Another United v. Arsenal clash, another exciting, drama-filled afternoon. After reaching the break 1-0 up, Arsenal broke down and gifted United the victory. Arsenal had a late goal correctly disallowed, and Wenger got sent to the stands for kicking a water bottle.
I think all United fans would admit the side was outplayed today, however, they would also tell you that doesn’t really matter. What matters is the result, and the team were able to get it. That’s why we are defending Champions: We know how to win ugly and we know how to win when we’re not the best team on the day.
Now let’s have a look at the talking points.
Before you read on, you may want to watch the highlights, here.
Arsenal Outplayed United
I fairly agree with this statement, but a look at the match facts tells a different story. I was surprised to learn that for Arsenal’s supposed dominance, they only had 53% possession, and 9 shots (3 on target) to United’s 10 (4 on target) (These stats were taken from ‘The Guardian’ and are a little different depending on where you look). I still think Arsenal were the better team, but that doesn’t mean they deserved to win. They continue to show that they can’t close out matches and nerves were evident: Diaby’s own goal, and Almunia diving at Rooney when the ball was going harmlessly out of bounds. Arsenal could have been up by 2 or 3, but at the same time, United should have made it 3 or 4-1 as Nani and Berbatov missed great chances as the Gunners pushed for an equalizer.
It continues to astound me how he is picked. Fergie is not one for sentimentality except when it comes to Giggsy. What is even more astounding is the media’s blinding love and bias toward this man. I’m a United fan and I’ve called for him to be dropped for a solid 2 years now. I could write 10 pages on why I think he shouldn’t start anymore, but I’ll try to keep this focused on today’s match. His first half was absolutely atrocious. How many times did he give the ball away? How many times did he successfully pass the ball forwards? How many times did he mis-control the ball in the final third? He played behind Rooney and was responsible for feeding him the ball and giving him chances. Coincidence we hardly threatened that first half? I think not. The second half wasn’t much better. What kills me is that his awful performance is forgotten just because his through ball to Rooney led to the penalty and his free kick to the own goal. First, the pass wasn’t all that great and the free kick was straight at an Arsenal player who royally cocked up. When we finally had the lead, he continued to give the ball away when we needed to slow the pace of the game down, and retain possession. I was calling for Berbatov in the 35th minute. I finally got my wish in the 85th and he showed exactly why he should have taken Giggs’s place earlier. He held the ball up and passed the ball to his teamates in red. It’s English football’s greatest conspiracy. It really is. I think it says something that a number of people I have spoken to who are new to the game and are relatively unaware of his brilliance in 10 years ago are just as confused and angry as I am. Do not be blinded by sentimentality.
More Than Half of Arsenal’s Players Booked
I’d like to take this opportunity to point out the fact that 6 of Arsenal’s players were booked while 3 United players were. I think this is quite funny as Wenger usually goes on about how his players are the victims of harsh play and rough tackles.
As he approached the goal, I wondered aloud if anyone was going to step up and challenge him. The answer was no, and he rifled one into the top corner. It was a great strike but I absolutely hate it when the ball goes in at the near post. It shouldn’t happen. That usually signals a mistake in positioning by the keeper – look at Foster’s footwork or lack thereof. He also got a good hand to it but couldn’t keep it out. Still a great strike though. Other than having a chance previous to the goal, the Russian was fairly quiet the rest of the match and was subbed off with what looks to be a minor injury. In addition, Foster made amends with a great save from van Persie which probably would have put the game to bed.
Rooney Alone Upfront
I’ve never been a fan of playing one man up front and this match just reinforced my opinion. It hardly ever works if you want to create chances and score goals. Of course it didn’t help that Giggs was the one who was supposed to feed him the ball. Rooney spent most of the match trailed by the two Arsenal center-backs and thus found the going tough, especially in the first half. Usually when you play 1 up front, the striker needs to hold the ball up to get his teamates involved in the final third. Rooney is certainly strong enough to hold the ball up, but he needs to get the ball to feet before that. It’s no coincidence that neither goal was from open play.
Manchester United’s Change to 4-4-2
Much has been made of this change ‘back’ to the 4-4-2 formation, despite the fact Fergie claims he never really uses it in its traditional form. I’m still not convinced it’s the best formation for this particular team. With a 4-4-2 you need good wingers who can cross the ball (jury is still out on Nani and Valencia) and two strikers who can get their heads on those crosses. I’m not sure Rooney and Berbatov are being used correctly if they are to stay in the box and try to attack crosses. But I’m sure Fergie is aware of that and is tinkering with different ideas in training.
It was a penalty, get over it. And if you don’t, too bad. Rooney looked to be on his way down in super slow motion before Almunia clattered into him giving the ref no choice but to give it. It shouldn’t have been a penalty though, as Almunia never should have dived in the first place – the ball was going out of bounds. He didn’t protest because he knew. I’m listening to 606 now and an Arsenal fan suggested that Rooney dived and the host of today’s radio show, Alan Green, has just flipped out and rightly so. Almunia absolutely took him down. No questions asked. Green goes onto say he’s skewered Rooney for diving in the past (and I’ve heard him do it) and this time there was no question it was a penalty. Clutching at straws here. Honestly.
Now, this was a dive. Absolutely NO contact whatsoever and even worse, he was trying to get Evra sent off. Eboue got a yellow but maybe he should have gotten a red? He deliberately tried to get an opponent sent off. Evra was already on a card and Eboue obviously knew this. Don’t tell me an opposing winger was too ignorant to realize the fullback he’s been attacking all game has to talk the tightrope. He knew full well Evra would have had to be sent off if the referee bought his con. This was a disgraceful dive. Retrospective punishment, please. It needs to be brought in for the good of the game.
Diaby Own Goal
Who knows what happened here. This was just bizarre. A seemingly routine clearance was needed but Diaby seemed to hesitate – maybe he heard a call from Almunia or maybe he just completely misjudged the flight of the ball and tried to correct his position at the last minute? Who cares? 2-1 to United, a hilarious calamity at the back.
Van Persie Equalizer Ruled Out/Wenger Sent to the Stands
This gave me quite a fright but Gallas was clearly offside so it was the correct call. It also gave me great pleasure to see Wenger kick out at a water bottle (he made great contact) and get sent to the stand for it. A little harsh perhaps, but at the same time, if he threw something out of the technical area he probably would have gotten the same punishment. I guess this just sets a precedent for the rest of the managers: don’t kick/throw things out of the technical area. I’d have to say that I agree.
I love to see ‘the professor’ lose it (which he does surprisingly often given his calm demeanor off the field) and he had a nice hissy fit and display of petulance when asked to go sit in the stands. I think he embarrassed himself and his club by standing atop the dugout like that, challenging the referee. It was quite funny for everyone else, though. A great end to a great match.
Wenger Whines about the Ref
What else is new?
Man of the Match
Darren Fletcher continues to prove he is the man for the big occasion and now we all know why Fergie was so high on him 4 years years ago. Gallas also deserves an honorable mention.