There will never be a better time to play Manchester United. It looked as though their players had been partying all week and only put down their champagne glasses five minutes before kick off. That’s how off the pace they were for the first half hour and it’s a pity we didn’t take full advantage.
Robin van Persie was unsurprisingly the centre of attention as he took the field with the applause of Arsenal’s guard of honour ringing in his ears as well as the booing of 60,000 Gooners. Personally I feel it was disrespectful to boo the champions and classless to boo van Persie, but I will write a whole other post on this subject tomorrow.
Ironically it was van Persie who epitomised Man Utd’s slackness after just two minutes with a wayward pass that was quickly worked down the field to Theo, who advanced upon de Gea and slotted home the opening goal. United were hard done by as replays confirmed he was offside (we’ve certainly been getting the rub of the green lately) but it was just reward for a start full of determination and passion from Wenger’s men. We pressed high up the pitch, launched into some ferocious tackles and were passing the ball quickly and with purpose. Man Utd just couldn’t live with our tempo and appetite for the contest during the opening 30 minutes.
Which begs the question — why don’t we play with that passion all the time? If we did, we’d have had a Champions League spot sewn up ages ago. Only getting ourselves up for the big games and not bothering against Blackburn, Bradford, Norwich etc is the biggest gripe I have with Wenger and is a major reason why we’ve gone eight seasons without a trophy.
Anyway, rant over. We had the opportunities to bury Fergie’s mob in that opening period but Cazorla’s touch let him down, Podolski didn’t convince when he got a sight of goal and Ramsey picked the wrong option when Walcott was clean through to his right screaming for the ball.
That being said, United had the two best chances when they finally got their act together towards the end of the half. Jones headed wastefully wide and Szczesny did well to block van Persie’s point blank header with his face.
Sagna had a mare, but was given little help by Walcott who practically played up front
Two minutes before the break Sagna compounded his jittery half by gifting van Persie possession and then rashly scything him down inside the area. You-know-who kept his cool to sweep home the penalty and showed some class by not celebrating. The United fans did celebrate of course, although they were moaning about the cost of their match ticket and transport to London
The second half was much more even, but Arsenal appeared to be getting more and more edgy as the game wore on. United on the other hand were comfortable and playing without pressure, although their usual drive was missing as a result. The introduction of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere certainly helped and Arsenal enjoyed some late pressure, but both de Gea and Szczesny were equal to the few half chances that might have won the game.
A point each was probably fair, although it does mean that if Spurs win their remaining four games then we can’t catch them. That includes a trip to Stamford Bridge though, so three victories from Arsenal’s last three games will probably be enough. First up is QPR next Saturday, who have just been relegated and weren’t even trying this afternoon as they barely put in a performance against Reading. We would win even if Szczesny went up front and Walcott played in goal, that’s how bad they were.
It’s likely Spurs will get three points at home to Southampton the same day, so it will then be a case of sitting back and watching their match with Chelsea. We’ll know what’s needed from our final two games after that result and I’m hoping it’s not six points. Wigan, who were impressive yesterday as they came within minutes of beating Tottenham, are no pushovers and visit Emirates before a trip to Newcastle on the final day of the season, who may well need something to stay up.
I’ll speculate no more because it’s pointless. After all, who would’ve predicted that Spurs would drop two points against Wigan following on from their brilliant victory over Man City? All I know is that if we show the same passion and appetite that was on display for the first half hour today, we should be alright and Wenger will achieve his season’s remit of fourth place by spending as little as possible.
But as ever with this frustrating Arsenal team, it’s a big if.
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