Arsenal 1-3 Manchester Utd: Observations
For Manchester United, the counter attack is not a policy. It’s a weapon. This 3-1 victory was reminiscent to the game against Arsenal last year in the Champions League semi-final. Same venue, same team, same outcome and in that game the counter had ripped the Gunners to shreds.
It is the best from of attack. And United are the kings of the counter attack. Arsenal hadn’t played that badly, their second half performance deserves some credit. At 3-0 down, Arsenal had responded with some efforts on goal (most outside the area, suggesting that they were way out of their comfort zone) and had pulled a goal back but they could not match Man Utd, who were stunning throughout.
Nani was terrific. So was Rooney. And Jonathan Evans. Park was marvellous. Carrick and Scholes were pulling the strings from midfield and with great effect. Let’s go back to Nani, shall we? A superb piece of individual skill had set up the first goal, as the winger had majestically flicked the ball past two defenders before he dummied Denilson and sent a lifting cross which Manuel Almunia could only divert into his goal. If the keeper had not done so, Park was behind him so the Spaniard had little option.
The second, minutes later, was a break with alarming pace in which Rooney had found Nani, who fed Rooney again and he dispatched. This goal is quite difficult to describe actually. Similar to that counter attack against Arsenal last April. The Gunners had failed to respond to those two goals, and United had led 2-0 at the break. Deservedly so, it must be said.
And after the restart, it was 3. Michael Carrick had sent a lovely ball from the halfway line to Park ji-Sung, who even with Rooney and Nani as possible options, decided to go alone and he tucked the ball past Almunia with ease. Game over, surely?
Yes, game over. Arsenal responded with some attempts at goal but without much luck. United had continued to counter the hosts, but also without luck. For Arsenal, it was a case of damage limitation and maybe a consolation goal. They got that, via Thomas Vermaelen’s deflected shot. Rooney could have, and should have, made it 4-1 near the end but had dragged his effort wide. Still, another top performance from the striker. And it looks as if though United are approaching top form again. Maybe? Arsenal face Chelsea next week, while United have a slightly easier task as they host Portsmouth on Saturday. You wouldn’t bet against a fourth successive title, would you?
After that enthralling Manchester derby victory on Wednesday United get straight back into action with a Premier League clash against Arsenal. Out of all the matches between the regular ‘big four’ I’d say United against the Gunners is probably my favourite fixture. The games are generally hard-fought, full of chances and great exhibitions and hopefully Sunday will be no different.
On Wednesday I was busy watching the Carling Cup semi-final so I missed the Arsenal game (they drew 0-0 with Aston Villa at Villa). I did see their game against Bolton at the Reebok and their FA Cup exit at Stoke, although that was a weakened team, so I’ve got a decent idea of how they’re playing at the moment. Unfortunately for United, I’ve been relatively impressed by Arsenal of late and it could be a rough ride for the players who put in so much effort on Wednesday night.
Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas has been in terrific form since returning from injury last month and, as always, he’ll probably be their most dangerous player. Fabregas made some great runs from midfield against Bolton and was really orchestrating the play. Granted, United represent a very different task but Fabregas is world class and can terrorise any opposition. Andrei Arshavin can cause all sorts of problems down the flanks and whoever is marking him, probably Patrice Evra, will have to be on their game. The Arsenal attack is a formidable one and they should be up for the United game with the title race so tight at the moment but they have plenty of weaknesses as well.
The midfield might be one of the most impressive in the league but in terms of centre-forwards Arsenal lack the power of the other title chasers. Without Robin van Persie the Gunners rely on the likes of Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo to lead the line and they’re just not of the same standard. I rate Eduardo but I honestly don’t think Bendtner is good enough to play for a side challenging at the top. Chelsea have Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba, Liverpool have Fernando Torres, Man City have Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez and Spurs have Jermaine Defoe, while United of course have Wayne Rooney but without Van Persie the Gunners don’t have the same power up front.
Rooney is in the form of his life and has proved vital in recent weeks for United. With four goals against Hull and that crucial strike against City the 24-year-old has been in blistering form and will cause havoc on Sunday at the Emirates. The Arsenal defence is perhaps more resolute than it was last season, but it is another area I would class as a weakness for the Gunners. I would argue their best back-four would be Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas, don’t get me wrong – breaking this unit isn’t easy but it isn’t impossible. Bolton managed to take a 2-0 lead thanks to lapses in defence from Arsenal and United are more than capable of capitalising on mistakes. I’m not convinced of Manuel Almunia’s abilities as a goalkeeper either and I expect United to find the net at the Emirates – it just depends whether they can keep Arsenal out.
Victory in London would be massive for Sir Alex Ferguson as United would take a four point lead over Arsenal. I don’t want to hazard a guess, there is too much at stake, but I reckon we’re in for an entertaining match with plenty of chances. After the fantastic result in the Carling Cup United should be fired up for this and Rooney’s form and goalscoring run could prove vital. In the past, these fixtures were characterised by the rivalry not just between the two clubs but between captains Roy Keane and Patrick Viera. That particular tussle may be over in terms of this fixture but perhaps the Rooney Vs Fabregas battle takes centre-stage now. It isn’t the same sort of rivalry, but for me whoever has the better game out of Fabregas and Rooney will probably be on the winning side, and with Rooney’s current form United fans must be confident.
On Wednesday United welcome (and I use the word loosely) Manchester City to Old Trafford for the second leg of the Carling Cup final. At stake is a place in the first domestic final of the season, local bragging rights and in United’s case – a bit of revenge.
Taking nothing away from City as it was a decent performance in the first leg, but I can’t believe United aren’t heading into this one on level terms, at least. So many chances were wasted late on and City were basically hanging on for the last 30 minutes or so, but that sometimes happens and at Old Trafford United stand a great chance with just a one goal deficit to recover.
As far as injuries go things have finally started to improve for Sir Alex Ferguson with just John O’Shea, Owen Hargreaves and Nemanja Vidic definitely ruled out for this one. Without Vidic available it looks as if Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans will link up again in the heart of the defence after keeping a clean sheet against Hull on Saturday.
City have greater problems in their own camp at the moment. Robinho is apparently heading off to Santos in Brazil after becoming unhappy with life at Eastlands, some reports are suggesting he might have even played his last game for City but there is still a chance he could play at Old Trafford. It looks as if Patrick Viera will miss this one with a calf injury, while both Roque Santa Cruz and Joleon Lescott will play no part. Striker Emmanuel Adebayor is ready to play again after spending time on compassionate leave, but whether Roberto Mancini will give him any game time remains to be seen.
United have the advantage of being at home for the second leg and the importance of the Old Trafford crowd in this fixture should not be underestimated. City will fancy their chances with a slender lead heading into the second fixture with a lead but United have come back from worse. Expect another open game between two sides who like to attack, I’m pretty sure Mancini won’t ask his side to defend a slender lead for an entire game at Old Trafford – never a great idea. The key men will be United’s Wayne Rooney, fresh from bagging four at the weekend, and City’s Carlos Tevez and I’m expecting both managers to tell their players to go for it and attack.
Manchester derby fixtures are always great occasions and with a place in the Carling Cup final to play for this one should be extra special. At Old Trafford I fancy United personally but anything can happen in cup fixtures and City have already proved they’re a dangerous team, although they’re not quite ready to challenge for the title, who can cause United problems. This game should be a cracking encounter, and hopefully one United will win.