It doesn’t get much better than Manchester United vs Arsenal, arguably one of the biggest rivalries in the entire world and by far the most prestigious match to the new campaign. Arsenal has gotten off to an exceptional start this year, dominating Celtic, Everton, and Portsmouth with goals galore and from unusual sources, such as William Gallas, their leading goal scorer. On the other side, Manchester United had an earlier stumble with newly promoted side Burnley, but bounced back with a convincing second half win against Wigan Athletic last week. With Arsenal’s impressive start and United’s great home form, winning 16 of their last 19, it was shaped out to be a thriller. Sir Alex notably pointed out that this was a must win game for United and with only one win against the top four teams last year, they needed to show their strength and dominance early this season.
Looking at the starting lineups, Ryan Giggs surprisingly replaces Dimitar Berbatov up front which adds experience, but with the Bulgarian’s great start to the season you would have thought he was a shoe in to start. To no one’s surprise though, Wayne Rooney starts, by far United’s most impressive player this season, having to take up a larger role and added responsibility with the departure of the Portuguese superstar. While for Arsenal, Van Persie and Arshavin have yet to score in the premier league, so look for these two to make a difference today especially with Adebayor gone. These two teams have met in 160 previous league matches with United having a slight edge winning 64 games to Arsenal’s 57 so look for this one to be just as competitive as the rest.
The first real chance came for the home side after nine minutes. A nervy moment for Arsenal’s defensive who were unable to clear it out of their own box when it finally fell to Rooney 20 yards out who played a delightful chip into Fletcher’s chest who from 12 yards out half-volleys it over the bar. He should have kept it down, but great vision from Rooney who could have easily played Nani out on the touchline instead of creating a real opportunity for the Red Devils.
As both teams were settling in, Van Persie had a great chance which was a definite let off for United who have Patrice Evra to thank for making a save at the near post, but resulting into a corner for the Gunners. Off the ensuing corner, a great ball in which was patted by the unconvincing Ben Foster right to the feet off the little Russian who looked for the top corner, but unfortunately placed it a little too high to the relief of United fans. After the first quarter of the match, Arsenal’s looked the more confident and better team; keeping possession well and ultimately taking the game to United.
The closest the Red Devil’s came in the first half came off of a free kick from about 19 yards out which Rooney curled over the wall and was ever so close to bulging the net, but just wide. Almunia looked like he might have had it covered though.
And on 40 minutes the breakthrough is complete through the immense power of Arshavin’s ripper of a shot, putting Arsenal deservedly ahead. United who easily let him turn with ample room had time to set up a firecracker of a shot into the near post where Foster got a finger to it, but not nearly enough to keep it out. Vidic should have stepped quicker, but take nothing away from the effort. A long range effort though like this should be stopped. Move your feet Ben! If he has the right footwork, he would have been in position to make the save or at least not swat it into his own net; simple as that. And allowing goals like these definitely does not ease your manager’s mind with Van Der Sar still out five to six more weeks with a hand injury.
As the half comes to an end, United should be thankful they’re only down one with the way they are playing. Even with a couple of chances, they could not keep the ball to save their lives. A great half from the Gunners who outplayed and out-passed United at Old Trafford which not many teams can do. The carelessness of United’s passing is just not good enough, invoking both groans from the fans and Sir Alex looking for new gum to chew on. Giggs had a really poor half, giving the ball away way too easily in good attacking positions. Look for the Bulgarian to replace him in the first 15 minutes of the second half if he doesn’t improve. Arsenal has definitely been the better team, especially in the middle of the pitch. Carrick, who’s had a poor start to the year, and Fletcher have had little to no control of the game as Arsenal has kept the possession and made life very simple for themselves. If they keep this up, they should be deserving of all three points. Rooney’s been their best player, but has been both isolated upfront and matched by William Gallas’ performance who seems to be in all the right spots at the right times. Look for United to come out of their shell and go back to their traditional 4-4-2 to get more attack and support for Rooney. To Arsene Wenger’s satisfaction, Almunia has been rather quiet and untested. Another option for United might be to put in Scholes for his passing ability along with Berbatov or Anderson.
An unchanged side for the Red Devil’s is a bit of a surprise, but if they come out the way they played the first half that will definitely change.
Well, well, well Foster might have just made up for his lapses in the first half and kept United in the match with a huge reaction save after Arshavin easily beat two United players down the side of the pitch, playing a great ball to Van Persie who cannot believe he hasn’t scored. A great save from Foster who should have regained his confidence after the first 45 minutes. With United’s attitude toward the game that would most likely been game over with 40 plus minutes still to play, but now the confidence is oozing for the Gunners.
And out of nowhere United are given a penalty! My, oh my, a game changer. A rather fortunate call for the Red Devils as Giggs finally played a great through ball to Rooney who was able to toe-poke it around Almunia who made contact, tripping Rooney, forcing Mike Dean to point to the spot. Rooney knew exactly what he was doing and even though his touch around Almunia looked out of reach for him to get to, Mr. Dean stood by his decision. Who else to take it, but Wayne Rooney himself who steps up and calmly buries it, forcing Almunia the wrong way. Looks like Michael Carrick won’t be taking anymore pk’s this season. This puts United right back into the match and all of a sudden their spirit has been lifted and they look like a brand new side.
63rd minute, Van Persie is really unlucky as he has come ever so close for the second time this half. Only this time, Foster was beat and could only look back and thank his crossbar for keeping United level. It was a great, curling free kick that deceived Foster, who tried swatting at the ball, but missed terribly. Arsenal could and should be in front at this stage.
And could you believe it?! A minute later, Arsenal has pressed the self-destruct button! Oh what in Abou Diaby’s right mind is he thinking! An embarrassing situation that could ultimately have them lose in what is a moment of sheer madness. Gigg’s involved again who’s poor free kick into the box should have easily been dealt with, but what would be an excellent finish for any attacker, turns out to be a worst nightmare for Diaby who heads an uncontested ball past Almunia into his own net. Unbelievable, even at this level. 2-1 United just like that whose moral has skyrocketed. Want to get away? Diaby does about right now. Stuck in two minds, no one can guess what in the world he was thinking! Such agony for Gunner’s fans and such ecstasy for those wearing the red of Man United. What a turn around and what an unpredictable game!
Seconds later, a great run by Diaby gave him a chance to atone for his mistake, but painfully sliced the ball wide of Foster’s goal. What was a great run and a positive response from him turned out to be another embarrassing moment and probably the worst two minutes of futbol he has ever played in his career.
With 15 minutes left, the game became more chippy as Mike Dean to this point has already handed out nine bookings. He gave the most cards in the premier league last year and is well on his way to retaining that coveted position after today.
As the 90th minute approaches, Arsenal has had a good response, being relentless in attack and throwing on forwards such as Bendtner and Eduardo to try and squeak out a point. They have taken the game back to United, putting any fan on the edge of their sit; a nail-biter to the end.
95th minute, more drama!! Arsenal has leveled the game! But wait, NO the linesman has his flag up for offsides. Astonishing stuff! Arsenal’s final substitute, Aaron Ramsey played a last ditch effort into United’s box which was knocked down by William Gallas to the feet of Van Persie who made no mistake this time and buried the ball into the back of the net only to be denied for the third time this half, this time by the linesmen’s flag. The Dutchman cannot believe his luck as well as Arsene Wenger whose reaction to the decision has sent him out of the technical area and off Old Trafford grounds. Gallas was definitely in an offside position when the ball was played in, a good call by the assistant referee. And the final whistle is blown, finally ending an astonishing seven minutes of stoppage time. What an end to the game! Only in the Barclays English premier league can you witness such events as this achieving the name of the best league in the world.
If the first half wasn’t enough, the second half was definitely game changing to say the least. What a turn-around from United who still did not have the greatest half, but coming away with the vital three points. At the end of the season, Sir Alex is not going to care how the three points came, but there are still some areas of concern with their upcoming fixture against the undefeated and resurgent Tottenham Hotspurs at White Hart Lane. Arsenal really don’t deserve this, but in the game of futbol you never know what is going to transpire, especially between two of the top four premier league sides. From the Gunner’s perspective, losing due to a moment of madness is heart-wrenching and will definitely give Diaby nightmares tonight, but overall a decent performance by Arsenal who play the United’s rival from Manchester next week, who cannot be taken lightly anymore as an easy Uefa Cup spot contender, if not more. A riveting match of futbol from the Theatre of Dreams that definitely lived up to its potential as one of the best games of the season thus far.