Arsenal Restore Pride & Maybe Some Self-Belief
Arsenal 1 – 0 Manchester United
1 – 0 Ramsey (56)
A reminder of what might have been as Arsenal won the match so long noted as a title decider. It may yet be but not for Arsenal. Instead their season received a late filip, bringing the poor results of the past eight Premier League matches into sharp focus.
Having failed to beat Manchester United in any competition since November 2008, this win is welcomed, putting to an end the recent bad run against ‘Big Four’ clubs. Champions League football for next season was sealed with this win, St Totteringham’s Day became a reality bar goal difference but more important than either of those was the restoration of pride in the team.
The win was thoroughly deserved. United were subdued by Arsenal’s passing and battling qualities. Too often the Arsenal midfield has been criticised for being cowed by their Mancunian peers. Yesterday, Aaron Ramsey was drafted in to replace the injured Cesc, partnering Alex Song as the deeper of the trio, allowing Jack Wilshere to roam further forward.
It worked well as the younger players displayed the combative qualities so often missed in these encounters. They enhanced this with a range of passing and clever use of the ball that belied their youth.
The advanced play by Wilshere almost paid early dividends. Walcott’s cross was not cleared properly, Wilshere with his sight of goal blocked, dragged his shot wide. It was to be a good afternoon for Walcott. His wide play was excellent and when the spaces were created in the middle, he filled them almost instinctively, marginally failing to break the deadlock in the first half when he got between Ferdinand and Vidic.
The early pressure had United rocking, Evra denied the waiting Walcott, turning Wilshere’s searching cross behind for a corner. The directness of Arsenal’s play was negating United’s attempts to flood the midfield, the hosts spraying passes to either flank for raiding wide men to wreak havoc with the full backs.
If the attack was on form, so was the defence. Fabio dithered as Sagna made a crucial intervention midway through the half whilst Koscielny and Djourou were confident in controlling Hernandez and Rooney.
Much was made beforehand of Chris Foy’s record in officiating Manchester United matches, his decision not to award a penalty to Arsenal emphasising the point. Walcott’s rapier break on the right produced a telling cross, Vidic flicking the ball away with his hand from the head of van Persie. The Arsenal captain was not amused, berating the linesman about his lack of a decision. Genuine disbelief engulfed the stadium.
Foy and his team were incompetent in an even -handed way though as Clichy’s stamp on the calf of Owen went unpunished in the second half as United frantically sought an equaliser. This does not excuse the continued underperformance of the referees employed by the PGMO.
Throughout the season genuine grievances have been raised by most clubs about poor decision-making. It is inconceivable in any other sphere that video technology would not be used, that provenly incompetent officials would be perceived as infallible by the lawmakers. But this is football and reality does not apply.
The first half ended goalless, Nasri’s hamstring tweaked allowing the introduction of Andrey Arshavin. It was not the only change. United were more interested in the second half and the potential of Wojicech Szczesny crystallised once more into a confident display, beating away Rooney’s freekick and recovering his position quickly enough to ensure that had Evra’s follow-up not found the sidenetting, it would have found the Pole’s frame instead.
It was a false dawn though. van Persie created space and time on the right and with Aaron Ramsey demanding the ball as if a precocious child, the Dutchman’s pass invited the finish it received. Credit too for Ramsey’s mental approach; under pressure of the tackle, it would have been understandable had he been reticent to attack the ball but there was no perceivable hestitation in the finish. Next week’s visit to Stoke will really put that attitude to the test.
With the deadlock broken United were required to push forward more forcefully yet the Arsenal players held their shape, kept their concentration and applied themselves to stifling the visitors. To a large extent they succeeded, the forlorn appeals for the Owen penalty highlighting the frustration Arsenal were heaping on the Champions-Elect.
Szczesny blocked Nani’s late effort on the counter whilst Vidic might have done better immediately after the goal, managing only a wayward header rather than the piercing equaliser. Yet Arsenal held firm, retained the ball and forced United into blind alleys. It was not the perfect home performance but compared to the past two months, it was a vast improvement.
‘ til Tomorrow.