What a stupendously good game.
It says something that Man United don’t even have to perform well to make a good game between these two sides. For in this 2-2 draw, make no mistake, they did not perform at all. It’s fair to say that all four goals came from remarkably poor defending from both sides – though Ronaldo’s goal was perhaps the best of the lot.
The game started as cagily as could be expected, though Fox Sports’ coverage was abysmal for the first three minutes – believe me, it is a long time when all you are doing is watching a camera trailing Carlos Tevez. Nevertheless, that soon sorted itself out – with an awkward header from Adebayor off of a Clichy cross being the first half-chance of the match, the header fluttering wide.
Hleb was then pulled down by Vidic after dribbling into the United box, though Aliaksandr went down all too readily for it to be a convincing foul. The next opportunity Arsenal had came from a Fabregas free kick from the right tramline. Gallas spoke some hushed words into Fabregas’ ear, got himself back into the waiting list of attackers, and promptly met the freekick with a downward header that Edwin van der Sar did well to save with his legs.
Fair to say that the first half was marginally ours by a stroke, until injury time, when Rooney slipped in to meet a right-hand cross to make it 1-0 against the run of play. The ball came off of a sliding Gallas’ hand, and ironically, had he not made contact, we’d be seeing a goal-kick instead of the awful Rooney throwing his fists around.
1-0 at the break meant Arsenal had to come out with more abandon and chase the game, which is exactly what they did. On the 47th minute, Eboue lofted in a pass for Emmanuel Adebayor (who it seems only scores in fits and spurts), who’s shot was blocked by the onrushing van der Sar. Evra moved to the byline to clear, only for Sagna to show some genuine, desperate brilliance. The blonde-locked fullback, in one movement, slid in and sent the ball past Adebayor, past the defenders, into the path of Fabregas on the penalty spot, who calmly slotted in past Ferdinand for 1-1.
It’s Fabregas’ celebration that really shows what a theatre the Emirates has become. Sure, fancy camera-work helps, but while it is still finding its historical feet to perhaps one day compare (give it a decade or two) to Highbury, Old Trafford, Anfield, etc, at the moment it’s still impressing in the drama capacity.
From then on, it was Arsenal’s dominance that was evident. Fabregas continued to do what he’s done all season, outshining the anonymous Hargreaves and spiteful Anderson to keep possession, as Arsenal began to look dangerous. As in the Anfield game, though, in spite of the possession, our opponents looked dangerous on the break (and my god, do I not like corners…), with Rooney and Giggs both missing chances.
Arsenal were bossing the terms of play until multiple substitutions were made. While Anderson was being taken off for Michael Carrick, Arsene Wenger substituted Gilberto for Eboue, Walcott for Hleb and Eduardo for Rosicky. Eboue’s absence was evident when United took the lead on the 81st minute. With Walcott in his place instead, the young English midfielder failed to track Evra’s run – Saha received Rooney’s ball, and fed in the left back’s brilliant run, who squared it for Ronaldo to finish simply – once again, against the run of play, but take nothing away from that goal’s construction. The pass-and-move was something we had been trying to pull off the whole match, and instead it was Ronaldo that got to finish off such a move instead.
And so with (what would be) 12 minutes remaining, Arsenal found themselves 2-1 down at home. Even with their record of scoring so many goals in the last 15 minutes of their matches, it is always difficult to see where a goal is coming from, especially against a team like Man Utd, who started a lot of passing around the defence and keep-ball. Eduardo had a half chance when he volleyed wildly over from the left – but it was down the left hand side that glorious reprieve came. Clichy bombed down the left flank, dodging two tackles, before crossing in for an onrushing trio of Gallas, Adebayor and Walcott. What followed took form in a total blur. The ball finally found Walcott, who – too square for a reasonable shot on goal – desperately bunted a ball across goal. The ball found Gallas, who volleyed at goal, seemed to be saved by van der Sar, which found Walcott, who shot – shot blocked – came back to Walcott who shot again – shot blocked, before Walcott tripped over his own feet.
Suddenly, it became evident that Gallas, after his own shot, had run yelling and screaming with arm raised triumphantly back towards Wenger. Fabregas picked Walcott up from his trip and embraced the young midfielder, Flamini joined in the huddle and Eduardo jogged back to centre circle pumping his fists. The commentators were bemused, the crowd was ecstatic – what had actually happened? The linesman had awarded an equaliser, but this wasn’t some rugby union game where bizzare rules mean a penalty try is awarded out of nothing – goals actually have to happen.
In comes the replay, and bloody hell, will Gallas ever score a more important goal? To repeat, Walcott bunted the ball towards Gallas, who placed the ball on the volley brilliantly between Ferdinand and van der Sar – the goalie only managing to paw it away after it had crossed a full meter over the line. Brilliantly spotted by the assistant referree – I can remember in previous seasons decisions like that going against us dramatically – here, that did not happen. Gallas wheeled away ecstatically, and can bask in being the hero of the hour.
Final whistle, and a draw in the last minute against your arch-rivals will always feel like a win. Just ask Tottenham last season. Third-Gen player ratings as follows:
- Almunia – 6.5: Man Utd were limited in their chances, but like the Anfield game, were dangerous when presented with them. Almunia did not exert as much authority as he did against Liverpool – though had two tidy saves from long distance, and cut out a cross well.
- Sagna – 7.5: Kept Giggs relatively quiet, was hard in the tackle and did not make any critical errors. His shining moment came in his sliding assist to feed Fabregas for the first equaliser – as desperate as Hleb’s against Liverpool was brilliant.
- Clichy – 7: Perhaps an even tougher ask to mark Ronaldo, and has had that kid in his pocket for two seasons running now. Lost his footing which opened up the defence for the first goal, but caused havoc with his cross in the match’s dying seconds which eventually saw Gallas net the late equaliser.
- Toure – 7: No noticable mistakes – the two goals came because of mistakes out wide, and is looked both elegant and bustling when running in attack. A lion in defence, as usual.
- Gallas – 8: Tied with Flamini but Man of the match by virtue of hitting the winner, Gallas and Toure both commanded the central defence brilliantly, and the captain really seems to be hitting his straps in the big games. Passionate and gutsy.
- Eboue – 7: Poor in patches, excellent in others, particularly in the first half. Has developed a noticeable aura to his shuffling dribble, and his absence was felt when Evra burst through to cross for Ronaldo.
- Rosicky – 6: His swashbuckling technique and skill on the ball are always a joy to watch, but currently he’s struggling to give the side a real impetus. Tried to have a shot or two, but was closed down often. A quiet game.
- Fabregas – 7.5: His usual, effective self – was mostly responsible for Arsenal’s large portion of possession throughout the match, and bossed the midfield where Hargreaves and Anderson were anonymous. A good finish, and a good mouth-off to Ferdinand at the end.
- Flamini – 8: If ever there was going to be a reason United would struggle, it was because of this man. They have yet to encounter his style of play in the league, and he hassled and hurried their midfield with bite and authority in the tackle. It is to United’s credit they did not panic too much.
- Hleb – 6.5: There were moments when he had the proverbial magnets in the boots, but it’s becoming harder to tell whether he prefers a 4-5-1 or a 4-4-2 with another striker to feed. Had a reasonable game, but not the same impact as at Anfield.
- Adebayor – 6: I’m a huge fan of Ade, but he has left his scoring boots off somewhere else since he ran rampant at Spurs and Derby. Not his best match at all, but did give Ferdinand and Vidic plenty to worry about with some speedy chases after long balls.
- SUBS: Gilberto – 5.5: Did not see enough of the ball to make any real impact – is usually brought on to stabalise the match, but a goal a piece went in instead.
- Eduardo – 5: Still yet to adjust to the English game, but didn’t have much time to make a real impact in the game, bar one volley that, had it not gone wildly over, would have been quite spectacular.
- Walcott – 7: The impact player troubled United’s central pair with his pace, and managed to slip in the ball for Gallas’ equaliser in the end. Still very nervy in his finishing, though.
The point favours us more than it does Man Utd – given that we still have the extra game to play. However, Chelsea have rejoined the title race with an expected win over Wigan. It will be interesting to see how long Avram Grant can keep things running as they are.
After the match, Wenger was pleased with the character of the side – and without resorting to cliché, that was one hell of a gutsy performance out there. Wenger said:
“There’s something special in this side that you don’t see at first because it is a team who attracts you more by the technical ability. But if you look well into the side there is some resilience that is well hidden. There is some character that is well hidden because it is all disguised by the fact that it looks easy. The team has easy technique, you know? But there is a lot of technique in there.“
The other manager, Alex Ferguson, has instead gone on the road of hypocrisy, mouthing off the referree and complaining about the ‘hostile Emirates atmosphere’. Two things, one: For once you cannot buy off a refferee and start complaining about it instead, a referree who clearly favoured United in the challenge, playing on whenever an Arsenal player was bungled over and rewarding fouls against Arsenal when a United player was merely touched.
Two: hostile environment? This coming from the manger of Man Utd at Old Trafford? If anything, it’s nothing to get too angry about – the Emirates still has not found it’s full voice compared to other stadia yet, but it really does come alive in the derby games. Enough about Red-Nose, anyway – the club acknowledge any complaints made, and even ejected one Arsenal fan yesterday in the away-seating area. The security does what it needs to.
In other quick blips that came out before the match started: Almunia has fended off Lehmann’s perfunctory criticisms on his performances, and The Gaurdian has a nice piece on ‘renaissance-Man’ Flamini. Edit: And of course, Arsenal drew an away match in the Carling Cup against Blackburn Rovers. A tough one for the youngsters, for sure…
What a match. Hope you enjoyed it – my relationship with my uncle is on tenterhooks once more – he really does not like it when I celebrate our late goals against his side. Such is life.