We fielded a somewhat makeshift team, whilst the opposition had a full strength team to pick from.
Three points was what was required. A win that could put us back into the title that we had recently drifted out of. A win that could restore the confidence lost by the late goals and defeats to lower opposition.
And three points was duly delivered.
With both Adebayor and Van Persie out through injury and suspension respectively. Arsene opted to play a 4-5-1 formation and had the return of Gallas, Walcott and Sagna to boost the ranks. The starting XI was
Sagna – Gallas – Silvestre – Clichy
Walcott – Denilson – Cesc – Diaby – Nasri
In all honesty, withthe power and form of United, and with Ade and VP out, it was the sensible decision. It was reminescent of the tactics when we travelled to Old Trafforda couple of years back when Ade got the winner with 4 minutes to go.
The game itself started very nervy and we set up with an idea of keeping the passing game and keeping calm. United on the other hand were intent on pressing us. Two minutes in, their pressure told. A short back pass saw Almunia closed down by Rooney and itself of kicking out, in panic, he picked it up. Of course, a deliberate back pas picked up by a keeper results in a free kick. Being in the box, the outcome looked ominous. Would United go 1-0 up within the first few minutes. The answer was no, come good closing down and lucky deflections meant the game was still even.
Not a great start and it was clear that our team was nervous. A few ventures toward the United goals early on proved fruitless as we were slightly lighter on attack than usual. United had the better chances of the openings and Rooney should have scored after some good play from Anderson and Berbatov who put Ronaldo through who cut back to Rooney.
But that chance was a wake up call, and we started to go forward knowing that a goal would be needed as United looked dangerous. A foul on Sagna by Evra saw us gain a free kick on the left back position. A whipping ball
An incisive United break saw Gallas chop down Evra and get a yellow card. Ronaldo took the resulting free kick and Gael Clichy really nearly headed into his own goal. It was amazing how an own goal was not conceded. But from the resulting corner we went straight down the other end and if Denilson had been a bit smarter, he would have laid Walcott through, but opted for Bendtner. The wrong choice.
A very good break next by Arsenal saw Diaby running on goal, and just on the line, Carrick chopped Diaby from behind. A clear cut foul. A clear cut free kick and a clear cut red card for Carrick.
What was given? Nothing… An absolutely disgrace of a decision.
But the early goal had given us confidence, and we were really grinded away. But the decisions from Howard Webb were getting more and more United bias. To the point where he didn’t give Cesc a free kick on the edge of the area, but booked Sagna as United broke. An absolutely disgrace of a decision.
We recovered well and the next chance came when Silvestre ran 50 yards, and crossing to Nasri who was closed down. United did have chances, lest not forget and always dangerous on the counter attack. But it was clear that Howard Webb and had been paid by Alex Ferguson handsomely… 3 times, Rooney, Ronaldo and Berbatov were offside, but none given.
Half time 1-0 to the Arsenal.
The half time talk was clear. Get the second goal. Play your game. And we came out guns blazing. We charged at their goal and from the kick off we had a chance and then a corner. And then from the corner, we kept the ball. 13 passes, 14 passes, 15 passes, Diaby to Denilson, Denilson to Cesc, Cesc to Nasri, on the edge of the box, what a strike, Nasri scores.
Arsenal 2 – 0 Man United
The movement was terrific and Walcott’s diagonal run ran the defence out of their position and Nasri took advantage. For the first time today, believe circulated through the stadium. But we had to remember who we were playing and we were reminded moments later when a great ball from Park Ji Sung saw Ronaldo free at the back post, missed when it seemed easier to score. But it was end to end and we went down the other end – 4 on 3, but Anderson defended well. From the resulting corner, though, we really should have scored as Diaby ended up have a free header, unchallenged 4 yards out.
At 2-0 up, we were ready to see this game out and we did give the initiative to United, who took it and poured forward. Defensive – counter attacking it’s called in Football Manager and it became harder to get out of our half. But when we did it was exciting and each time could have resulted in a goal. From a United corner, some good defending saw Almunia come for the ball. But Carrick decided to follow through and kick Almunia in the face. Ouch. Yellow card, but in my opinion, the challenge was uncalled for, it didn’t need to be made. Nerves were the order of the day and high blood pressure no doubt.
Then, a break by us saw Nasri in the box. Would it be three? Cynically pulled down by Vidic, surely a penalty. Not given! How? How was it not given! Oh my gosh, another ridiculous refereeing decision by Webb.
Almunia didn’t last long and sooner rather than later Fabianski came on. Industry was evident, but the legs were getting heavy.
Arsene was sizing up the options, and also withdrew Walcott for defensively minded Alex Song. Diaby out the right wing, it was going to be a nervy last 20 minutes. Ronaldoworked the right and the left of midfield, but both Clichy and Sagna were firm in their defending. It was an open game, very much end to end at the moment. No one seemed tired, too much adrenalin. Ferguson’s substitutions of Giggs and Tevez were counter first by Song and then by Toure. We were going to defend this. We had to. Gallas and Silvestre, hats off to you both, best game of the season so far.
Could we hold on?
It was tense, and in the 90th minute, the ball fell to Rafael outside the box. Left footed striker, what a strike. The Sp*rs game flashed before my eyes. Suddenly the stoppage time board was shown. 6 minutes? 6 minutes of stoppage time? And then we broke and an equisite ball to Bendtner, surely it had to be three, no, a miss. With thirty seconds to go, we really needed to go into the corner flag, but we didn’t and…. hold on… the full time whistle!
We’ve won, 2-1 to the Arsenal………………!
Awesome… wow, I need a drink. What an important victory and what a statement of intent.
Arsene spoke on the importance of the victory:
“I feel it was a very important result because I imagine what would have happened if we had lost today. Mathematically it was very important for us to stay close to the top and to show what kind of determination, spirit and mental attitude we have. We went out there today thinking that we will win no matter what happens. No matter what happens on the pitch we will keep going and that is what we did.
“We won against, for me, a great Man United side and the difference was maybe we took our chances early on and they didn’t. After we scored the second goal we did hang on but tried to score the third goal on the counter attack. We wouldn’t do that and that is why the game remained very tight until the end.”
Until the end…
With both goals for us today, Samir Nasri was named the man of the match, and Arsene spoke on the player.
“When he is in front of goal he can finish with his right foot or left foot. He has a lot of pace and power and I encourage him to go in the final third. He was a more typical playmakerin France who gave the ball and took it back. I believe that with his pace he can penetrate in the final third and he will score plenty of goals. That is what he did today because he is a tremendous finisher.”
Nasri to the rescue, confidence is restored.
Arsenal:Almunia (Fabianski 78), Sagna, Gallas, Silvestre, Clichy, Walcott (Song Billong 77), Fabregas, Denilson, Nasri, Diaby (Toure 86), Bendtner.
Subs Not Used: Vela, Ramsey, Wilshere, Djourou. Booked: Gallas, Sagna, Clichy.
Goals:Nasri 22, 48.
Man Utd:Van der Sar, Neville (Rafael Da Silva 63), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo, Anderson (Giggs 72), Carrick, Park, Rooney (Tevez 77), Berbatov.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Nani, O’Shea, Evans.
Goals:Rafael Da Silva 90.