I HAVE noticed that the following is a sentence I never used write, but it has become more frequent over the past 18 months: thank goodness for this international break.
Yes, the once-unwanted interregnum that would spoil our flow has increasingly become a welcome breather that allows us to sort ourselves out.
Of course, some would find it perverse to be grasping for sanctuary just after a rare and famous Big Four victory, but therein lies the rub. Few were convinced by the three points – hugely celebrated though they were – in light of the respective actual performances we had witnessed. The most telling Wenger post-match comment came after he’d finished his bottle-kicking bug-eyed rant, when he concluded that he’d been hugely encouraged by his team’s display, which boded well for the future.
Quite. So accustomed had we become to seeing Arsenal’s fancy dans spinelessly crumble once we have either a) kicked them a bit or b) rather fortunately gone ahead, that it took some believing to find ourselves hanging on at the 94th minute and praying for a flag. It really was outrageous of Arsenal not to perform the theatrical role we have paid to see, namely to flounce about losing their heads, especially as we had done our bit by a) sportingly whacking them about a bit during the first half and then b) scoring two bizarre and slightly unjustified goals.
What next? Wenger recovering his sight? Will they stop diving and cheating too? So thank you, Monsieur Eboue, on that score: just as I thought we had lost all moral authority in the match, his absurd Ronaldo impression restored the natural order. Rooney may have been borderline cute for his penalty – he was surely already at a 45-degree angle BEFORE the keeper touched him, though at least the keeper DID make contact – but here was the genuine 100% ‘dirty cheating foreigner’ routine we all love to see.
Especially now that our own stellar exemplar of the phenomenon has left the club, allowing us to retrieve the non-hypocritical high ground again.
So we danced a jig at the whistle, revelled in Wenger’s hilarious Jesus impression in front of the Main Stand box, but later we could secretly grumble into our pints about our fairly woeful display, Arsenal’s revival, and the grim formation and mindset in which our team was sent out to play.
Berbatov, for one, must have been thoroughly mystified by his benching after his dazzling fortnight; and the sight of a Manchester United playing at home yet going out in an overly muscular 4-5-1 is always depressing (The ghosts of Fenerbahce 1996 linger long).
Still, later Fergie cheered us all up with some of his reliably bonkers claims: for example, that Fletcher had been “man of the match”, a judgment shared by not one of the 14 covering newspapers, nor by one of the 75,000 ticket buyers (including his own mother) either.
So: let us gratefully embrace the break. Consider the last three weeks as a pre-season extension, perhaps, which would mitigate the charge that we’ve produced just one good half-hour spell in four games.
Assuming Fergie is as good as his word – a big assumption, admittedly – and United haven’t signed in the window, we have surely seen enough baffling tinker-frenzy selectorial and tactical experimentation already to be able to reach some conclusions about how best to use the current squad, and thus be ready for the imminent tabletoppers against Spurs and City, right? And you are all fully confident in Mike Phelan’s analytical coaching capacity to mastermind all that? Aren’t you? Hey, don’t turn the page when I’m talking to you…
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved