SIX yellow cards in a game which didn’t include a single malicious tackle; United back on terms from the award of a penalty at the Stretford End, after Shava’s far more blatant penalty shout had been ignored; then our much-maligned manager suffering the ultimate ignominy of being sent to the stands, for the last few seconds, after harmlessly venting his frustration on a water bottle. All in all, a fairly typical, fruitless afternoon at Old Trafford.
To be the architects of our own downfall was the most depressing aspect to Saturday’s encounter. But it might’ve been an entirely different story if Foster had failed to divert Van Persie’s goalbound effort early in the second half. Instead of the tabloids making hay with headlines about Arsène kicking the bottle, they might’ve been taunting Fergie about losing his, by leaving the likes of Berbatov on the bench?
Despite Almunia and Diaby gifting Man U the game, I doubt there will be many other teams who go to Old Trafford this season (without their most influential player!) and dominate the home team so comprehensively. Perhaps I’m guilty of seeing the game through Arsène’s opaque specs, but from where I sat, the fact United’s midfield terrier Darren Fletcher won so many plaudits was merely evidence of the sort of destructive graft necessary, to try and prevent us from dictating the match entirely (if you discount the couple of incidents at the death, where desperation led to us being caught chasing the game).
I’m loathe to join the charabanc of Gooners intent on kicking our keeper when he is down. But even the needle has now been worn blunt, upon the broken record from which I’ve been banging on about our need to break the bank, to sign a recognised world-class Rottweiler of a goalie, to replace our slightly fey Poodle, if we’re ever going to mount a serious challenge for the title.
It was foolhardy of me to think that Vermaelen could be the answer to all our defensive ills. It looks as if we’ve lost a shilling and found five quid, judging by the overall improvement at the back, after trading in Kolo for Tommie the tank. But Saturday’s defeat demonstrated that despite an accomplished and relatively untroubled performance from our two centre-backs, there remains a potentially calamitous air of defensive insecurity, for which the only real cure remains a “heaven help anyone who gets in my way” type goalie, who can be relied on to react in a relentlessly consistent fashion, in any given situation.
In the absence of Fabregas, Denilson and Song demonstrated that they’ve come on in leaps and bounds since last season, with the presence to impose themselves, where in the past they might’ve looked like little boys lost on the expanse of Old Trafford. But they are both still only 21 and have some way to go before entirely fulfilling their potential. At his best Diaby is a world-beater, but Abou continues to blow hot and cold with infuriating consistency.
As captain for the day, Van Persie toiled away largely in vain, while having apparently acquired an annoying tendency to hit the deck in feint hope of a free-kick.
There was no lack of industry from the Arsenal, but sadly there was an all-too familiar absence of the inspirational “never say die” charisma, needed to force home our advantage and truly turn this result around. United have the advantage of the winning habit and so despite being bettered on the pitch, you never really got the sense they feared for the three points, once we’d gifted them back the lead.
We might have made great strides, but on this evidence, we remain a work in progress. We have sufficient ability, but psychologically we still need to develop the sort of force of personality necessary to swallow whole the Premiership’s bigger fish.
I can’t end without passing comment on the simulation debate. If I thought banning Eduardo was going to act as a deterrent to this blight on the game, I’d be all for it. But the authorities are on thin ice persecuting Eddie, when in anticipating the keeper’s dive, both he and Rooney did exactly the same thing, save for the fact Rooney’s effort was legitimised by Almunia’s extended arms.
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