By Ollie Irish
Arsenal 1-3 Man Utd. Or, Fergie 1-0 Wenger. United got their tactics spot-on, Arsenal didn’t.
This must have made very depressing viewing for all Gunners, especially as it was spookily similar to last year’s Champions League semi final at the Emirates, when United crushed their hosts on the counter-attack.
I don’t like to parrot the “Arsenal play lots of pretty football with no end product” cliché so beloved of Alan Shearer and other BBC pundits (mostly because it’s not true) but yesterday it was tempting to break it out. Except, Arsenal didn’t even play much pretty football. They didn’t play at all, simply because United’s players played as a team, for each other. They wanted to win more than Cesc and co., and – what do you know!? – they did win.
Alan Hansen, one of the Beeb’s better pundits, frequently emphasises just how hard United work, and it’s not only true but often overlooked – it’s not stepovers and star players that have filled Old Trafford’s trophy room, but United’s superlative work ethic, as personified these days by Darren Fletcher (an Arsenal friend of mine today called him the most influential player in the league, and I see his point – opposition managers change their tactics based on whether Fletch’s name is on the team sheet; he does the work of two midfielders).
Hard work, then. That is the secret to Fergie’s continued success. Except it’s not a secret, is it? Denilson might have run himself into the ground yesterday, but, er, for some reason, he decided not to. Shameful really.
And what’s happened to Gael Clichy? The full-back’s lack of match fitness and confidence meant that he made Nani look world-class, though the Portuguese did also have one of his best games for United – his pass for Wayne Rooney’s goal, not an easy one to make, was inch-perfect. As Mike Phelan said afterwards, it seems for Nani that “the penny has dropped”. About time too. As for Manuel Almunia, Arsenal’s Fawlty Tower, he’s shot. Wenger needs a new first-choice keeper, and it’s not Lukasz Fabianski.
What does this mean for the title race? Not a lot, as Arsenal could still go to Stamford Bridge next weekend and win. They’ll need to work a damn sight harder than this though.