Friday, November 07, 2008

Arsenal vs Manchester United

pics from:, BBC

This is it. The ultimate Battle Royale!! Although this year’s installment features the weakest and even softest Arsenal team to take on their traditional rivals. Injuries and a needless suspension have denied Arsenal a chance to battle on equal terms but Arsenal’s opponents will not care too much for that as they will go out looking to inflict maximum damage, such is the nature of these games.


Until Wenger came to England, Man Utd were the undisputed kings of English football. On top of that, all decisions went Manchester’s way and when Wenger questioned that, it led to Ferguson taking a cheap shot at Arsene. Back then, Ferguson would have hardly expected that the French man from Japan would cause him so much headache. But after winning a glorious double in 1998, Arsenal were pegged back in their effort to sustain repeated title challenges. Three title less seasons followed but after Arsenal beautifully did the double in 2001/02, it looked like they could finally maintain their dominance and even emulate Manchester. But the following season, Arsenal let Man Utd overtake them in the end as Arsenal’s weakness to defend leads was highlighted. Also, in that 2002/03 Arsenal suffered their first hurdle against Everton when a 16 year old Rooney stunned them in the final minute.

The following season Arsenal did the impossible and went unbeaten through the season but even then, they allowed Manchester to put a dent on their achievement in their 1-0 F.A Cup loss. Things were looking good for Arsenal at the start of the 2004/05 until their visit to Old Trafford. Man Utd were well back of Arsenal and Ferguson tried to rally his team by saying that all of England were expecting Manchester to stop Arsenal. Well, stop they did but not by playing football but by kicking and cheating their way to a 2-0 win. A year earlier as well Man Utd tried to cheat a win courtesy of Ruud Van but his penalty miss was followed by a dishing out of emotions by Keown and company. Unfortunately a year later (Oct 24, 2004) Manchester completed their cheating job and the level of injustice felt by the Arsenal players led to some friction in the tunnel after the game. Up to this day, Ferguson is still waiting for an apology and we are waiting for the full truth to come out. Nonetheless, that defeat led to another Arsenal title bid to falter. Arsenal got revenge in a very subtle way at the end of the season in their penalty shoot-out F.A Cup win over Man Utd. Earlier in the season, Ferguson’s side had stopped Arsenal by kicking the Gunners and stopping them from playing. On the other hand, Arsenal stopped Man Utd by allowing them to play as much football as they wanted. Man Utd dominated possession and freely shot at Arsenal’s net as many times as their hearts desired. It turned out Arsenal’s tactic that day was to give Manchester the illusion of control and were willing to wait until the Red Devils tired themselves out. After 120 minutes, Man Utd were still standing and it required a penalty save from Jens to allow Patrick Vieira to give Arsenal another F.A Cup and as it stands, their last trophy.

In the 2005/06 season, Manchester once again played spoilers to the team at the top, this time it was Chelsea. Both Arsenal and Manchester were fading in the shadows of Chelsea’s monetary constructed team. The summer of 2006 proved crucial for Manchester’s fate. After Ronaldo’s wink at Rooney’s dismal in the World Cup, it looked like that Ronaldo would never play at Manchester or in England again. But Ferguson ensured that didn’t happen and the following season, Ronaldo lifted Manchester to another league title. Although, Arsenal did their best that season to give their rivals something to think about by winning both their league fixtures. In the first game between the two at Old Trafford, Adebayor scored the crucial goal to give Arsenal their first of the season as the Gunners started the campaign winless in 3 games. On the other hand, Manchester had opened the season up with 4 straight league wins only to be stopped by Arsenal. In January 2007, Arsenal once again defeated Man Utd in dramatic fashion when Eboue crossed (no this is not a typo) for Henry to head home the winner. The game was the last time that Henry would play against Manchester in an Arsenal shirt and as it stands, it was the last time that Arsenal won a game against them.


No Adebayor or Van Persie present for Saturday while Rooney is well rested for Manchester and they are at full attacking strength with Tevez, Ronaldo, Berbatov and Nani. One would consider that this was a chance for Bendtner and Vela to show what they can do but Arsene might leave Bendtner up front on his own. The tactic has the danger of leaving Bendtner completely isolated and not giving Manchester’s defense any worries. In that case, Nasri might be the only real game breaker as Cesc would be too bogged down by doing everything on his own. There are no real leaders in the team and even though he is only 21, Cesc is still the only player in who can vocally lift the team. So it is crucial for Arsenal to start off positively. If there was a game when Arsenal needed the full support of the home crowd, this would be it.

Saying this is a massive test is an understatement. The devil himself is personally coming to London to conduct this young Arsenal squad’s baptism with fire.

No comments: