Let’s be clear about this. We didn’t deserve to win this game. But, equally, we didn’t deserve to lose.
And what struck me most about the game was what a pathetic bunch of cheating babies the United players are.
More about that in a moment, but first a word for Howard Webb:
If he had even loosely followed the rules of the game we would have been playing against nine men for a large portion of last night’s match.
But this was Howard Webb and the venue was Old Trafford, so we had as much chance of not getting robbed as an armless man at a pickpockets’ convention.
I always thought that laying hands on the referee in anger was a red card offence. Not so at Old Trafford when the ref is Webb and the player is Darren Fletcher, who has just run 15 yards in fury to arm-check the official. It was clearly a straight red but, no, Webb just looked scared. Not so much of Fletcher as of what the purple-faced Gorbalian might say if he dared to send off one of his players at the Toilet.
Then, later, Rio Ferdinand executed a flying kung fu kick that left a foot-long gash in Bacary Sagna’s shirt, just below rib level. If that reckless assault had happened the week after Karl Henry and Nigel de Jong’s leg-breaking challenges, Plug from the Beano would have been given his marching orders and rightly so.
But Webb bottled it again. Not a red card. Not a yellow card. Not even a foul. That’s clear then: in Howard Webb’s book, raking your studs down an opponent’s midriff is acceptable fair play. Or at least it is if you’re a Man Utd player at Old Trafford.
Then there was the ‘penalty’. Clichy fell to the ground and Nani kicked the ball against the elbow he was supporting himself with. He did not make any ‘hand to ball’ movement, he was lying with his full weight on the arm and it was tucked under his body, but the pen was given.
We all know that conceding a soft (by which I mean non-) penalty at United is a habitual hazard. In this case the fat lino flagged for the contact and Webb eagerly grabbed the opportunity to ingratiate himself with the Vesuvius-nosed Glaswegian by pointing to the spot.
The only consolation was what happened next. While we were fuming about not getting the rub of the green, Wayne Rooney was clearly thinking about getting the rub of the gran. She must have been sitting in Row Y, because that’s where his big wayward ball plopped down.
His round-the-corner run-up (presumably intended to unbalance our rookie ‘keeper) was pure Jonny Wilkinson, with the same end result.
Apart from the above, the key moments of the game were two excellent saves from Chesney in our goal; some tame long range shooting by both sides and a gilt-edged opportunity for Theo to nab an equalizer right at the death (squandered, sadly).
Oh, and there was the goal, too. Gael Clichy was at fault again (all United’s best attacks were down our left flank) but there was still a slice of luck about the goal. Nani’s cross/shot deflected off Clichy’s foot onto the head of Park, who contorted himself brilliantly to send the ball looping over Chesney and into the net. Like so many of the goals we have conceded recently, there was a huge dose of ill fortune about the whole thing, but also some of our regular failings on display.
And so to the muppet display from Manchester United.
A year ago the mouthy runt who plays left back for them (you know, the one who led the French national team to the biggest humiliation in their history at the last World Cup) said that playing against Arsenal was men against boys.
Well, last night it was Arsenal’s men against United’s babies. Throughout the whole game, whenever an Arsenal player lost a 50/50 he would try to play on. Whenever a United player did he would throw himself to the ground and writhe around in agony.
Needless to say, Webb bought the play-acting every time. The chief culprits were Rooney, Nani, Anderson and Evra.
I read a hilarious comment on a moronic United blog to the effect that, because Webb called 17 fouls against us, this demonstrated that we had carried out deliberate ‘rotational fouling’ on their players. (Rotational Fouling, it should be noted, was a tactic devised by Ferguson to combat Arsenal’s superior side in the late 1990s, a fact confirmed in Jaap Stam’s autobiography). The idiot who wrote the blog clearly can’t have seen any of the ‘fouls’ because most of them comprised Arsenal players winning the ball and United players diving like Tom Daley.
To my shame, there were occasions when I was calling out for our boys to hit the deck like the United players, but we carried on playing the game fairly.
Frankly, United should be ashamed of themselves.
They are a good (but certainly not great) side, whose principle strength is their defensive organisation. But if they want to live up to their self-styled role as flag bearers for English football they really need to man up and stop the cheating which now seems endemic throughout their squad.
A few final thoughts on the game: Cesc and RvP came on as subs and played exactly as they have been playing recently (ie not very well). Our defence performed pretty well, except for the now familiar ‘Clichy moments’ that happen in every game. But United often had too much space between our midfield and our back four.
In the attacking third we tried hard but nothing really came off. There were a few half chances but we hardly troubled van der Saar.
All in all nil-nil would have been the fairest result, but Howard Webb was never going to allow that to happen.
We can take positives from a strong performance but we really, really need to get that monkey off our back: no, not Gareth Bale; the other monkey: the ‘not winning games against our title rivals’ one. We had a chance last night and didn’t take it, but there’s another one coming up fast.
This was never a ‘must win’, but for all the psychological reasons that have been much talked about, home to Chelsea on December 27th is exactly that.
Szcesny: This boy is going to be a star. Can’t be blamed for the goal. Made a few distribution errors but there were two outstanding saves and he looked commanding. He already looks like our best ‘keeper. 8 MotM (not many contenders).
Sagna: Solid performance from our full Bac. Defensively tidy as usual, some good crossing and one or two wayward efforts. 7
Squillaci: Made some excellent tackles and interventions. Maintained his good form. 7
Koscielny: Relatively quiet game but managed to keep on top of Rooney for most of the match. 6
Clichy: Too many mistakes from Gael are costing us points. Should never have let Nani cut into the box for the deflected cross that led to the winner. 5
Song: Great work rate, some great defensive work but, again, some poor passing. He has been given licence to go box-to-box but still performs best when deep in his own half. 6.5
Wilshere: Very good in the first half but tailed off in the second and was rightly replaced. Glimpses of what a super talent he’s going to be. 7
Rosicky: Very good first half, pulled the strings and worked tirelessly. If you look back at the game, watch his gut-busting runs to get back every time we lost possession. He also tailed off in the second half. 6.5
Nasri: Not at the races today. He was double-marked for most of the game and, apart from a few isolated good moments, couldn’t grab the game by the scruff of the neck. 6
Arshavin: Busy, always looked like a threat, always happy to try a shot, but nothing really came off for Andrey. 6
Chamakh: Up against two outstanding CBs, couldn’t get much of a look in but never stopped running, fighting and holding up the ball for us. 6.5
Fabregas: Probably shouldn’t have come on in a match of such intensity. He’s going to need games to play himself back to form. His passing is still off. 5
Van Persie: Peripheral figure and couldn’t get into the game. 5
Walcott: looked to threaten on occasion, but fluffed his lines repeatedly. Had a great chance at the end to level the game but shot over. 5