Arsenal (2) – (1) Manchester United
Nasri (22′, 48′)
The Emirates Stadium, London
I haven’t really been taking in much Arsenal news really. There’s always going to be a lot of hype about who will play, what injuries we have and all the boring talk from the players about how much this game means. We know what it means, we’ve all been watching these massive games for years now.
So I thought the only way to enjoy the game (and not get caught up in the negativity during the build up) was to just avoid the press and just sit down and watch the match.
And what a match.
The news before kick off was that Adebayor and Van Persie were injured, so Bendtner would be starting with Abou Diaby playing in behind. Adebayor’s touch can sometimes be hit and miss, so I was more than happy for the Dane to play against United – his touch is far better and he always looks to play in other team-mates. And we know that on his day Diaby has excellent ball retention.
Arsenal started very sloppily and a pass back from Silvestre in the opening 30 seconds was short and Almunia had to pick up the ball in his own area, giving United an indirect freekick inside the box. Luckily they couldn’t take advantage and after that Arsenal really upped their game.
The game was wide open, with both sides trying to score the opener.
But it was the little Frenchman Samir Nasri that made the first real impact on the game.
A freekick from Fabregas on the right hand side was headed away by Berbatov, and the ball came out to Nasri on the edge of the box. He controlled the ball well with his first touch and lashed a left-footed effort towards the crowded United goal and into the net. Replays showed it took a nick off Gary Neville but it was a well-taken shot and if you don’t buy a ticket you can’t win the lottery.
The frenetic pace continued throughout the first half, with Nicklas Bendtner missing two excellent chances from fantastic crosses by Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri.
United had their chances too, with Rooney blasting over from a Ronaldo lay off and Berbatov was just offside from a Rooney shot which Almunia saved. Ji-Sung Park also had a left-footed chance saved well by Almunia who looked more confident after the criticism during the last couple of weeks.
There was also a penalty claim from United when the ball appeared to hit Clichy’s arm from a Rooney cross, but in all honesty I thought that would have been harsh to give. The clumsy challenge on Berbatov by Denilson was more of a penalty in my opinion.
You just felt that with the nature of the game Arsenal needed that second goal just before the break to calm things down but the Nasri did the next best thing.
Continuing the high tempo from the first half, we came out of the blocks in the second period and some excellent build up play from Fabregas saw Nasri through on goal who then emphatically smashed the ball passed Edwin Van Der Sar.
Arsenal were 2-0 up!
Then the real tension began. Would Arsenal collapse like they did against Spurs? Would they have the bottle and kill the game off?
Well the early signs weren’t great.
United had nothing to lose and really piled on the pressure. And Gael Clichy’s wild challenge on Ronaldo minutes after Nasri’s second goal was worrying. And Denilson’s inability to hold onto the ball gifted United possession time and time again.
And for about 15 minutes Arsenal were really under the cosh.
Ronaldo somehow beat about 4 men and ran into the heart of the penalty area, but luckily could only shoot straight at Almunia from the byline. Rooney also had a header which went down the keepers throat. And from a United corner, Almunia sustained a head injury from a Michael Carrick swipe which saw him come off a few minutes later, replaced by Fabianski.
With about 20 minutes left, Ryan Giggs came on for Anderson, and Alex Song replaced Theo Walcott.
And from a excellent Arsenal break, Samir Nasri was hauled down by Nemanja Vidic for a clear penalty. Replays showed that referee Howard Webb didn’t have the best angle to see it and if anyone should have awarded it, it should have been the linesman. But it was the same official that didn’t give one to United so I guess he evened things out.
The last few minutes were madness in all honesty, with either side capable of scoring the next goal. Tactics, formations and positions seemed to be irrelevant as United chased a goal that could get them back into the game.
To his credit, Fabianski was aggressive and came out at every opportunity to make his presence felt.
With 5 minutes left, Arsene made his last substitution which was Kolo Toure for Diaby. I thought the best change would have been to take off Denilson since Diaby was always a threat going forward.
Then it happened again. We conceded a goal in the final minute of the game.
Arsenal seemed to be coping (although my heart wasn’t) with United and seeing the game out, but a fantastic left-footed volley by Rafael went just inside the far post.
And the fourth official indicated 6 minutes of injury time.
From then on it was just a daze.
Bendtner had a chance to kill off the game, as Arsenal broke on the counter attack in a mad finally few minutes, but Arsenal held out and defeated the Premier League Champions.
I’ve only just recovered from that game – it has to be one of the best games this season. Both sides deserve a lot of credit for going for it and entertainment-wise it was fantastic. Not sure I can cope with many more games like this this season though!
And didn’t you just know Arsenal would win today?
Every time we get written off Arsenal step up and rarely let us down. And this result is even more impressive with the fact that players like Adebayor, Van Persie, Eduardo and Rosicky weren’t even involved.
Manuel Almunia: 8/10
Looked much better today. He was positive from defensive positions and his bravery from the United corner summed up his performance.
Bacary Sagna: 8/10
You’ve heard it a million times, but he was solid yet again. Up and down the touchline throughout the match and kept Ji-Sung Park quite for large periods. Almost did two jobs with the below-par performance of Theo Walcott.
William Gallas: 9/10
Made some really vital interceptions at key moments and couldn’t have played much better. Kept Berbatov quiet and an all-round excellent performance.
Mikael Silvestre: 8/10
Played well alongside Gallas, and obviously upped his game against his old club.
Gael Clichy: 7/10
Linked up well with Samir Nasri and defended well in the most part against Ronaldo. Switched off when Ronaldo had a big chance at the far post, but was up and down the pitch as usual.
Theo Walcott: 6/10
Couldn’t get into the pace of the game, and was sporadic throughout. Always a tough game to play in and Evra didn’t give the young lad much space to play.
Defended well at times but almost seemed too complacent on the ball when playing out of defence. Not his style to punt the ball away but sometimes his short passes from the back gifted United possession and put the pressure back onto Arsenal.
Cesc Fabregas: 8/10
Ran the team again and had a massive hand in both of Arsenal’s goals. Seemed to tire near the end but that’s expected when he covered as much ground as he did. Looks much better with a haircut too.
Samir Nasri: 9/10
Brilliant performance. Dangerous, fearless and never afraid to shoot. For all our possession, we needed someone to hit the net and Nasri obliged. Great goals and finished both excellently. First game against Manchester United and he didn’t disappoint – superb temperament and to play like that against the Premier League Champions is sensational. Well done son.
Abou Diaby: 8/10
Linked up well with Cesc, Denilson and Nasri throughout and played with confidence.
Nicklas Bendtner: 7/10
Did well at times but squandered several chances to score at important times of the game. Made some well timed runs and caused Ferdinand and Vidic problems. Tired near the end of the second half but ran for the team throughout the 90 minutes.
Alexandre Song: 6/10 (Replaced Walcott on 77′)
Alarm bells started ringing when he came on (a la Spurs) but to his credit got stuck in and made some decent tackles.
Lukasz Fabianski: 7/10 (Replaced Almunia on 78′)
Played the best part of 20 minutes and did well. Came out for everything and relieved the United pressure.
Kolo Toure: 6/10 (Replaced Diaby on 85′)
Played on the right wing and didn’t really have a chance to influence things.