One would think that a face-off between the two longest-serving managers in English football would be an exciting match with goals coming from every direction. Sadly, Arsenal’s game this season denied us that thrill, and it doesn’t look like things will get better anytime soon. In a very predictable manner, Robin van Persie opened up the score for the Reds.
Already the forward has contributed to a United tradition – that of scoring first at Old Trafford.
The former Gunner netted the ball in after a cross from Rafael and a defensive error by Vermaelen. Though he scored his first goal against his former club, Van Persie’s thirst for goals may not have been fully satisfied. He spent much of the game making hasty runs, often getting ahead of himself. In one scenario he shot the ball in even after he had clearly heard the referee’s whistle for offside. He had a brilliant chance for a double in the second half, but underestimated the amount of space he had and gave De Gea a relatively simple shot to save. United were lacking in their own way, however. Fergie‘s team didn’t take advantage of Arsenal’s failure to make clear attacks, settling down a bit after the goal. United visibly had the advantage and were in control of the ball, but their attacks lacked a sharp final finish, not really threatening Mannone as much as they should have. Arsenal’s nightmare worsened when Cazorla’s handball gave away a PK. There was no disputing the call, as the ball hit his arm when he covered his face from a shot. Surprisingly, it wasn’t RVP who went up to take the kick. Wayne Rooney, who had a great game overall feeding the ball into the box, failed to administer the penalty, his right-footed shot merely grazing the post. The missed chance didn’t shatter the Reds, though they weren’t too far ahead in possession.
Unlike this season’s Gunners, United are known for finishing what they started. The Reds followed through with a second goal, a header by Patrice Evra into the near post off of a cross by Rooney. Anderson was in the perfect place to get a third ball in, but sent it high instead. United continued their dominance and Arsenal struggled to come up with ways to inch closer to De Gea’s net. Finding the equalizer became even more unlikely after Wilshere earned a second yellow for a reckless challenge on Evra, leaving his team a player down for the rest of the game as well as for the next match against Fulham. An irresponsible move, considering United have never lost a game when leading with two goals. Wenger brought in Arshavin for Lukas Podolski, the latter of which has shown nothing of his abilities at Arsenal thus far. But even Arshavin’s involvement in combinations wasn’t enough to nab a tie, not when the rest of the team was barely going forward. Giroud finally had a shot on target, perhaps the first for Arsenal in the entire second half. Cazorla seemed to have taken the matter into his own hands during the last seconds of the game, firing off two attempts, one of which finally flew past De Gea into the net. Though the goal relieved United of their clean sheet, it was just too little and too late.
Arsenal fans can’t use refereeing as the excuse this time, and if they do, they can safely look up referee Mike Dean’s record and his denial of several penalties to both Manchester United and Chelsea in an important match as well as his questionable decision to award Blackburn a penalty in their game against Burnley two years ago. Despite the number of bookings, today’s match was aptly officiated, and judging by Arsenal’s sloppy game, the loss was well-deserved. Meanwhile, United knock Chelsea off the first place spot, just two points ahead before the Blues’ result against Swansea is accounted for. Arsenal are in 6th for the moment. It’ll be difficult for them to make it to the top 5 if Spurs and Fulham have a good season. By now it is clear that if every match is a struggle for Arsenal like their comeback against a last-place Reading, something is not right. United are the team to beat, but that’s neither here nor there. I’d be a broken record if I said it’s not the win that’s important, but how you win. But there’s another truth that’s often overlooked: sometimes it’s also important how you lose. You can go down with dignity if you know you’ve given it your all, especially if you’re up against a front-runner. Arsenal are either highly unmotivated or very unfit. Whatever the reason may be, it’s sad to see Wenger’s team flop this way after last season’s performance. RVP’s absence can’t be the only reason – if Fergie’s United is the same with or without him, then why not Arsenal? If one were to put van Persie back in the Gunners’ lineup, I am certain they would not be much better off. One commentator mentioned confidence as the issue, but that concept goes hand-in-hand with motivation, and that, my friends, is the manager’s job.
Saturday, November 3, 2012, 8:45AM EST
Arena: Old Trafford (Manchester)
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
1:0 Robin van Persie (4′)
2:0 Patrice Evra (Asst. Wayne Rooney) (67′)
Half Time Stats:
5(4):2(0) shots (on goal)
2:1 yellow cards
0:0 red cards
Full Time Stats:
13(6) : 7(2) shots (on goal)
5:3 yellow cards
0:1 red cards
Freelance Sports Journalist
Kyck Ambassador for FC Dynamo Moscow