EPL 2006: Manchester United 2 – Arsenal 0

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
April 10th, 2006 • 8:01 am

I am afraid it was back to reality for the Gunners after the exhilarating Champions’ League campaign. Once again, they were undone by the one team that has perfected the “in-your-face” kind of football that has been causing so many problems for Arsenal in the domestic league this season.

Alex Ferguson knows how to play Arsenal, and it showed again yesterday. Of course, the Red Devils were substantially helped by the fact that they were kicked out of the Champions’ League so early in the competition and do not suffer from the kind of fatigue that might be creeping in on the Gunners in the last few weeks of this campaign.

It all started very well for Arsenal. For the first 20 minutes, they utterly dominated the Manchester United players on their own turf, with a combination of slick passing and strong physical play. But they were unable to convert this domination into a goal, and then the second half of the first half was dominated by the home team. Rooney started to exert pressure and the Arsenal defence was very lucky to get away with what looked like a clear handball by Kolo Touré, throwing himself in desperation to block Rooney’s shot after having accidentally knocked over his own keeper.

Graham Poll didn’t see that particular incident, which would have given the Red Devils a penalty kick and would have meant an automatic red card for Touré. After the controversial penalty decision at Old Trafford back in October 2004 that ended the Gunners’ 49-match unbeaten run, it would have been ironic if this game had been decided on a similarly controversial incident.

But ultimately it didn’t really matter much. While the Gunners started the second half strongly again, the pressure mounted, and Wayne Rooney did end up getting the goal that he deserved. At 0-1 down, the Gunners did get a couple of chances to get back into the game, but failed to apply the finishing touch. Then the Red Devils started committing the cynical fouls that they are so good at, nipping the Gunners’ counter-attacking attempts in the bud and collecting a handful of yellow cards in the process.

That’s the aspect of Alex Ferguson’s game that is definitely not particularly pleasant to watch. But until the rules are changed and teams get punished more harshly for cynical play, they’ll continue to get away with it, and the Gunners will continue to fail in their attempts to recover in such situations through fast counter-attacks.

The second goal was inevitable once the Gunners started taking more risks, and the Champions’ League fatigue started to set in. Wenger brought on Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg, and Abou Diaby, but it was too late, and they were unable to change their team’s fortune. He took a gamble by not putting Henry on from the start, but even Thierry has to be rested some time, and Arsène probably did not have much choice.

The one thing that is really a source of concern is the fact that this particular Arsenal team seems unable to recover from a set-back in a game, especially against physical teams. I didn’t check the statistics, but I don’t think that there have been many cases in recent times of the Gunners falling behind in a game and then coming back and winning it. Ultimately, if they want to become a truly great team, they’ll have to learn how to do that. And they might have to do it very soon, if they want to have a chance of winning the Champions’ League. The elimination of both Real Madrid and Juventus was fantastic, but at no point in these four games the Gunners had to come back from behind. I am not so sure that they won’t be faced with this situation at least once in their bid to win the Champions’ League in the next few weeks.

There’s still hope that this eleventh (!) defeat of the season will not prevent the Gunners from snatching the fourth spot away from Tottenham. After all, Tottenham still has to play five pretty tough games, including one against Manchester United (albeit at home) and, of course, one at Highbury. But first Arsenal needs to win at Portsmouth on Wednesday in their game in hand, and then grab maximum points against West Brom. In other words, the next two games have to be victories. We won’t settle for less.

Comments are closed.

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.