MANCHESTER UNITED 3
Almunia (og) 33, Rooney 37, Park 52
Arsenal and Manchester United went into Sunday’s encounter – billed as the biggest of the season by Sir Alex Ferguson – with one point separating them, on the exact same goal difference and adopting the same formation. Although much of the talk immediately prior to the match was concerned with the respective centre-halves, it was further up the pitch where the huge difference between the sides was witnessed.
The Gunners were forced to play Andrey Arshavin as a central striker and although at times the Russian gave Wes Brown a torrid time – especially when running at him at pace, twisting and turning the United centre-half – there was no clinical end product to his game. Arshavin wriggled away from Brown on two occasions in the first half, placing his shot just wide at 0-0 and on the second occasion, completely sliced his effort. Compare this to the way that Wayne Rooney dispatched his 100th Premier League goal and the difference was there for all to see. Arshavin may not be accustomed to playing in a central striking position but his general play was good, it was his finishing that simply let him down.
This was indicative of Arsenal’s play all afternoon. At times they created opportunities, such as a great chance for Alex Song, but never looked like troubling Edwin van der Sar. There was always too much build up, that one touch too many enabling the United defence to get back and regroup. United on the other hand were devastating on the counter-attack and took their chances early when they arrived. During the first half Nani provided his best performance in a United shirt and was far too much for Gael Clichy to handle. Having terrorised the full-back, the Portuguese provided an end product complete with perfect decision making. The way the two United wide players linked up with Rooney made their performances far more effective than their Arsenal counterparts Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky.
The differences between the two attacking performances were evident for all to see but where much of the contest was won was in the centre of midfield. The combination of Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher successfully crowded out Arsenal when not in possession and when in possession they were fantastic. With both Carrick and Scholes in the team, United have two players whose vision and technique is of the highest standard. The fact United have two players with this ability means it is increasingly difficult for the opposition to stop United’s free-flowing football. Countless times either Carrick or Scholes were able to find Rooney’s feet or sweep the ball out wide with Arsenal unable to stem the flow. Once again Fletcher was able to get up to support Rooney and his constant harrying meant that the likes of Cesc Fabregas in the Arsenal engine room was never able to get into his stride.
On many occasions a lack of experience has been highlighted for Arsenal’s inability to achieve success and this was again apparent for all to see in Sunday’s match with the Premier League champions’ superiority all over the pitch in what was a performance to announce their title credentials.