Date:Sunday February 17 2008
William Gallas stated before the game that though United are good, they are arrogant, too, 'they think they are better than they really are'. Well, a bit of a humble pie would serve him well after yesterday's humiliation as his performance was not sufficient for League One let alone the Champions League.
When I saw the starting line-up I thought oh my god. Arsenal started with Traore and Hoyte and we seemed to pass the chance of exploiting those weak links as Fergie left Ronaldo and Giggs out of the squad entirely and opted for Park and Nani of the wings. Though the latter should start ahead of Giggs now, surely it was a risk not putting them even on the bench?
Well, it wasn't as we turned out to be in inspired form. United absolutely tore into Arsenal from the very first moment, the flat performance of the Manchester derby only a distant memory. Anderson, Fletcher and Carrick immediately started to dictate proceedings and with their energy they ran rings around the slow Gilberto which left Fabregas totally isolated, along with Hleb who was marked very well by Brown (!).
But it was Rooney's return that really marked this performance. His movement and pace and agression and passing was simply too much for Touré AND Gallas who were chasing his shadow all afternoon.
The first goal came due to wonderful awareness from Rooney and Anderson. A Nani corner was headed backwards by under-pressure Vidic but before the ball could have found its way out, Anderson rose and headed it towards Rooney who turned it in, with his head again, from close range.
It gave the men in red an even greater lift and soon it was clear that Arsenal were on the brink of being stuffed. Fletcher and Anderson were first to every ball and they passed it well while Carrick's interceptions and his passing was a joy to behold. Arsenal's midfield, with two of their season's best performers in, was very pale by comparison, under pressure they always lost the ball quickly so it's no wonder they did not have a threatening attack during the entire first half.
And the second goal quickly arrived as Nani embarassed Hoyte down the left, crossed for Fletcher who beat Gallas to the ball, outmuscled our dear humble and never-arrogant Frenchman to put a clinical header past Lehmann. Dream stuff and it should have been much more before Nani put the final touch to an excellent 45 minutes' work. Rooney missed two great chances to increase the lead as he was simply too much for Arsenal's battered defence. However, his finishing was again wayward but on this occasion, this could be forgiven.
And when Anderson brought down a ball, passed it back to Carrick, there was a sense of inevitability as Michael looked around for a teammate. He found one, on the edge of the Arsenal box and he was not deterred by the fact that he, Nani, was 40 yards away: he simply picked him out with a glorious long ball that the winger chested down then fired home with impressive composure.
We saw in the past that Arsenal are very bad losers and I feared that they might turn nasty but the half-time came in a good time for them to calm down. How wrong I was.
It all started with Eduardo hacking down Nani with two feet up in the air, somehow escaping a red card. Then Eboue tried to split Evra in half and it was not his fault that he failed, rather Evra's agility was the culprit. He was not as lucky as Eduardo: Wiley was close and flourished the red card at once.
After that it was over as a contest. The first half was devastating, the second was humiliating as United were toying with the gooners whose increasingly desperate attempts to get someone carried off on a stretcher fortunately failed. Delicate passes, beautiful one-twos, great crosses and long balls, everything was on show and Jens Lehmann must be given credit as he prevented United from running up the score. Without him, it could have been 8 or 9.
Nani kept himself entertained by switching wings often to ensure neither Traore nor Hoyte ever forgets this evening. He beat them at will, it seemed he can't be tackled. And they certainly couldn't in the 74th minute when, with Anderson and Rooney already off the pitch, he once again set out to tease Hoyte a bit, then crossed in and Fletcher, whom substitute Flamini completely lost at the far post, headed in from close range.
Saha could have scored two and Anderson came close, Park had a chance but United stopped at four. And the final part of the game wasn't really about goals. Nani doing keepy-uppies with a horde of Arsenal players chasing him, clearly trying to kill him... Hoyte pushed him but he still had the ball and only Flamini's reckless challenge deprived him of that, finally. Some moments later he was fouled by Gallas then, when Wiley turned away, kicked from behind by the sneaky Frenchman who got away with it so he won't get the three-match ban he would deserve for the utter disgrace he was all evening.
But in the end, Arsenal's petulance made it all sweeter, with Adebayor booked for diving when he came on... It was a devastating performance without Carlos Tevez, Ryan Giggs, Owen Hargreaves and Cristiano Ronaldo. One-man team, eh? Are we not good enough then Mr. Gallas? A little humble pie (well, a lorry of humble pie, in fact) will serve you well.
Date:Sunday February 17 2008
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