Arsenal vs Man Utd Match Report (Robin’s return to the Emirates)By: Ian | April 29th, 2013
Utd fans have had their excitement for this week already, so in the interests of natural balance, it could be said that the match against Arsenal was always going to be a bit more in the ilk of a middle-of-the-table clash. Many things tried beforehand to point to the contrary. Yes, the Reds may have enjoyed a cold beverage or six during the week, but there was the record points haul on offer? It’s all about records, right, to be the best of the best? Beside that, there was the Arsenal guard of honour, classily organised, but understandably not adhered to by some Gunners fans, with their players effectively applauding ex-main man RVP on getting some silverware that they haven’t got. In nautical terms, a bit like the captain leaving the boat first (Hey, you’re the big man – get back here!). That would be enough to get Arsenal riled up enough to get a good performance out of them, and by association, Utd. So perhaps not a damp squib?
As has been called for by all of us here at the Offside, all four of us – what power, Sir Alex has said fringe players will get their chance in the final games. One in particular is Nani, who did indeed come into the lineup. Joined in the middle by Valencia, Carrick and Jones, supporting Rooney and Van Persie. Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans and Evra protecting De Gea. Not as much squad shuffling as I was expecting, I certainly thought Anderson might be involved in the middle instead of Jones, or perhaps Cleverley. Anyway, off we went, with the guard of honour first. Mixed responses for Van Persie as expected, and while he looked cool, even with his greying hair (he’s only 29), it may have contributed to his mindset a little, for an early mistake let Arsenal in, and onto the scoresheet. A long pass across the middle wasn’t even in the right postcode, so it was dutifully picked up by Arsenal. Rosicky slipped it through to wing-man Walcott, who bore goalwards and notched it past De Gea, who could do more than give it a pat as it went past. The flag for offside should have gone up, but you play the linesman, not always the play, and awarded it was. 1-0 to the home side.
Somewhat familiar this season to shipping the early goal, as if trying to introduce a handicap rule, I didn’t think Utd would be all that surprised with the situation. But Arsenal took their fortune well; they pressed better, were far more awake on the ball and passed it around with decisiveness and care. Utd meanwhile were still in bed, twenty miles away from the ground, waiting for an alarm clock. The midfield in particular was very much in the land of nod – dreaming sweet dreams of Premier League titles. As much as waking up would have been nice for the fans to see, sluggishness seemed the order of the day as Utd played the game two steps behind Arsenal, misplaced enough tackles to earn the most disciplined side in the league four yellow cards in the first half hour. I thought for a moment the clock had been wound back ten years and we were watching the Utd-Arsenal games of old. One nostalgic fellow immediately got dialling for a pizza.
A glimpse of hope was spotted as Jones’ forward move involved Van Persie, in a rare moment on the ball. His cross was met by Jones too early and wide it went. A decent chance in the scheme of things. Arsenal, meanwhile, threatened through German ace Podolski, his bullet type shot waking up De Gea at his post. As the clock marched resolutely towards half time, Utd stirred a little, and in one particular stretch, Nani nearly notched an assist as his cross was diverted into the face of Szczesny by Van Persie. Another headed chance then fell to Jones, with similar results to earlier.
A mistake by Sagna two minutes before the break saw Van Persie run towards goal. Life at last, with Sagna always struggling to catch back up. He did so at the expense of giving away a penalty, taking out both man and ball. Van Persie stepped up to the spot, and much to the despair of the Gunners, dispatched a sweetly-hit penalty to the high right. The pressure was on, but the Dutchman was equal to it, using all the practice that Arsenal gave him in the first place. No celebration from the man himself, but Sir Alex was pleased to get his side in on level terms, because in performance terms, Arsenal were the superior.
The second half contained less of the good level of play from Arsenal, and a bit of an improvement from Utd, effectively cancelling each other out with a draw becoming seen as increasingly likely. A blazed Rafael effort was no danger and Rooney’s header could have been caught even without the benefit of opposable thumbs. Substitutions were made to see things out with Wilshere, PFA player of the year Gervinho (jokes guys, jokes), and Oxlade Chamberlain on for the home side, and Anderson, Giggs and Hernandez for the away. A breakthrough winner never came, despite Cazorla’s efforts at the one end and a flowing move that saw Giggs just fumble his first touch a bit, only to recover and see a right-footed curler, on target, diverted away and out. And there it ended: 1-1.
Post match analysis seems to have awarded the contest to Utd on points, but although it could be argued with a little more clinical play Utd could have seen it out, so could have Arsenal with far more dominant play in Utd’s sleepy first period performance. In the end, a draw was probably fair, meaning the record points haul record is no longer on offer. Personally, I am of the opinion that this is just as well. Given Chelsea to come as well, I didn’t believe Utd could maintain levels enough to achieve four final wins, and the fact that target has expired earlier rather than later can ensure attention moves to other matters. Namely, the presence of fringe players. Nani was effectively the only one against Arsenal, and hopefully now a few more can be introduced. Perhaps a start for Anderson, a little game time for the likes of Buttner, a chance for Welbeck to actually score, but I think a farewell to Scholes might just not be happening now. As you may be aware, Scholes’ last performance to date was a routine 4-1 win against Fulham in January, I believe, and since then he has been struggling with a painful knee injury. It’s been washed out and the like, but whether he manages a reappearance in the final stages of this season remains to be seen. Note was made of this because Scholes wasn’t present on the field for the title celebrations, but he’s not that kind of man anyway. Notice has been given that whatever his decision, to retire or to do one more, he’ll be around Utd’s training ground somewhere anyway. Personally, if he can shake this knee thingy, I’d like to see him sign again, even if only for just emergency situations, as he did last season, only to find he was actually quite important. Either way, let us finish the season with development opportunities to lay the base for next season.
Comments appreciated as usual please.