Man United 2 (Rooney pen 59, Diaby og 64) Arsenal 1 (Arshavin 40)
I missed Saturday’s game as it was the last day of our club’s cricket season, but having listened to it on the radio, and now watched the whole match in retrospect, I finally feel in a position to comment. There is so much to focus on from the match, but let’s start with the actual football first.
United were poor throughout, and we were in complete control of the first half without ever creating all that much. Eventually, seconds after he should have had a penalty for Fletcher’s clattering, Arshavin picked up the ball thirty yards out and smashed it past Foster, who should have done much better. That was how it stood at half time.
The second half improvement from United never came, and only Foster kept them in the game with a stunning save from Van Persie. Soon after, Rooney won a penalty when Almunia caught him – he picked himself up and struck the equaliser home from the spot.
Van Persie then came close to restoring our lead, striking the crossbar with a free kick, before we gifted them the winner, Diaby heading home Giggs’ free kick when under no real pressure. We searched for an equaliser, but didn’t test Foster again until injury time, when Van Persie’s goal was correctly disallowed for offside against Gallas. Wenger was sent to the stands in the aftermath.
Now, you’ll notice I’ve been very factual there, not going into much detail for each of the flashpoints. Doing so would have made the match report an epic. Let’s look at the incidents in turn:
The Fletcher-Arshavin penalty
You won’t see many more clear cut penalties this season. Fletcher scythed into Arshavin in the box, only afterwards taking a piece of the ball before handling it for good measure. Anywhere other than Old Trafford it would be given every week.
Fortunately for Mike Dean, Wenger’s fury, and that of Arshavin, was mitigated moments later when he smashed in the opener. You could argue that this doesn’t make up for the penalty, that the Russian would have done the same later, but it was the same attack, and the goal we deserved came in due course. So although it was a dreadful decision by Dean, I don’t think it affected the result.
Let me preface this by saying – it was a penalty. However, the actions of Eduardo midweek, and Rooney on Saturday, were absolutely 100% identical. Both players charged into the box, reached the ball before the keeper and took a dive to the turf, expecting contact. The only difference was out of their control – Boruc withdrew his hands to make the dive crystal clear, while Almunia was not as savvy or quick in his reactions, and he made contact as Rooney collapsed to the turf.
It is a crucial difference, because it turns a dive into a dive that ends with a foul, and therefore the penalty is given (technically, the dive comes first, but that would be splitting hairs). I don’t have any qualms against the decision whatsoever.
What does wind me up is the polar opposite reaction by the media following the event. You could argue that most didn’t study the pictures closely enough to realise that Rooney was halfway down before reaching Almunia, but that isn’t true for everyone. Andy Gray pointed it out in his post match analysis, but instead of calling a spade a spade (which would be Rooney a diver, Almunia clumsy and daft), he praised the striker, citing it as clever play.
The hypocrisy of that statement is remarkable. And it gets worse – Tim Rich in the Independent of Sunday attempts to defend England’s favourite troll-a-like by hinting that diving is out of character:
“It is not in Rooney’s character to throw himself over a goalkeeper, but Wenger, called Dean’s award “Old Trafford-ish”.”
While suggesting that slights on Rooney’s character would be unfair, it does at least show awareness of his past by claiming it out of character to dive over a keeper. Certainly few will forget his swan dive over Sol Campbell that ended the Invincibles run in this very fixture five years ago. But to be aware of that fact and still to back him is double standards of the extreme kind, especially when you consider the lampooning of Eduardo, a player who really doesn’t have that kind of history.
Diaby’s own goal
I sympathise a little with Diaby here – clearly of the opinion that Rooney was lurking with intent behind him, he was offered no help by Almunia, who could have a) claimed it, or b) communicated the situation. That said, Diaby was certainly not blameless for a woefully misdirected header.
Irony of the day was the fact that Radio 5 were praising his performance throughout the match. Having seen the whole game, that statement is guff beyond imagination. He had a really really poor day. Cautioning six Arsenal players was incredible bearing in mind that I can barely remember a poor challenge, and it could hardly be for persistent fouling as United committed comfortably more offences (Fletcher six by himself, not including the penalty that wasn’t, and he escaped without a card).
Song and Gallas are the only two bad fould I can remember offhand – Van Persie seemed especially hard done by given that his challenge was almost identical to Fletcher’s on Arshavin.
And then there was the farcical scenes of the final moments that I’ll come on to shortly.
That said, despite his poor officialdom, I don’t believe he affected the result. The reason we lost was not the referee, it was that we capitulated from a poor position, handing United two goals they barely deserved. We have no-one to blame but ourselves.
The Wenger sending off
The most ridiculous event of the match was saved for last – following Van Persie’s disallowed goal, Wenger kicked an empty water bottle a few feet up the touchline and was duly sent to the stands by Dean, on the advice of fourth official Lee Probert.
Never mind the fact that dissent (for that is the worst it could be deemed as – had Wenger kicked the bottle at someone, it would have been a different story) carries only a yellow card for a player, it was enough for him to be dismissed by an official who knew exactly what the consequences would be.
There was nowhere for Wenger to go – Probert will have heard the disgusting chants he had to endure the entire match (the ‘Sit down you paedophile’ song has been a favourite with United fans for a decade now, for those who don’t know), but still thought it a smart idea to give the baying masses their target of hate. To his eternal credit, Wenger has never raised this chant as an issue, presumably because he knows it would ensure it would be sung at every ground, and he went and stood behind the dugout, surrounded by those same individuals, not batting an eyelid.
Eventually he was ushered down the tunnel, but the farcical nature of the situation has not gone unnoticed. Keith Hackett will by now have apologised to Wenger as promised, with Probert particularly chastised in the aftermath. Richard Bevan, LMA chief, says:
“Lee Probert totally failed to manage the situation and created a needless pressure point taking the focus away from the pitch in a big event with only a minute to go.”
However, the bigger issue is the horrendous nature of the chant itself. The FA has a core value of making football in this country a family friendly affair, and is justifiably proud of its record of stamping out racist nonsense. But it turns a blind eye to possibly the most vile song I’ve ever heard at any stadium. And these aren’t the actions of a mindless few – there are literally thousands belting out the song.
It isn’t like it has gone unnoticed – watch the live Sky coverage of Wenger being sent to the stands, and then watch the Match of the Day highlights of the same incident. The pictures are the same, but the sound isn’t – the BBC have deliberately tried to muffle the singing, presumably aware of how hideous it is.
So why is no-one acting? Until they do, the FA have their priorities hideously mixed up.