LAST week I wrote here, in full giddy-o-meter mode: ‘What if the Gunners are humiliatingly spiked by our bunch of kids on Sunday? I wasn’t the only putative Nostradamus foreseeing such climaxes, though.
Reds headed for Old Trafford on Sunday in a more ebulliently confident mood than for any United-Arsenal match I can recall — and I’m going back three decades there. Hacks in the press box were telling us, as they received the Arsenal team sheet, that they thought a good hiding was on the cards. Robbie Savage — the Sony Radio Personality of the Year, would you believe — was broadcasting that he felt the spirit of 2001 was in the air, the season we beat them 6-1.
And one of my oldest expert colleagues, a leading French literary critic and football writer, published the remarkable prediction that United would win by five clear goals.
Fergie himself, tellingly, was wrapping his arm around poor Arsene’s shoulders on the eve of the game, offering soothing words in a sure sign that he, too, had detected the smell of death emanating from the Emirates.
And yet, even so, United still managed to take our collective breath away. You don’t score eight goals against a club like that. It’s downright supernatural.
Then again, we are the Red Devils.
We’ll be feasting off Sunday’s banquet for weeks to come, of course, so abundant were its dishes — and London Gooners will be fleeing from the sight of any approaching Cockney Red with the alacrity of a swag-shifting rioter. Still, let us be generous to the vanquished. Eight men out, and their summer spending not even started, does not perhaps constitute the best basis for permanent judgment. Is it really going to be “a stunning caesura in our clubs’ relationship”? Not necessarily — and the precedent is instructive. After the 6-1 in 2001, many thought that had marked the end of an era and the start of the new — in our favour. Four months later, David Beckham was even suggesting we could go the new season unbeaten. Another six months on, though, and the stunning denouement began to unfold: Arsenal were replacing us as the country’s undisputed top team — a position we would not reclaim for almost half a decade — and the 6-1 instead came to be seen as a last hurrah for the old 90s United.
It was a caesura, yes — but of a character entirely inverted from that which was predicted.
This is a different situation, naturally; our side is nappy-young, and can surely only get better. But Arsenal have their promising kids too, a shedload of market money to burn, and a guaranteed future income flow.
As a self-confessed Wenger fan, I hope he stays and sees the crisis through, not least because it’s good for Fergie to have him here, his continued presence being one more disincentive against the old man quitting. Sadly, though, almost everyone who deals with Wenger says he has become a changed man since the spring and that, to quote one, “the light has gone out of him”. It’ll be the English game’s loss if that darkness becomes evident to all, and thereby terminal.
Meanwhile, it’s a sign that the good times are truly back when I can revert to the old complaint that an international break has turned up at a most unwelcome moment, such is the extraordinary roll we are enjoying. I haven’t witnessed such an unexpected explosively exciting August since 1975, when The Doc’s promoted kids roared into a stunned Division and, in their third match, demolished Tony Currie’s excellent Blades 5-1.
Giddy? Well, the meter’s reading ‘11’. Until such time as City join the 1975/6 Revisited vibe as well, and spoil it like last time, anyway...
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