Manchester United 2 – 1 Arsenal
Goals: Arshavin 40 mins, Rooney (pen) 59 mins, Diaby OG 63 mins
Man United: Foster; O’Shea, Brown, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick, Giggs; Valencia, Rooney, Nani.
Subs: Park for Valencia, Berbatov for Giggs
Arsenal: Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy, Denilson, Song, Diaby, Eboue, Van Persie, Arshavin.
Subs: Bendtner for Eboue, Eduardo for Denilson, Ramsey for Arshavin.
“Arsenal are a quality team, snatching defeat from the slack jaws of victory is no easy task.”
MANCHESTER UNITED faced their biggest test of the season to this point, against an Arsenal team that had started the season on fire but these games are always special and often define the term ‘talking point’ in the football lexicon. Ben Foster continued in goal, O’Shea started at right back for the first time since the Burnley disaster and for the first time this season Johnny Evans missed a game in central defence, ‘Knees Up’ Wesley Brown partnering Vidic as Evans was injured. Patrice Evra continued at left back and it was a complete change in formation for the midfield. Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs were the starting three centrally, while Valencia and Nani were more advanced than at previous times this season, essentially leaving Wayne Rooney as the lone striker.
In the early going the two heavyweight teams (yes, Arsenal still are despite not winning anything for a few years) were quiet. Van Persie had a free kick which Foster (wearing light blue?) claimed, Valencia jumped and clashed with Vermaelen, Carrick’s knee met Eboue and overall the attacks for both teams showed intention and some ‘ole’ possession, but no breakthrough. Alex Song was booked for his foul on Valencia as United looked to attack, and minutes later their solid possession created a cross for Evra that evaded Wayne Rooney thanks to the attention of Vermaelen. Almost immediately at the other end of the pitch Arsenal could themselves have found the net, Robin Van Persie had Vidic for company but managed to get a shot away. Patrice Evra won the first half award for Right Place Right Time as his deflection won Arsenal a corner kick instead of a goal advantage. From that corner Arshavin went close after Foster had pushed the ball to him and it looked like the game was sparking into life. Patrice Evra showed the spark as he raced into the Arsenal half evading Diaby but not William Gallas. Evra met the ground and a free kick was awarded, Wayne Rooney’s effort failed to worry Almunia in the Arsenal net.
As the half drew to a close the game was somewhat baffling. It had moments of end to end but it wasn’t that type of game, it had moments of late and cynical challenges but it wasn’t what you could call heated or dirty. In their efforts to mirror Arsenal tactically with the three in midfield and three attackers it looked as if the Old Trafford team were mirroring their ‘pass the ball to death’ approach as well. A mistake by Denilson saw Valencia lead a United attack, he slid the ball to Giggs who found Fletcher and when Valencia’s cross found its way into the danger area it was easily snapped up by Almunia. It was chances like that, which just needed a spark and didn’t get one. Instead it was Arsenal who found the spark. It was the visitors who made the breakthrough following a promising few minutes for them which had seen Van Persie beat Wesley Brown and take to the floor and Arshavin taken out by a brave Darren Fletcher who did make contact with the ball. While Wenger was up claiming two penalties Arshavin’s shot out of the blue and out of the reach of blue red Ben Foster gave the visitors the lead.
In the second half Ben Foster’s foot kept United in the game as Van Persie was denied from close range and just before the hour mark it was the other goalkeeper that was under the spotlight as Ryan Giggs slid a ball through for Wayne Rooney to chase, out came Almunia making no contact with the ball, over went Rooney and United had a penalty and a way back into the game. Almunia went one way, the ball went the other, and United were level.
All of a sudden, after a quiet first half, Wayne Rooney was alive, the crowd were vocal and United looked to create but so did Arsenal. Robin Van Persie fizzed a free kick onto the bar and when the goal eventually came minutes after, it surprised everyone in the ground and delighted those in red. Ryan Giggs was influential again as he curled a free kick onto the head of Diaby, for a cracking header past his own ‘keeper. United led 2:1 but Diaby himself could have levelled had he not slid the ball wide of the United net.
Arsenal from then on looked a little scrappy, deflated by the loss of their winning position through what Arsenal fans may see as no fault of their own (unless you count a goalkeeper’s arms and a defender’s own goal, that is). It was all meandering towards the final whistle, Arsenal, in fairness did have long periods of pressure on the United box but made no impact. Clichy skied an effort that will probably knock into Stuart Pearce’s ballooned 1990 England penalty, sometime next month and Berbatov showed a great deal of pace and a great lack of luck when Nani’s pass saw him with the chance to put United clear. Our official position is that the ball bobbled at the crucial moment, and a knackered Dimitar Berbatov lay on the turf. Berbatov later slid the ball across to Nani who should have scored but saw his effort denied by Almunia’s outstretched arms (important limbs once again).
A 95th minute chance from Van Persie was ruled offside due to William Gallas and Old Trafford giggled with glorious glee to see Arsene celebrating what he thought was an equaliser one minute, and sent off by the referee the next. Wenger personified the fine line between joy and despair today, one second up demanding a penalty then celebrating a goal, and now at the close of the game clenching his fist in belief of a rescued point and then standing in disbelief as he is sent to the stands, for a stand.
Arsenal are a quality team, snatching defeat from the slack jaws of victory is no easy task. For United it was an important result that could, for now, distract from the flaws in the performance. It could have all been so different had Ben Foster not been on his toes to deny Van Persie, or if Diaby had figured out what to do with an in swinging ball before he met it with his head. Either way, United go on, Arsenal suffer defeat and Wayne Rooney scores again.
Now, let’s all laugh at Wenger, let’s all laugh at Wenger, na na na na! GtS