You know the expression “to have your arse handed to you on a plate”?
Last night, Arsenal not only did that to us, but had the time and skill to dice it up, sauté it in a jus of superiority, and dress it all up in edible gold leaf before serving. Arsène Wenger has just won ‘Masterchef’, and in doing so made LVG look like a third-rate Dutch-pancake-flogging carny. One would suggest Louis should now put his head in an oven, but it probably wouldn’t fit.
Some suspected this might be coming. Last week, I doomily wrote: “Why doesn’t going top feel better than it does? Perhaps Arsenal will show us why next Sunday...now that they have finally clicked. There are quite a few Reds around who have already decided that the sooner LVG has his philosophy beaten out of him, the better, and who may quietly consider that a good kicking from someone like Arsenal would be just what the doctor ordered.”
Everything Reds have been quietly grumbling about all season long was shown up in painful detail, from the continuing abject inadequacy of Wayne Rooney to the woeful lack of pace, purpose and invention that have hitherto marked the Van Gaal ‘philosophy’. And yet these largely decent players could be so much better, if properly marshalled. Or even if ‘Martialed’: our new boy’s willingness to try the unexpected and show some untrammelled spirit is just the kind of thing we want, but have rarely received.
Thank the Lord, then, for the Premier League’s general mediocrity.
Only Arsenal and Manchester City can claim to have shown they are excellent sides this season, and United probably remain good enough to see off the majority of teams they will face between now and May — assuming they hold their nerve and don’t allow themselves to overreact emotionally or psychologically to yesterday’s mauling. Moreover, the implosions ongoing at Anfield and Stamford Bridge have presented LVG with the most unexpected of free gifts, and I suppose he would be right if he is thinking this morning that he is still on course for a decent finish ahead of an increasingly denuded field.
But let’s be clear: yesterday was the kind of moment they call a ‘market correction’ on the stock exchange, when everyone involved realises they’ve been collectively guilty of overvaluing assets, and adjusts accordingly in one brutal afternoon. Even this grumpy pessimist has been guilty of such giddiness in some respects. I, along with many others, may have overpraised Darmian, possibly blinded by his groovy Italianness, and by the mere fact that he isn’t Valencia. And wonderful though Schweinsteiger can be, we have too easily forgotten that he is very old, and on a gentle descent towards the MLS and then retirement: yesterday, he truly looked his age. As for Depay, his stock price had already been stuttering before yesterday. He might need to sell those revolting gold teeth ‘grills’ if he carries on like this.
And yet, in the midst of this humbling, I did grasp an iota of something that approached consolation. Did you hear the United fans? They never stopped singing, and some of them may even have been ‘believing’ until well into the second half. At 2-0 down after seven minutes, I heard one colleague confidently announce: “No worries yet: remember Turin! One goal changes everything.” When the third went in, another ventured: “Well, at least they’ve got their goals in early. Leaves plenty of time for us to come back.”
The glory of being a United fan is that you are actually right to think like this, because you have so often seen the ludicrously improbable happen before your eyes, going right back to the Busby years.
So well done, Arsenal: we were overdue this thumping from you, and if anyone is going to embarrass us, we’d rather it were you than Chelsea, Liverpool or City. We Reds will embrace the imminent break as eagerly as a soldier on leave clasps a wife, and hope that LVG is looking hard into his mirror and asking: “Is this really good enough?”
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