United continued their dream run of the past few weeks; the ten days has been compared to the famous period in 1999 in this Richard Williams piece, but let’s not elevate this to those levels just yet. However, yesterday’s performance — if not the string of them over the past ten days — could perhaps be termed the watershed moment of our season, if this leads us to something of significance, come May.
United, prior to the 4-0 win against Hull, were a stuttering side — huffing their way one game, blowing away teams in another, and getting thoroughly outplayed a few times too. There were solid reasons to think the side were disjointed and seemingly going nowhere. We had to see something that made us believe we were the real deal. And to Ferguson’s credit, considering the lack of reinforcements we got following our sale of Ronaldo, and the myriad injury worries in defence, he still held the side, keeping it in touching distance of Chelsea.
I was vocally critical of some of the decisions he made prior to this run. Even after Hull I was only guarded in optimism because — let’s face it — Hull are a rubbish team. The two-legged tie against City changed it somewhat. There was a sense of new-found urgency. But more than just urgency, there was cohesion that actually produced something tangible. Be it Tevez’s now ill-advised hand gestures, Garry Cook making a colossal tool out of himself, yet again, or the return of Ferdinand — albeit briefly — there was something that changed.
Significantly, the form of some of the lads over the past week are worthy of discussion. And that segues nicely to Sunday, and the Emirates Stadium.
The weird thing about the past few weeks has been the success of the 4-5-1/4-3-3. I think it’s weird because, other than the Carlos Quieroz days, when we could have a rotating forward four, this formation has always been our plan B. But here it was, employed by Ferguson with renewed success. It’s actually become a potent force. We destroyed City over two legs [sadly, I only got to watch them recorded] and gave Arsenal a nice, shall we say, rogering. But this has worked chiefly because Nani has suddenly emerged like a new signing, and a midfield trio of Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher have gelled superbly well. But — and wait for this — Rooney has played the role of a lone striker flawlessly.
Often we’ve seen him bogged down doing fruitless defensive duties, running around at the cost of being there when a chance presented itself up front, or just missing the percentage shots whenever he is there.
There are still those percentage misses — and he is no Ruud or Gerd Muller. What he has become is a potent mix of the old 18 year old marauding fearless kid and the understated maturity and intelligence age has brought upon him. And while we’ve groaned in frustration over the earlier half of this season at his ‘lack of form’ or mused if he’s actually regressed, here he was, silently mutating into a masterful performer on the big stage — causing pundits to scurry away, taking refuge in platitudes about United becoming a one man team now. Right; and, as was rightly mentioned in the Soccerlens Facebook page, that one man has been changing every few games.
Oh, and what about Arsenal? Well, they had a brief 10-15 minutes of dominance earlier in the first half. That was it.
I don’t want to gloat here. But here was a United side with a fair few things to prove, and throw right back at Wenger. The thinly veiled barbs at Fletcher [that somehow he was a proponent of anti-football, when his disciplinary record is comparable to, er, Fabregas], the myth that Arsenal are somehow above long-ball football [observe Arsenal carefully during their run to the Champions League final in 2006, and Arsenal yesterday when they pinged balls to Bendtner’s head when things weren’t rosy.] They play long balls like every other team in England. They do it less than others, and they certainly have no right to those self-righteous horses that Wenger thinks he deserves to mount. A little bit of focus on defending, a defensive midfielder who does not become the invisible man, are just some of the things he needs to work on to give his side that formidable look.
I wouldn’t go to the extent of calling this men vs boys. It was just a fine footballing lesson from a side that had its head firmly on the football, and minimal whining [another accusation made earlier]
This was also Nani’s best performance since that FA Cup 4-0 hiding of — you guessed it — Arsenal. [Surely you remember this outrageous bit of show boating that got the likes of Gallas all riled up?] Over the past few weeks his biggest weakness [his head] seems to be showing signs of being ironed out; be it maturity, as Ferguson pointed out, or a renewed run of games, long may it last.
Hopefully Arsenal can rebound from this and, as the manager said post-match, give Chelsea a battering next week.
Here’s his post match that I’ll leave you with. Watch it before it gets taken down:
PS: There is of course the strange comments from David Gill that I touched on in the preview yesterday. I hope to do a more detailed piece on it later today and possibly post it tomorrow. But till then, soak it up. Have a great Monday.