Analysis and Observations: Arsenal 1-0 Manchester Utd
The ‘Squeaky Bum Time’ saying has not been uttered as many times as it has been in previous seasons; indeed, Manchester United have led the chasing pack for a prolonged period. And, even in the so-called business end of the campaign, United have looked a team with an air of confidence and a side destined for success – but that deserted them here at the Emirates, looking alien to the side that powered past Schalke in midweek.
United were second best and Arsenal, playing with an element of freedom, deserved the victory. There was, though, something intriguing about this game – United’s players looked tired and almost fazed by the pressures of performing, and simply weren’t penetrative enough, perhaps too conservative, and Arsenal, in the midst of a horrid run acting as a contrast to their opponents, thrived from that.
The handball that went unpunished. Had Arsenal not picked up three points from this tie, Chris Foy would be well in the firing line. But tribalism would be to blame if that had been the case – Vidic’s handball would have resulted in a red and a spot-kick in a perfect world but referee’s do not have replays to which to look at. Fans would need to understand that when Vidic handled, very few actually saw it – van Persie was livid, as were a section of Arsenal’s fans but obvious it was not.
If seen, Vidic would have been dismissed and Arsenal awarded a penalty – denying a goalscoring opportunity with your hand in van der Sar’s job and only his – yet the failure to charge the Serb should not see Foy criticised. This was a game to forget for Vidic, who nearly conceded a goal preceding this incident where his poor clearance went straight into the path of Jack Wilshere, who hit wide. Towards the death, United had a claim of their own; Michael Owen could have also been awarded a penalty when Gael Clichy looked to have tripped him in the box.
Arsenal prosper as collective. What the Red Devils have done so well this season is graft points not from the work of an individual, but as a collective. Today was an exception – of course, no points came from this game as Arsenal crafted an admirable team performance of their own. Aaron Ramsey scored with a delightful finish and the Welshman enjoyed an excellent game in central midfield in Cesc Fabregas’ absence.
Theo Walcott looked dangerous in the first half and had Patrice Evra struggling at times, while van Persie’s movement also posed a threat, although United did do well, at times, to deny him opportunities that might have arisen against a somewhat lesser team. Still, the Dutchman was constantly involved and linked up play effectively.
Fabio makes a good impression. It was pleasing that United’s young Brazilian full-back played a good game – you usually do perform against Arsenal if your surname is da Silva. He displayed such vigour and vitality, refreshingly and was a threat whenever going forward; although his defensive game does still need work, he put in a decent shift. Javier Hernandez’s movement and Rooney’s incisiveness was not particularly obvious, and so much credit should go to Arsenal’s back line for that (and Alex Song) – Laurent Koscielny showing solidarity and perhaps silencing his critics at the same time. He, and Arsenal, made a point – and despite throwing away the season, delayed any celebrations from United and blowing the title race open. Next up, Chelsea. Squeaky bum time, albeit a little later, indeed.
The Report Card. Van der Sar C; Fabio B, Nemanja Vidic E, Rio Ferdinand C, Patrice Evra D; Nani C, Michael Carrick C, Anderson D, Park D; Wayne Rooney C, Javier Hernandez C