What a difference a few weeks can make. After the 1-4 horror show, I never thought I’d be able to write this so soon: “Manuel Pellegrini’s now lost more league games this season than David Moyes”. (And Manny hasn’t got an Ed Woodward to blame.)
Other entirely unexpected lines that are possible today: “Jones did very well in all the positions he ended up in”; “Smalling’s saved the day”; “the opposition can’t match our intensity or tempo”.
The end result is familiar enough for Wenger, though: Arsenal slink away from OT having totally failed to do themselves justice again. Gunners: “Meet the new Red boss, same as the old boss,” as the song almost goes.
United’s best player, yet again, was surely Rooney, the man Fergie had half-driven out of the club last May. Plenty of Reds spent late summer and early autumn badmouthing the Spud-Faced Nipper, and bemoaning the new managerial regime, one of whose earliest decisions was to win over the Scouse rebel. One hopes that those fans will be reflecting upon the dangers of premature ejaculation this morning. Moyes got his line-up, tactics and changes spot-on last night, and finally had The Shirts playing at the speed and with the desire we all demand. No wonder that he was rewarded with the best OT atmosphere so far this season, so fervent at times that you might have thought it a derby.
The one Arsenal player we feared having a telling impact was Ozil, not least because both this United manager and his predecessor have turned down the chance to sign him, but also because he is just the imaginative type some of our more one-dimensional defenders have trouble with. But we boxed him off with barely a whimper, and dealt with the under-supported Giroud quite easily. Indeed, we really should have been three-up by the time Arsenal mounted their late rally, so clear-cut had been our chance-creation advantage. It wasn’t a great game, sure, but it was near enough a great United performance. One hugs oneself at the thought of what this is going to do for confidence within the camp, after the blows taken at Anfailed and Wastelands.
Now then, just as I have been arguing for weeks that we shouldn’t be over-reacting to one bad display or result, it behoves me to concede that one afternoon such as yesterday’s doesn’t mean we’re necessarily on our way to nirvana either.
But we’ve knocked together a decent unbeaten run now, restored ourselves to the ‘top of the table’ telly caption, and all but sorted European qualification — plus allowed ourselves a potentially silver-laden League Cup escapade to boot. The night of the 1-4, you’d have snatched my hand off if I’d offered you that lot.
When we come back from the break, we’re going to get plunged into a four-game, 10-day test of this supposed new-found mettle. Three tough away games in a week — the Cardiff cauldron, Leverkeusen’s 2002 flashbacks, and Spurs — followed by a home match with what will probably prove to be our most motivated visitors of the season, Everton. (And a chance for a last look at the player I have bet £200 on us signing in January, namely Leighton Baines.
A dinner companion of someone exceedingly senior at United told me last week: “He’s the one they really want above all.”
At the end of that sequence we could be looking at United back in the top three and through to the Euro Cup knockouts — or back in eighth place, whilst suddenly looking ahead to the visit of Donetsk and deciding we’ll need to supply incontinence pants in the Stretford End toilets.
Complain all you like, sceptics and Fergie-mourners, but you can’t deny this: it’s been one hell of a ride since August.
Makes you feel good to be alive — even if some kind of death may still await...
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