A Missed Opportunity For United
United were a little more than a minute away from breaking Arsenal's unbeaten run with a dogged performance at the Emirates.
Oh, god. Let's start with admitting that I would have signed if anyone had presented me a contract that this game will end in a draw. And I had even foretold it would be a stalemate but I had not foreseen this unbelievable heartbreak.
Fergie opted for an interesting 4-3-3 with Giggs, Hargreaves and Anderson to stifle Fabregas, Hleb and Flamini. The usual 4-2-3-1 was replaced by this strategy and I think it isolated Tevez a bit and deprived him of the chance of linking up with Rooney in the devastating manner which we've grown accustomed to.
As a result, the first half was pretty dull. Arsenal knocked the ball around well but they were toothless in front of goal whereas our counter-attacks rarely resulted in anything meaningful. One of these breaks found Giggs nipping in front of Sagna at the post but the Welshman was surprised by the chance and therefore spurned it.
Arsenal's best opportunity came when Anderson appeared to foul Hleb on the edge of the area: Fabregas whipped in the free-kick and Gallas headed straight at Van der Sar when he really should have done better.
Anderson and Hargreaves did very well to squeeze the life out of Arsenal so it's quite a shame that the Brazilian theatrically rolled around after Fabregas' late challenge which earned a booking for the Spaniard but gave us the blushes. Really, guy, these sort of antics are unnecessary, sort them out.
It was a bit of a shock when we took the lead thanks to Wayne Rooney and William Gallas. Ronaldo got the ball on the right, ran to the byline and sent in a low cross. Rooney mishit the ball but it deflected in from Gallas' arm.
After the break United tried to attack quickly and put Arsenal on the back foot. However, we managed to concede a stupid goal due to terrible sloppiness in defence and moments of panic came.
Arsenal found their rhythm after the equaliser and came forward relentlessly though they could not create clear-cut chances. United were struggling as we were clearly shocked by their quick goal and the manner of it. Fortunately, the back four was more or less solid while Hargreaves and Anderson gradually got back to harassing Fabregas and co., therefore we survived a long period.
After that it became just as even as in the first half. The best chance of the second 45 minutes fell to Rooney who headed wide from 12 yards after brilliant build-up play from himself and Ryan Giggs who started at the expense of Nani.
Wenger wanted to win the game: he introduced Walcott then Eduardo but it was United's sub Louis Saha who produced a moment of brilliance: he released Evra with a delightfull pass and the left-back, probably the most impressive United performer, cut the ball back from the onrushing Almunia and Ronaldo was left with the simple job of tapping it into the net from 6 yards.
Arsenal almost equalised when an otherwise harmless low cross was almost turned into his own net by Patrice Evra but it seemed we would comfortably survive these last few minutes. However, it did not go that way. After some truly horrible confusion in the box, the ball found the way into the net in stoppage time due to Gallas and to our defenders' incredible mistakes. Probably five of our players could have cleared the ball as it was bouncing this way and that in the penalty area...
All in all, a fair result but I can't help thinking what a great opportunity it was to break Arsenal's unbeaten record and take all the three points away. Both teams deserve their point but it is Arsenal who can be happier with it: their celebrations after the final whistle told that clearly. They passed yet another test I think: they've shown they have the resolve and determination not to collapse after a serious setback. Not many teams come back if United go up in the last 10 minutes...
The game itself did not live up to the hype: it was dreadful in the first half and very exciting in the second but hardly football magic. Our second goal was probably the only thing that really justified all the superlatives dished out before the match. Arsenal had more possession and more shots but we had the better chances - I will say again that it's a fair result.
But I can't help to be disappointed though I keep telling myself that at least our lads won't get carried away. This sucker punch ensures that they will maintain their concentration, won't rest on their laurels and underestimate other opponents. They will fight out of sheer anger over this late goal. I salute both teams for serving up an exciting game and hope for a thrilling title race. And another note: all sequences end sooner or later so it's better that our winning run ended with a highly creditable draw at the Emirates.