EPL 2007-2008: Arsenal 2 – Manchester United 2

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
November 4th, 2007 • 6:23 pm

I stopped writing about the English Premier League last year when it became clear that the season would be a complete write-off for Arsenal fans like me—although I did indicate at the time that I felt surprisingly upbeat about the Gunners.

Of course, this was followed by Thierry Henry’s departure to Barcelona and the unsavoury talk of Russian take-over… There were all kinds of doom-and-gloom predictions, and I’ll readily admit that I was rather skeptical of the team’s potential in this new season.

But then a funny thing happened. The “new” Arsenal started to really gel as a team. And it started getting results, lots of good results, sometimes with wonderful, eminently watchable performances.

I started thinking that it felt pretty good to be an Arsenal fan again. But there was always the fact that the early season calendar was pretty favourable, and it was clear that the two games at Liverpool and at home against Manchester would be the “first real tests” of the season. Before these two games, I too thought that we would have a better idea of the real potential of this particular group of players this year—and it is the outcome of this double test that makes me feel like writing about Arsenal and the EPL again.

Before the games, I thought that, in the current situation, two wins or a win and a draw would be fantastic, two draws or a win and a loss would be OK, and anything less would be disappointing. Mathematically speaking, I still feel that the two draws are a decent outcome. It is true that there can be a tendency to exaggerate the importance of this type of game, that, after all, it is only just another three-pointer. But at the same time you cannot deny the psychological impact on the players of the results obtained in such games.

By that token, the two draws are good results, especially because of the manner in which they were achieved. In both cases, the team had to come from behind, and did so quite convincingly. They really should have won the game at Liverpool, and they were not just “lucky” to get a draw yesterday at the Emirates, quite the contrary. It could be argued that the two goals conceded were “unlucky,” or rather a result of somewhat poor defending. The fact remains that the Gunners did score twice against a team that had only conceded four goals in total this season, and that both goals were the result of some incisive play that managed to open the opposition’s defense. And the same can be said of the goal scored at Liverpool last week.

Of course, we already saw a fair amount of this “coming from behind” stuff last year. But the difference here is obviously that the comebacks were about much more than just salvaging a point or saving face. They were about proving that the team has what it takes to cut apart even the best teams in the league. And they do. If they can continue to use this combination of skill and determination in all their games and to achieve the level of success that they have achieved so far this year, then indeed they will be serious title contenders, and I believe that they will.

Alex Ferguson’s complaints about the referee are seriously misplaced. The truth of the matter is that his team was not better than Arsenal yesterday, and there are even objective reasons to argue that the opposite was true. I am obviously biased, but I didn’t find players like Rooney or Ronaldo particularly impressive. They were certainly not playing on another level or anything like that. They took their chances, and good for them. But the Gunners took theirs, and fully deserved at least a draw. With a bit more incisiveness and momentum after the first equalizer, they could have gone on to win the game. They are still young, and a newcomer like Sagna was obviously suffering from some “big game jitters.” Almunia also was not all that convincing—but then there are days when van der Saar is not particularly convincing either.

One cannot conclude this post without a note about Gallas. His appointment as team captain was controversial, to say the least. He has been quite vocal about a number of things, and not always in the most “team-friendly” way. But I think his performance last week and yesterday did show what he brings. He made one crucial block late in the game at Liverpool, and yesterday he was there to slot in the second equalizer in extra time. To me that says that this is a player who can deliver in the big games. And I have no reason not to believe the rest of the team when they say that there is something “special” about the team spirit this year, which Gallas’s captaincy is obviously a part of, even though he missed a sizable chunk of the early season through injury.

Now, there is obviously still a long way to go, and many things can still go wrong. But we have already seen some remarkable developments, such as Fábregas’s fantastic form and Hleb and Flamini’s improvement. There is still also lots of possibly untapped potential, including Walcott, Eduardo, and Adebayor. And of course van Persie will return from injury in a few weeks. So there’s reason to have belief again, and to be in awe, yet again, of what Arsène Wenger has been able to achieve with such a young team in such little time.

2 Responses to “EPL 2007-2008: Arsenal 2 – Manchester United 2”

  1. Andrew Aitken says:

    Ahh, I’ve missed your commentary on the EPL… As we often chant: “You only sing when you’re winning” ;-).

    I thought the game was fantastic. Two teams who play the most attractive football in the country, battling it out. It makes a change from the rough and tumble phsyical games we used to see in years gone by. The pace, and technical quality of the game was astounding. A draw was a fair result I thought. Fergie was well out of order with his comments about the ref, I totally agree with you there. According to the BBC, the FA are looking into his comments too.

    I have been surprised by Arsenal this season, like most people I thought they would struggle. I thought Spurs might just take their 4th place… How wrong could I be. Looks like a battle between us and Arsenal for the title this year. Just like old times :)

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Ah yes, nothing like the good old times :). There are a number of quality Arsenal blogs out there, which also helps explain my relative silence on the subject in recent times. It’s hard to find the motivation to write when what you wanted to express has already been expressed quite well by others—especially people who, unlike me, actually have the opportunity to attend the games :-).

    That said, we’re spoiled here in Canada this year with the new Setanta channel. It’s pricey ($15/month), but we get not just tons of EPL games, but also Carling Cup and extra Champions’ League games. This means that there are actually only a few games involving Arsenal this season that I have not seen. Quite remarkable really when you think how far removed I am from the action here. But of course, on TV, you don’t really get to hear the crowd’s chants, or the lovely abuse poured on the benches. (Another Ferguson rant that appears to have been rather out of order: Based on what travelling Gunners say, the chants targeting Arsène at Old Trafford can get very colourful too.)

    Anyway, I definitely look forward to the rest of the season!

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