the midfielder’s fractured bones.

Football, as a contact sport of long-standing, is well used to serious injury but its power to shock is undiminished. Ramsey’s injury was every bit as sickening as those suffered by Eduardo, Alan Smith, David Buust and countless others over the years.

As a highly talented youngster at a leading club Ramsey’s injury, naturally, garners more national interest than most. But it is this very fact that proffers Wenger a platform to pronounce Ryan Shawcross not only guilty but lay the charge of national conspiracy at the Stoke City player’s door.

The degree of legitimacy in the former-Manchester United youngster’s tackle has been widely debated. Opinions range from essentially labeling Shawcross as the demonic figurehead of a brutalist sport bent on destroying Arsenal to the belief that Wenger should personally apologise to the Stoke defender.

Neither is true of course, and although it is hard to defend a tackle whose outcome was an injury of such severity, perspective must be kept.

That Ramsey’s broken leg, on first medical analysis, will heal and enable the player to return within the year is a blessing. And in time perspective normally brings a more rational response as well healing broken bones. Except, sadly, in Wenger whose extrapolation from one tackle the intentions of an entire community is deeply flawed.

The trouble with Wenger is that his didactic assertion, born of a skewed partisan viewpoint, that football is in some way out to get his team is hugely wide of the mark. The Shawcross incident is hardly the first time Wenger has made this charge. It has become an habitual pattern.

Football is and always has been a sport both of technical skill and physicality. There is no monopoly on the former at Arsenal and no conspiracy to direct the later solely at Wenger’s side. The Frenchman’s attempt to assert moral authority over the rest of the football community is deeply insulting.

Wenger also allows a legitimate charge of hypocrisy to be laid at his door. In recent seasons the Arsenal manager has condoned the perpetrators of two of the most shocking tackles seen in English football.

William Gallas’ brutal two footed assault on Bolton Wanderers’ Mark Davies is no less violent simply because the outcome was less destructive than Shawcross’. Similarly, Abou Diaby’s challenge on Bolton’s Gretar Steinsson was miraculous only in that it did not break the Iceland midfielder’s ankle.

Just two examples to illustrate a point but each challenge could have resulted in far more serious injury. Would it then have been justifiable to label Arsenal a side pre-determined to break opponents’ legs? Of course not.

Sadly the debate has degenerated into two camps. Those within the Arsenal family, spurred on by Wenger’s illegitimate paranoia, genuinely believe than not only did Shawcross mean to break Ramsay’s leg but that there is a culture of violence against their team. Few outside of the Emirates buy into that analysis.

The pity in all of it is that Ramsey deserves better support from his manager. He’ll need it.

United hand Arsenal an (anti) football lesson

February 1, 2010 Tags: , Matches 6 comments

Slick Manchester United brushed aside Arsenal at the Emirates, handing the home side a lesson in counter-attacking football that Arsène Wenger will not soon forget. Goals from Wayne Rooney, Park Ji-Sung and a Nani-inspired own goal were enough to take the spoils as United closed to within a point of leaders Chelsea.

In the build-up Sir Alex Ferguson had spoken of United’s “biggest game” this season and his side put on a stellar performance at the Emirates for the second visit in succession. There may be no more Cristiano Ronaldo in the visiting side but the Portuguese’s compatriot Nani proved tormentor-in-chief today. The much-maligned winger, whom many predicted would leave the club this winter, turned in a man-of-the-match performance to repay the manager’s faith.

United, as is now customary, lined up with Rooney as a lone front man, ably supported by the aforementioned Nani and Park. If Rooney and Nani were the stars of the show, then Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher provided a superb platform on which to build. Once again the Scot overshadowed the much celebrated Cesc Fabregas in the centre of the park. So much for Wenger’s “anti-football” jibe.

Ferguson’s men were bright from the start, dominating early passages of play as they had in last April’s Champions League semi-final. And while Wenger’s side, typically, was neat in possession to the final third there was little in the way of threat to Edwin van der Sar’s goal.

It was fitting that Nani, at the centre of United’s best attacking moments in the first half, provided the opening goal for the visitors on the half hour. The winger’s sublime flick beat two Arsenal defenders before the Portuguese international ghosted past a third and clipped to the back post. Manuel Alumuni, back-peddling, could only palm the ball into his own net.

A second, on the counter attack, followed less than five minutes later as United swept the length of the pitch to score. Rooney and Nani recalled the visitor’s third in last season’s semi-final by exchanging passes before the former-Evertonian fired gloriously home.

Wenger’s half-time comments had little effect with the home side reduced to long-range pot shots and Ferguson’s side dominating midfield.

In any case the match was over as any kind of meaningful contest as the visitors one again demonstrated the brand of counter-attacking football that has been a hall mark of Ferguson’s sides. This time Park was the beneficiary, just five minutes into the second period, running half the length of the pitch before coolly slotting home.

Thomas Vermaelen’s late consolation did little more than spoil van der Sar’s clean sheet, with even Wenger bereft of excuses for a sound beating.

Unsurprisingly Ferguson delighted in victory after a mid-winter wobble that saw defeats to Fulham, Aston Villa, Leeds United and Manchester City.

“It was a great performance, there’s no doubt about that. I’m really pleased with that,” he told Sky Sports.

“At this time of year you need to really kick on and I think Wednesday’s result and performance has galvanised us again.

“I think you saw that in the players in the way they went into this game, they were sharp and they were good in their passing and they made a lot of chances too.”

United was so dominant in the centre of the pitch it is not unfair to recall Patrice Evra’s cutting “men-against-boys” refrain from last season’s semi-final. It set up a platform for the devastating talents further forward.

“I think that counter-attacking has always been a part of our game anyway, particularly away from home, and we capitalised on a lot of these opportunities today,” Ferguson said.

“Arsenal play a lot of good football and get to the edge of your box regularly and then if you can win the ball and counter-attack quickly you can get a lot of good chances against them.”

Rightly Ferguson saved special praise for Nani, who after months in the wilderness has now put in a run of fine performances on the right side of midfield. With Antonio Valencia so bright in the opening half of the season, Ferguson now has two top class options on the right of his team.

Indeed, so frustrating has Nani been that many supporters had lost faith in the player who cost more than £15 million from Sporting Lisbon in 2008.

“It’s amazing, when you talk to the players they all want him to play, they all think he’s fantastic and now we get consistency and maturity out of him I think we’ve got a really good player,” Ferguson said of Nani.

“The boy has come back. He had an injury and he’s been freshened up and his last three games have been first class and today was his best.

“Maturity is one thing as he’s 23 now, he’s a very shy boy there’s no question about that. It’s a question of getting stronger and better to deal with playing for us every week. And today is an example of that maturity.”

An unlikely hero in a high quality team performance from United, who face Portsmouth at Old Trafford next weekend. Arsenal meet Chelsea at Stamford Brige, with Ferguson hoping that Wenger’s side “batter” their cross-town rivals.

United face Arsenal in ‘biggest game of season’

January 31, 2010 Tags: , Matches 3 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson’s buoyant Manchester United side travel to London for what the Scot has billed is the biggest game of the season so far. Fresh from the euphoric defeat of Manchester City on Wednesday night, Ferguson’s team is in confident mood despite the loss of suspended central defender Rio Ferdinand.

United has a mixed record at the Emirates, having lost twice in the league at Arsenal’s new north London base. But a famous victory in the Champions League semi-final last season and a scrappy win at Old Trafford earlier this season bodes well for Ferguson’s men.

Arsenal, second in the Premier League table after a an excellent run since defeat to Chelsea in November, pose a serious threat to United’s title ambitions in a three-way race for Premier League silverware come May.

“The game on Sunday, looking at the way the league is shaping up now, is the biggest game of the season. Arsenal are on a really consistent run,” said Ferguson, who believes that consistency lies at the core on United’s assault on the summit following nine defeats in all competitions this season.

“The most consistent team will win the league now. That’s what Arsenal has done and we’re really looking forward to it.”

With 21-goal talisman Wayne Rooney in the form of his life, Ferguson will again deploy the former-Evertonian as a lone front-man in a tactical system that will closely match that of the home side. But the key battle could lie in midfield, where Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas will meet the man who has consistently won the personal duel between them, Darren Fletcher.

Fletcher, whom Arsenal’s embittered manager Arsène Wenger accused of playing “anti football” in United’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford this season, has dominated his Spanish opponent in recent seasons.

“I don’t think Darren is destructive, he is competitive,” Ferguson said of the Dalkeith-born Scotsman who is likely to play alongside Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes in a three-man central midfield.

“There are not many players who run off the ball as well as him in the game.

“His movement, energy and commitment are fantastic. It is a wonderful to see a player achieving the level of endurance Darren can put into a match.”

In an unlikely comparison, Ferguson says United’s number 24 is similar to former Old Trafford player, turned academy director, Brian McClair. The striker, whom Ferguson signed from Celtic in 1988, converted to a all-action midfielder in the latter part of his career.

“He was exactly the same. When the ball moved he moved,” said Ferguson of McClair.

“He was a fantastic player for us in that way and Darren is in the same mould because he must run more than anyone. His energy and awareness of space are excellent. There are not many big games Darren has not played in over the years

“We have been saying how good he is for a while. Maybe it has taken longer for the fans to appreciate the qualities the boy has.

“There is nothing you can do about that. He is not a stylish player by any manner of means. He is ungainly and gangly. But he is a fantastic player.”

With Ferdinand missing Ferguson will choose the returning Nemanja Vidic alongside Jonny Evans in central defence, with Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra at full-back. Despite Ferdinand’s loss, United’s back-four is beginning to show some selection consistency with the return of Evans and Rafael.

And another man returning from the wilderness, Nani, could hold the key to United’s performance with the Portuguese midfielder superb in his last three outings. He’ll need to do the same again today in support of Rooney.

Arsène loses plot as United win

August 30, 2009 Tags: , Matches 14 comments

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.

One more point

May 15, 2009 Tags: , Shorts No comments

Arsenal head to Old Trafford for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off, with United needing just a single point to clinch an 18th League championship – their 11th in the Premier League. If the Reds get the draw or win they need it will be the culmination of an outstanding second half of the season. Chasing five major trophies, United are within a point and a game of clinching four. Should the Reds pull it off, the season will rank amongst the very finest in both the club and manager’s histories. And with Arsenal in Manchester, it could be a fitting match in which to clinch the Premier League – just as the Gooners did at Old Trafford 2002. Not revenge as such, but sweet all the same.