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After a double-header against Chelsea, United faced another London-based side as Arsenal came to Old Trafford. It’s early in the season but Arsenal are already off the pace set by United, Chelsea and City – a defeat would only reassert that a title challenge will probably not happen this year. For United, there was a chance to go top with Chelsea playing at Swansea later in the day. We welcome comments from both sets of supporters.
It’s not often we get this right, but in our match preview we correctly predicted the lineup (and nearly the exact score). Rarely has a team been so obvious before a game, and that’s even taking into account Fergie’s love for an unexpected curveball. Interestingly, the keen-eyed will have noticed Scholes now hasn’t played a minute for over two weeks. With four away games in a row coming up (Braga, Villa, Norwich, Galatasaray) he may be called upon to control things in any of those.
We’re often quick to criticise the boss but not always as full of praise as maybe we should be. After Saturday’s game he said to various media outlets that the game was flat and that United hadn’t been clinical enough.
Having been in attendance – an increasingly rare pilgrimage due to work, money and a disliking of what Old Trafford has become – there was an odd atmosphere around the ground. Lunch time kick offs seldom have the most raucous of crowds but this was exceedingly flat. Maybe Robin’s early goal didn’t help or the fact that Arsenal’s attempts at competing were meager but even the Stretford End was somewhat subdued.
Whether it was the crowd simply interpreting what was on the pitch or the players responding to a quiet audience, the game itself was in large parts, dull.
United should have scored three or four more than they did – in fact, had they scored eight, I doubt few away fans would have been amazed. Van Persie’s early strike should have set the tempo for better things – he could have had three, Rooney missed yet another penalty and other players like Valencia were guilty of squandering good opportunities too. Arsenal’s solitary late goal ensured the scoreline made the game appear to be so much closer than it ever was.
It was strange really. This United side has been free-scoring for the last few weeks and yet made goalscoring appear awkward – relying on a defensive error and a goal-shy left back to get the job done. Hardly clinical.
The old master summed it up best:
“…thank god we got the second one because the fact they scored right on full-time would have been an embarrassment.”
As a football fan I can and do appreciate the talent that Jack Wilshere has. His wand of a left foot has been missing from a football pitch for too long but Saturday’s game was a stark reminder that he remains a work in progress.
It’s questionable whether Jack was even ready to start a game for Arsenal at United after his time off. He may have been impressive against QPR but this was a few steps up from that. On the whole, he struggled to assert himself on the game as United were quick to close him, Arteta and Cazorla down (big kudos to Rooney for a lot of that).
When Jack’s frustrated, he reverts to classic Arsenal mode – to get dirty. That’s not a criticism, in fact it’s welcomed as Arsenal have been too ‘nice’ in recent years. Still, with a yellow card to his name and a warning for some petty tackles, it was stupid to be sent off the way he was. Cleverley was in a similar situation for United and Fergie brought him off before he got sent off yet Wenger didn’t do the same with Jack. He’ll now get a weekend off but it doesn’t need me to say that Arsenal need to protect him and I’m not sure that Wenger was by both starting him and then not recognising he might be sent off. (Amusingly, Wenger admitted he saw this one but thought the referee got it wrong.)
Rivalry put on hold
This could be an entire piece in itself but there’s no denying that right now United are in a group of teams that Arsenal don’t belong in. It’s a shame as much of the Ferguson era has been defined by battles with Wenger’s sides.
Arsenal have gotten stale and they are too soft. The pretty football they play is pleasing on the eye and admirable but it’s not getting them anywhere. The game may have changed since the Petit/Vieira days but there’s no coincidence that Arsenal’s best spells came when the side had leaders and money had been spent on getting good players who were ready to perform today rather than in the future (and they weren’t sold at their peak).
There’s an incredible loyalty shown by many Arsenal fans towards Wenger but it shouldn’t be taboo to question him and his philosophy. Have the clubbed progressed on the pitch over the last five or six years? Probably not.
Wins against Arsenal shouldn’t be that comfortable. In fact, one could argue that Arsenal were worse than they were when they lost in the infamous 8-2 game. The win took United top of the table and with Chelsea drawing at Swansea, top spot is a red spot for now.
Van Persie’s instinctive early strike and Evra’s second half header were enough but it should have been more. Rooney’s latest penalty miss summed up the game – it didn’t even look close. Still, there were some highlights. Evans and Rio continue to look excellent together – that’s Evans who had no pre-season and has been thrown in, and Rio who’s been written off by the press and England. Anderson was good off the bench and Rafael remains scarily consistent. Even this flat game provided beautiful moments (in GIF format on the Beautifully Red blog).
Hopefully Valencia’s strange form is temporary (many forget he started this way last season too) and United can once again click into gear away to Braga on Wednesday. A win would guarantee qualification and cap off a very satisfying few weeks. As for Arsenal, they have a tough looking game at Schalke before they come up against ‘the Berb’ at the Emirates next weekend.
Ohhhh Robin van Persie…..