Manchester United came back from a goal down to defeat Arsenal in a game which owed much of it’s entertainment and controversy to the expansive style of both teams.
Brilliantly awful or awfully brilliant, whichever way you want to describe what was an enthralling, up-and-down game but one which was screaming out for someone to get hold of the ball and play it.
The Gunners massively missed the injured Cesc Fabregas who Arsene Wenger said before the game gives the side “stability” and the ability to know “when you need to slow down and speed up”. Curiously then Sir Alex Ferguson proceeded to drop his two most technical players in Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov and as a result what we got a high tempo game which never relented.
Manchester United’s tactic was clearly to get Ryan Giggs on the ball and thread one of his trademark passes behind the Arsenal defence. Arsenal on the other hand, wanted to play more quicker and more direct but with both teams defending as deep as they were, they in effect cancelled each out. The game was stretched, with many huge gaps to exploit through the middle and down the wings and this ultimately denied Arsenal the chance to play their high intensity pressure game.
If Arsenal’s 4-3-3 ever looked like a loose 4-2-3-1 then this time it was the real deal although Abou Diaby was elongated slightly to the left to cover for the diminishing fitness levels of Andrei Arshavin. The Gunners are not Barcelona but as displayed in the Super Cup, the best way to pressure with great intensity is to squeeze the space afforded to the opponents push high up. Arsenal never did the latter but not the former as the central defenders, clearly wary of the pace of Wayne Rooney getting in behind pushed back and the same applied to United.
Robin van Persie started isolated in a disjointed opening period but the Dutchman furrowed tirelessly nevertheless and it was a pass from Eboue which he nearly scored from, Evra getting in the way. From the resulting corner Arshavin nearly put Arsenal ahead but made amends five minutes before the break with a cracking shot. The Russian was on the receiving end of a agricultural Darren Fletcher tackle a few seconds earlier which should have resulted in a penalty but made sure that didn’t matter with the long range finish.
Arsenal were the better team but if Chelsea were watching, they will not have much sleepless nights after what was so far two not very inspiring performance from both sides. Van Persie had another chance to put Arsenal ahead as Ben Foster saved with his feet and that miss came to haunt the Gunners as Man United soon equalised, though with more than a touch of controversy. Wayne Rooney looked to have fallen down before Almunia foolishly rushed out and made contact with his feet thus resulting in a penalty. Wenger was fuming but could he have too much complaints about the decision after backing Eduardo for his part in a similar challenge? However there wasn’t the same unanimous agreement that that indeed was a dive as there was for the Croatian’s.
Abou Diaby’s own goal compounded Arsenal’s misery and late in the game Arsene Wenger was sent off for kicking a bottle after van Persie’s ‘goal’ was disallowed in the last minute. The referee however clearly didn’t factor in the architecture of the Old Trafford stadium when making his decision in what resulted in an embarrassing sequence of events as Wenger had to be escorted off the pitch.
Arsenal had much heart to take from the game as they were much the better side even when missing such creative linchpins as Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky who surely would have made a great deal of difference.
Man Utd: Foster, O’Shea, Brown, Vidic, Evra, Valencia (Park), Fletcher, Carrick, Nani, Giggs (Berbatov), Rooney*.
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Neville, Owen, Anderson, Scholes.
Arsenal: Almunia (5), Sagna (6), Gallas (7), Vermaelen (7), Clichy (7), Eboue (5) (Bendtner), Denilson (6) (Eduardo), Song Billong (6), Diaby (6), Arshavin (7) (Ramsey), van Persie (7).
Subs not used: Mannone, Silvestre, Wilshere, Gibbs.
Goals: Arshavin 40, Rooney (pen) 59, Diaby o.g. 64
Booked: Song 23, Gallas 32, Evra 35, van Persie 45, Almunia 58, Rooney 62, Brown 62, Eboue 71, Sagna 75.
Referee: Mike Dean