May 22nd, 2005 • 12:54 am
An undeserved win if I ever saw one… The Gunners were dominated and outplayed throughout the game. There were some feeble attempts to string together a few passes that might lead to a goal, but most of it was stifled without too much trouble by the Manchester United defence.
Manchester United, on the other hand, had numerous chances, but somehow failed to convert any of them.
To be fair, most of the Gunners defended adequately — but surely the way Ronaldo outplayed Lauren on the right flank will be a great source of concern to Wenger. It is not like it was not predictable. But Arsenal have little or no cover for Lauren on that side. They don’t have a right midfielder that drops deep to help out on the flank.
Fortunately, Ashley Cole was much more effective against Rooney on the other flank and had a number of decisive tackles to his credit. But even then, Rooney is difficult to control and he was, along with Ronaldo, the major threat in the Manchester United team.
Still, similarly to what happened in several league games this season, Manchester had a number of chances but failed to convert them. And they were ultimately punished for it, both in the league with their 3rd place finish and in this FA Cup competition.
The one positive aspect of the game for Arsenal fans was the penalty shoot-out. All 5 penalty takers for Arsenal (van Persie, Cole, Lauren, Ljungberg and Vieira) hit perfect strikes that left no chance to Roy Carroll. And Lehmann did very well to stop the Scholes penalty, ultimately winning the trophy for his team — much in the same way that Almunia won the qualification for his team against Sheffield United earlier in the competition.
I wish I could say that Lehmann had an excellent game and redeemed himself after a fairly disappointing season. And, to be true, he had a number of excellent and decisive saves during the game. Yet here again, on a couple of occasions against set pieces late in the game, he was caught in no man’s land — especially for that corner late in the game where Ljungberg earned his bacon by blocking a van Nistelrooy header with his own head and sending the ball crashing on the crossbar and bouncing away harmlessly.
With a little less luck, the Gunners would have lost, and Lehmann would yet again have been a major culprit.
It didn’t turn out this way, and Lehmann’s saves did ultimately bear fruit. But I certainly wouldn’t say that Arsenal’s goal-keeping problems have miraculously been solved.
Elsewhere on the pitch, the Gunners were pretty much ineffectual in attack, with Bergkamp unable to do anything in his unusual position up front, and with both Reyes and Pires having a rather poor game. Pires was ultimately substituted, and Reyes ended up being sent off deservedly for a string of idiotic and totally unnecessary challenges. The one redeeming factor is that he’s young and will hopefully learn from this.
But more importantly, it was yet another game where, strategically and tactically, Wenger didn’t seem to have a solution. Manchester United were once again able to stifle the Gunners’ creativity without too much trouble, even without the Neville brothers and their overly physical approach. When this happens, Wenger doesn’t seem to have a Plan B. For some reason, he only introduced Edu very late in the game — when he was precisely the kind of player who might have been able to make a difference against a typically physical Manchester United side.
Alex Ferguson was his typical sore-loser self after the game, complaining that Vieira should have been sent off and benefits from some kind of “immunity” from referees. Given Vieira’s disciplinary track record and his string of red cards over the years, this is a bit rich — especially coming from the manager of a team that clearly benefits from a “No penalties at Old Trafford” immunity and is steered by players like Keane, Scholes, and Phil Neville, who are almost always insufficiently punished for their own reckless fouls and gruesome tackles.
Still, the bottom-line is that, once again, the Gunners failed to impress in a big game. They ultimately won the contest, but only just, and not with a performance that will convince anyone that they have what it takes to regain their Premiership crown and finally go somewhere in the Champions’ League.
Will Wenger have the guts to make some key purchases this summer? We’ll see…