Nov 102008

Arsenal 2 (Nasri 22, 28) Man Utd 1 (Da Silva 90)

What a difference one performance can make. Written off ten days ago and again last weekend, we are once again being tipped to challenge for the title. Cesc summed it up perfectly after the game, saying just as the team aren’t world beaters this week, they weren’t rubbish last week. The guy talks like a seasoned pro, not someone still in the early stages of his career. Unbelievable.

The star of yesterday’s enthralling game, however, was Samir Nasri, who now has nearly twice as many goals as Hleb managed last season, adding to his tally with a brace of superb hits. The first showed great technique, firing a difficult ball towards goal, and his skill was rewarded by a touch of luck when it skimmed Neville and flew past Van der Sar. The second was a thing of beauty, a flowing passing move ending when Walcott dragged Vidic away with a clever run, Nasri exploited the space, Cesc found him and the young Frenchman lashed home. Glorious.

It was a game of numerous chances, and the scoreline could’ve been anything based on whoever could finish them off. They had an opportunity in the opening moments when Almunia handled a backpass, and then Rooney fired wildly over after a move that cut our defence open. At the other end, Bendtner failed to test Van der Sar with two great chances after fine crosses from Clichy and Nasri.

For all the criticism of Almunia, Van der Sar was having a nightmare in goal for United. Punching one cross only to Diaby on the penalty spot, he was a mistake waiting to happen, but on his right flank he had even more of a disaster. Like him or hate him, Gary Neville has had a great career, but he had an awful game yesterday, and such is Rafael’s clear talent that surely there is a changing of the guard going on there.

It was the young Brazilian right back who made the finish tense, scoring a sublime left footed volley (yes, he’s a right back), and chances are he’ll be featuring a lot more this season. He looks a real find, we have to admit that much.

There were more chances in the second half, Ronaldo contriving to miss a sitter just after Nasri’s second, and Almunia making a decent stop from Carrick, who was harshly booked for a genuine challenge on the keeper. Actually, Howard Webb didn’t have a great game, missing a penalty for United in the first half when Clichy handled, and one for Arsenal in the second when Nasri was pulled down. Also, despite a couple of harsh yellows, he inexplicably didn’t book Ronaldo for a deliberate handball.

But fortunately the referee didn’t dominate this game as some have this season. Instead, to everyone’s credit, two teams ran end to end at high pace for ninety minutes (plus six nervy added ones) before the match was over. On another day, Rooney would’ve had a couple and United would’ve won. On yet another day, the second half counter attacks would’ve ended with game clinching goals for Arsenal. Neither happened, and the 2-1 scoreline really doesn’t credit the attacking verve on display, from both teams.

And strangely, the match was played in a friendly spirit, both on the pitch and off it, Ferguson congratulating Wenger on both the win and the style of football played. Most odd.

Next up is a fun Carling Cup game against Wigan, where anything could happen, before a home game against Villa. It would be a waste to beat United and then drop points in the following game – these players need to fight this hard every week.

One final point – Gallas has his critics, but yesterday he was superb. And yes, he acted like a proper captain. It’s only taken a year and a half.

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