Saturday, 29 August 2009

The Form Of Champions? Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1

It is commonplace to know that in the modern footballing world would-be league champions are those that are able to grind out results without playing well, sometimes with the opposition playing better than them. This is what happened at Old Trafford today.

An Arsenal team who had scored ten goals in their first two Premier League games dominated the first half against a United team who looked out of sorts, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs uncharacteristically misplacing passes at every given opportunity and Wayne Rooney isolated up front. This was largely down to Arsenal's new formation and their new pressing system where they close down their opposition much further up the pitch, this was on show today and was highly effective.

But for all of Arsenal's possession and dominance, their goal came out of nowhere and it was a lack of United's own pressing that cost them. Andrei Arshavin collected the ball twenty yards out, after claims were turned down for an Arsenal penalty, and without virtually any back lift, proceeded to smash the ball into the top corner leaving Ben Foster unable to keep it out of the net due to the sheer power of the shot.

A deserved lead to take into half-time for the Gunners.

It was then that most people expected changes for the second half, the possible arrival of Dimitar Berbatov to spark United into life, but it was probably the classic "hairdryer" treatment that Ferguson is famous for that was left ringing in the ears of the starting XI that he decided to keep faith with.

However, again, it was Arsenal who started brightly with only Foster preventing a two goal deficit with an instinctive save from van Persie. Arsenal's pressure meant that surely a second goal was inevitable and the Red Devils supporters began to get nervous. One Ryan Giggs through ball later and Rooney was on to it look a flash only to be brought down by Almunia in the Arsenal goal resulting in a clear cut penalty (one amusing segment after the game compared this incident to Eduardo's dive during the Champions League qualifier mid-week!). Rooney smashed home the penalty for the equaliser and the crowd could feel that a United turn-a-round was on.

Moments later a free kick conceded on the United right allowed Giggs to float in a ball that somehow found it's way into the back of the net via Abou Diaby's head. Laughable to say the least. A clear miscommunication between goalkeeper and outfield player resulted in a comedic moment that will undoubtedly find it's way onto many a christmas football gaffe DVD.
It was from here Arsenal pushed on.

United surprisingly replaced Giggs with Berbatov and changed to a 4-4-2 and decided to run the game out with that. This could have so easily worked against them with Arsenal now having Eduardo, Bendtner, van Persie and Arshavin all on the pitch. Man of the match Darren Fletcher was constantly on hand winning possession back and launching further counter-attacks for United and if it wasn't for Nani's wayward finishing the game would of been put to bed.

Wenger's Mourinho-like jig in the dugout when he thought Arsenal had equalised, only to have it rightly ruled out for offside, added further amusement as he was sent off from the touchline and thought standing amongst the fans was viable. Clearly not. Thirty seconds later and full-time was blown. Everyone will claim United did not deserve to win the game, but they defended astutely, worked hard to win the ball back and maintained their concentration.

Something Abou Diaby did not do in his moment of madness.

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