Date: 31st August 2009 at 9:33pm
Written by:

First, sorry for the delay in reporting about the game but I wasn’t in the best condition afterwards and yesterday. Nothing to worry about though I don’t think you were worrying anyway…

Let’s face it: we got away with being, well, not very good, to be polite. Actually describing our performance would probably detonate the swear filter so it’ll have to be phrased very, very carefully.

We beat Arsenal 2-1 which is a good thing. A very good thing, considering that with about 55 minutes gone it seemed we stood no chance whatsoever, even though Old Trafford was making a real noise for once. Arsenal were the better team at that point – the first half was putrid and dire but they took the lead and in the first 10 minutes of the second half they played us off the park, we’ve got to admit that.

Why? An awful lot of reasons but the biggest issue here is that we are not very good this season. It’s nothing unexpected of course as we lost Ronaldo, Giggs and Scholes got older, Hargreaves still isn’t back, Carrick’s gone off the boil and Nani and Anderson are stagnating.

Basically, it’s the defence, Fletcher and Rooney who we can rely on this season and maybe Berbatov if he continues the perform the way he’s been doing so far. And in this game we did not have Berbatov in the starting eleven and the defence was, well, some way off its best.

Arsenal had loads of injuries going into the game – Fabregas, Nasri and Walcott, to mention only the three most important ones – but we all know them, personnel matter less than state of mind in their case. Denilson, Diaby and co. are technically gifted, creative players who can be fabulous on their day but can be downright appalling whenever they are put under pressure.

We did not put them under sufficient pressure because A) the midfield, with the aging Giggs and the off-colour Carrick, wasn’t balanced and composed enough and B) they can be excused by having to cover a hopeless defence where we badly miss important players.

That’s where personnel comes back into it: we’ve got a big squad but it’s not good enough to cope with injuries to certain players. For example, an injury to Fletcher or Evra would be disastrous, just like we cannot afford Rooney to have health problems. And in the back four it seems we cannot do without Rio Ferdinand and Edwin van der Sar.

True, Ben Foster kept us in the game with that magnificent save from Robin van Persie right after the start of the second half. That was a great stop and all. But he was incredibly shaky with crosses, corners, things which Van der Sar always deals with authoritatively. And he was culpable for the goal, no doubt.

Wes Brown is a reasonable defender whenever he’s got an alert, in-form, fit Rio Ferdinand organising things for him. World-class player Vidic undoubtedly is, he cannot organise a back four – that is Rio’s job and though we can do without him against most Premiership teams, Arsenal exploited our weaknesses with something approaching ruthlessness.

Our luck was that it merely approached ruthlessness, never actually reached it. They missed chances, even unmissable ones and then neatly pressed the self destruct button, as they’re bound to do ever so often.

Almunia should never have come rushing for that ball, as Rooney had next to no chance of doing anything with that. It was quite pointless taking him out but it was a definite penalty, one which our isolated centre-forward – no, it’s not his best position, he can play it when there’s adequate support from midfield but there wasn’t – put away happily.

Mere five minutes later Giggs’ free-kick found Diaby – Giggs’ passes had a habit of finding Arsenal players, if we’re honest – who headed it straight into the top corner. Magnificent goal, it seemed he actually picked his spot and directed his header powerfully. Why, we might never know but it was brilliant.

I will admit that we did a reasonably good job of holding onto our lead after taking it. Our counter-attacks still, well, sucked, but at least we pulled our defending together a little. Sacrificing Valencia for Park seemed strange – I felt the Ecuadorian was doing a better job of supporting Rooney than Nani did on the other flank in our 4-3-3 formation – but the Korean did a good job of quelling the threat of Arshavin, thus contributing to the successful isolation of the menacing Van Persie.

Sending on Berbatov for Giggs should have happened much, much sooner than the 84th minute as the Bulgarian brought a composure up front which Rooney could not offer – and with Rooney dropping deep we actually had someone to organise our football. Our biggest chances came after this switch – although of course the fact that Arsenal threw caution to the wind played a very important part in that – but first Berbatov sliced the ball embarassingly wide then Nani fired at Almunia then sent the rebound over the bar when he only had to hit the target to seal the win.

But it’s not the United way of doing things the easy way, as Fergie is so fond of reminding us. In the 96th minute – not another word about ‘Old Trafford time’! – Rooney perhaps thought the game was over and allowed himself to be brushed off the ball easily, they humped it forward, Diaby headed it back to Van Persie who sweeped it in from close range and ran away to celebrate, Arsene Wenger almost jumped in relief – then they both realised the flag was up.

I was one of the thousands whose heart stopped and skipped a beat before I could manage a look at the linesman – warm, glorious relief then unhinged joy. It was a real catharsis, in all honesty, even though it’s only the fourth day of the league season. Never mind that, getting one over Wenger is always sweet and it’s all the more satisfying to know that his team practically gave away the three points, gift-wrapped, with a greeting card for all we know. Thank you Arsenal, you’ve been so kind!