Arsenal 2 (Fabregas 47, Gallas 90) Man Utd 2 (Gallas og 45, Ronaldo 82)
Mission accomplished. Having avoided anything to do with the football for over 24 hours, I was able to sit down yesterday afternoon and watch the entire game without an inkling as to what would happen.
And what a game it turned out to be. In the first half, the teams all but cancelled each other out, with Arsenal claiming most of the possession and shading the match, but United looking dangerous on the break, especially from crosses.
Chances were fleeting at either end. Gallas had a header well saved, while Tevez missed a cross and Giggs poked wide after Sagna had left the ball. The warning signs were there, but on the stroke of half time Brown shrugged off Hleb, fed Ronaldo, who whipped in an excellent cross. Rooney made space, scuffed his shot, but it deflected of Gallas’ arm and into the corner. It was a scrappy goal (all the more ironic then that Hargreaves complained that our goals were scrappy).
It felt like a smash and grab, and the half time break seemed to invigorate the team. The leveller came early in the second half, beginning with Hleb’s excellent work – facing his own goal on the edge of the area, he tempted players into tackling him, occupying them and then feeding Fabregas who began the break. Eboue’s superbly chipped pass found Adebayor, and although his shot was saved, Sagna did brilliantly to hook the ball back into Cesc’s path. Faced with only Ferdinand on the line, the little Spaniard coolly slotted into the corner for his eleventh of the season.
What followed what bizarre. Fabregas ran over to celebrate with Wenger, but for some unknown reason, the fourth official stopped him. Petty, to say the least.
For half and hour the game ebbed and flowed, as both teams hunted for the win that would dent the confidence of the other. Rooney missed the best chance, heading wide when I was convinced he’d bury it, while Hleb and Rosicky fired off target.
Then the changes were made. Eboue, Hleb and Rosicky came off to be replaced by Walcott, Gilberto and Eduardo. The commentators mentioned how Walcott, playing down the right, may not track Evra as Eboue had done, and that prophecy came true eight minutes from time. In fairness, Evra made the same run in the corresponding fixture last season, and it was a superb run, but he was left unchecked, and with Almunia trying to close him down, he calmly passed across the goal for Ronaldo to slot home.
I’ll be honest – I thought that was it. But this team don’t give up easily, and in the dying seconds Clichy embarked on a run down the last hand side, and curled in a delightful ball (not a long pump, Alex), Walcott fluffing it at the far post. The ball dropped to Gallas, who volleyed in a stunning finish from a tight angle, Van der Sar saving from well behind the line.
And so 2-2 it finished. Equalising so late made it feel like a victory, but most importantly it kept us top of the league, still with that game in hand. And with the late equaliser history was made – the team are now 25 games unbeaten in all competitions – a new club record. The upcoming fixtures give no reason why this cannot be extended considerably further.
Ferguson and Anderson will be mentioned another time, because I’d much rather concentrate on the positives – it was an enthralling game, generally played in a much better spirit than normal, with both teams genuinely wanting to win while trying desperately to nullify the considerable threat of the other.
As for the player performances, I actually thought Sagna had one of his poorest matches so far – a couple of times he very nearly let Giggs in, and on other days his mistakes would’ve cost goals, but he did superbly for the first equaliser so it is perhaps churlish to criticise.
I don’t think Almunia was that bad – he was decisive, and while coming out for the second goal may have been the wrong decision, at least it was a decision he made.
Eboue was okay, Adebayor is struggling a touch but trying hard, Gallas and Toure are beginning to understand each other, while Clichy is superb bombing up and down the left flank. Rosicky and Hleb especially can unlock defences in an instant, Flamini ran his socks off yet again, and what more can you say about Cesc Fabregas?
Liam Brady once scored nine goals by the end of October. Cesc had ten. Now he has eleven. And he’s years short of his peak.
I’ll leave you with that thought.