Manchester United tore former rivals Arsenal apart without getting out of second gear in a game which ended with a deceptively close scoreline.
Naturally all the pre-match intrigue related to Robin van Persie playing his old club for the first time – would he score? would be celebrate if he scored? how would the fans that used to idolize him treat him? – yes, no and distastefully being the answers to those questions.
The Arsenal fans, as fickle a bunch as you’re ever likely to come across, broke out their “Stoke-style” songbook by interspersing verses of “You’re a c***” and “She said no” – a chant used by all their major rivals during van Persie’s time at Arsenal. It must be hard seeing the person who dumped you out with their younger, better, more attractive, more successful new partner whilst you’re left gawping at the drunken impotent mess that you picked up at 2:59am as the club was shutting, just so you didn’t have to go home alone (take a bow Olivier Giroud).
In any event, van Persie punished Arsenal for their staggering lack of ambition over the last few years inside 3 minutes as Valencia flicked a ball on for Rafael to stride after down the right hand side. Rafeal’s cross was mis-kicked by Vermaelen and RvP dispatched a low shot into the far corner of the net. Far from the exuberant celebrations that marked his previous 9 goals for United, he merely stood there with his hands up – a gesture towards Arsenal, and a mark of class.
Arsenal rallied, and enjoyed a spell of possession for the next 10 minutes, but failed to conjurer even one shot on target and therein lies their problem. They’ve sold (with or without a choice) all the players that used to turn this passing bore-fest into a productive end product. Where was Fabregas to drive play foward? Where was Nasri to cut inside and run at our back for? Where was van Persie to finish these moves? They’ve all left, and except for RvP as yet, they’ve all won silverware at their new teams.
United carved a few more half chances throughout the rest of the first half, content to hit Arsenal with pacy counterattacks after dispossessing them during their almost-never-ending-passing-moves, and won a penalty just before the break as Cazorla raised his arms to block a cross from Ashley Young. Rooney stepped up confidently, but skewed his shot wide left leaving United just the one goal to the good in a half they had dominated.
This was not Manchester United v Arsenal of the late 90’s / early 2000’s – this was Manchester United v <insert name of any average team that looks Europa league bound> – Arsenal looked star-struck, a point exemplified by competition-to-play-in-the-team-for-a-game-winner André Santos asking for van Persie’s shirt as they were trooping off towards the changing rooms at half time. Whilst true that it’s not uncommon for players to exchange shirts at half time, it’s usually done well off the pitch away from cameras, and certainly not with the an ex-player of your now employer who happens to have scored to put you behind in the game. Another damning example of the mentality that runs though Arsenal these days that they are just pleased to be part of the circus, and no longer contenders for ring-leader.
United should have doubled their lead immediately after the break as the ponderous Vermaelen was dispossessed by his own feet leaving van Persie to square the ball to an on-rushing Valencia who miskicked it from 5 yards out.
United did eventually double their lead with a header from Evra after 67 minutes which he had no right to score given man-mountains Vermaelen and Mertesacker were nearby. However it was a case of when and not if. United had been knocking on the door repeatidly all game, had had the ball in Arsenal’s net 4 times (2 adjudged offside) and had still yet to concede a single shot on target.
Things went from bad to worse for Arsenal a few minutes later as just-back-from-his-wink-wink-nudge-nudge ‘injury’ Jack Wilshere received a second yellow for a late challenge on Evra. Given the young gunner had gone through England team-mate Tom Cleverley from behind in the first half with a challenge that could easily have been a red, he could have no complaints.
Bemusedly, having seen their team create nothing, concede chance after chance, and generally look at least one tier of the league below United, the gooners fans then spent ten minutes chanting “We want our Arsenal back” then followed it with “We love you Arsenal, we do”. Either you love the Arsenal you’re watching, or you want the old one back, presumably because you think it was better (it was).
Arsenal finally managed their first shot on target in the 91st minute and scored with the very last kick of the game as Cazorla curled a shot from the edge of the box past the diving De Gea who was fuming when he got up. Although the match was won to all intents and purpose at that point, it’s still disappointing to concede another goal in stoppage time at the end of a game we should have seen out easily, making it twice in one week when coupled with the league cup exit at the hands of Chelsea on Wednesday.
A final score of 2-1 couldn’t be further from a true representation of the this game. United dominated, and with better finishing could have easily won 6-0. Arsenal are a poor team in decline with no end in sight as long as their best players keep leaving for pastures new.
Draws for Chelsea and City saw United go top of the league, just over a quarter of the way through the season.