The Premiership season only really starts when this fixture takes place. Previous fixtures have given us “Tunnelgate,” “Pizzagate” a championship-deciding fixture and even an all out brawl. The make up of both teams has changed over the years, and the departures of Keane and Vieira has removed some of the needle from this fixture but these games still remain a highlight of the season.
For both teams this game was going to be the first serious examination of their title aspirations for the coming season. United have had an indifferent start to a season. The one nil loss to Burnley at Turfmoor seemed to point to a team missing the goal-scoring prowess of Ronaldo. Arsenal started the season in a similar fashion to last year like world-beaters. Some of the football played against Everton, Portsmouth and Celtic was out of this world.
This game will not go down as a classic but it was certainly full of incident and excitement. The first half went the way of Arsenal as Arshavin threatened to run riot.
Arshavin had a great chance when Ben Foster flapped at a Van Pierse corner. He placed his shot towards the top corner only for it to drift wide. Almost immediately afterwards Darren Fletcher slid into Arshavin and brought him down in the box. It looked like a penalty but Dean was close and said no. Arsenal continued on the offensive with both Arshavin and Denilson finding space. Arshavins goal was just reward for Arsenal’s domination of the first half. Foster should of done better with the shot especially for a keeper on the short list for England’s number one for next years World Cup. Vidic came close to levelling straight away but as both teams came in at half time Wenger would certainly have been the happier man. Too many United players were having no impact on the game including the captain Ryan Giggs.
The second half started much the same as the first half with Arsenal looking livelier. If Ferguson dispensed the hair-dryer at half time, it was not having the desired affect. The first clear cut chance of the second half went to Arsenal. Arshavin skinned John O’Shea and sent in a low cross to Van Pierse. It looked a certain goal until Foster stuck out a leg to deflect it away. This is when the United fight back started, fuelled by the man who looked so pedestrian in the first half Ryan Giggs.
Giggs supplied the cross that put Rooney one on one with Alumnia. Rooney got to the ball first and Alumnia took him down . This time Rooney took the penalty, not Carrick who had missed against Burnley. He sent Almunia the wrong way and tucked the ball away in the right. The momentum had swung United’s way.
Although the next chance was to go to Arsenal. Van Pierse swung in a free kick, which thudded against the crossbar. Although this was obviously a cross rather then a shot, it had Foster scrambling. One minute later United had a free kick from a similar position, which Giggs swung in. The cross was put into the right area but it is debatable if a United player would have got a head to it if Diaby had not deflected it straight into the corner of his own goal. Although Diaby was at fault it was really a ball Almunia should have come and claimed. However, there was more drama still to come. When the board was held up to indicate 5 minutes of injury time, it seemed to give the Arsenal players a lift. They felt they could get something out of this game that their efforts deserved. Van Pierse did put the ball in the net with almost the last kick of the game but it was ruled out for offside. Replays did show that Gallas was offside when the ball was crossed in. Wenger then lost his head at this perceived injustice on the sideline and was sent to the stands. We then had the comic moment of Wenger standing on top of the dugout surveying the pitch as United fans all around abused him. It seemed a ridiculous decision from the referee as the game was almost over.
So what did we learn from this game? I think both teams will challenge for the title again this year. United had the strength and experience to close out the game but Arsenal where unlucky. I would not be surprised to see the result reversed when the sides meet again this season. One thing is for sure, it will be as always an eventful game.