Arsenal 2 - 4 United (panjang nie)


Written on 2/03/2005 09:28:00 am by sikapitan

Have anyone seen that weird United Nations-type football movie called Victory starring Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine? The finale was what you would typify as cliché sports-based movie plot. Plenty of goals, a few dirty tackles, and heroes facing defeat, sudden burst of ingenuity, or stoic heroic by the keeper. It’s the same for any other sports related movie, especially one made by the Americans. They love their actions, and however unrealistic it might be, it makes for great entertainment. But every time we watch one of these movies, no matter what sport’s being played, we always had a sinking feeling that life could never be this good.

Fear not my friends, for on Wednesday morning Man United has proven that reality is better than fantasy. It’s hard to tell you what I felt this morning. If the last encounter between Arsenal and Man United at O.T left me feeling quite happy, this one simply made me ecstatic to the point of dancing naked alone in my room with the god-awful-overplayed Benassi hit Satisfaction pumping out of the computer. The fact that I don’t really dig that song made it even more obvious that football ecstasy can really overwhelm your senses better than the white-tablets type.

The pre-match hype of course centered on the psy-ops warfare employed by Fergie which was duly replied by the normally cool Whiner in a definite un-cool manner. Much talk has gone about how United won the last encounter because they bullied Arsenal and played rough (points which I readily admitted in my entry-can’t remember the date). Whiner went on about how Ruud is a big cheater, while ignoring the almost comical Vieira dive. But the point is that United can’t beat Arsenal without cheating. How it must have hurt his pride to see his team totally out-played, tactically and technically, by a side he claimed to be on a decline (remember that overzealous “shift in the power balance” crap two seasons ago).

Even before the kick-off the tone was set for an explosive encounter with some aggro (British football slang) going on in the tunnel. I didn’t see that part until later during Sportscenter. It was nothing more than verbal sparring, but Vieira looked suitably tongue-tied when taunted by Keano. You don’t see mates sticking for you like that anymore in this world. Keano is as United as the grass of Old Trafford. What was obvious during the pre-kick off was the lack of handshake between the two captains. Surprisingly, they weren’t involved in any scuffle during the game itself. But the fire has been lit, and the fireworks are ready to go off.

Right from the kick-off, the tackles went in quick and fast, with referee Graham Poll stamping down on every minor incident to ward off any more aggressive play from both sides. A few minutes in and we got ourselves the first major incident. The ball dropped on to the edge of the penalty area, with both Ashley Cole and Keano running towards it in different directions. Cole is a wonderful player, IMHO, who has speed and tenacity to be the best left-back in the world. But his appalling dive that even the Highbury faithful found unimpressive showed his character in particular, Arsenal’s in general. They’re all good players, with some measure of greatness, but their attitude is deplorable.

On the 8th minute Arsenal broke the deadlock. From a corner, Vieira showed what a good player he really is by using his natural body strength to ward off Heinze, who’s no softie either. It’s hard to blame anyone for that goal, except perhaps to point out that United does lack the height advantage and that for big games it is crucial to have people standing on your far post. When the ball went into the back of the net, I was suitably down. I saw that Arsenal was up for it, and from the beginning posed threat to United’s goal. But it wasn’t long before United equalized. Scholes played a superb ball on to the path of Rooney, who showed tremendous vision and maturity to take it on first time and placed it on the path of Giggs. Giggs has come under criticisms from me in the past, but when he’s playing like he’s playing this past one month, he’s one of the best in the world. He took it with great technique, and though it took a big deflection it was just reward for great approach play.

The game turned up a notch, with both sides attacking with verve and defending doggedly. Arsenal’s second came not long after. Henry was allowed to control the ball and laid it on the path of the impressive Bergkamp who beat Carroll at his near post- something that every football manual says shouldn’t happen. I thought United were going to capitulate, especially considering the form of Bergkamp who taunted the United backline with superb vision and control. But Rooney was proving the bright spark for United in the first half, battling hard with Campbell and Cygan. He also showed his aggressive attitude, and though I do agree that it is part of his game that makes him so powerful, I do think that Fergie and the men around him should make sure the boy got his feet on the ground.

In the second half, it was much of the same, with both sides going tit-for-tat. United started to control the game and passed the ball better all over the pitch. When you pass the ball around a lot, and you do it well, it frustrates your opponent. And that is what Vieira must have felt when he tackled the ever-improving Fletcher near the halfway line. Keano, sensing opportunity, quickly dispatched the free-kick to Rooney, who then turned and laid the ball into Giggs who was coming infield. A superb first touch followed by a sublime through ball opened up Arsenal, with Ronaldo at the receiving end. In the past, he would have muffed the shot, either over elaborating or blasting it to the stands. But he has discovered his form of late, and the finish was evident of that. A left foot shot to the far post which left Almunia with no chance. Game set then, and Arsenal tried valiantly to restore their lead. Pires had the ball and was moving infield before a combination of Fletcher and Keane left him dazed on the floor. Keane, again showing superb vision, played a superb through ball from the outside of his right foot into the path of the speedy Giggs. He then showed body strength by holding off Vieira, pushing the ball past Almunia (what was he thinking?) then chipping the ball right into the grateful feet of Ronaldo. United had the lead and Arsenal sense their season might already be over.

They tried hard to conjure up the goal, and though United were under pressure after that goal, Carroll didn’t really have any big saves to make. Tempers were frayed, and Bergkamp took a swipe at Silvestre which the Frenchman didn’t appreciate. He responded by pushing the Dutchman on the ground, and Ljungberg went up to Mickey to give a right old rollicking. Mickey took the bait, and stupidly head-butted Freddie in from of Poll. He had no choice but to send him off. If Arsenal were to capitalize on their numerical superiority, I would never forgive Silvestre. Rooney I understand, but a 27-year old experienced international? United, though, appeared to want it more. Henry was subdued, except for the brilliant overhead try on goal. On the break, the brilliant Heinze bombed forward, pushed the ball to Saha who laid it off to Scholes. Scholes then played an exquisite first touch ball to O’Shea (actually he didn’t do much except run around looking lost in midfield) who then controlled it one time, looked up, and chipped the ball delightfully over the despairing Almunia. It was a finish of some style, and the laidback nature of this Irishman showed in the way he celebrated. United held on to the two goal cushion, and except for the on-the-line clearance by Scholes deep into extra time, United were never really threatened.

Ps: Chelsea won a scrappy encounter at Ewood Park, One-Nil; a result which is entirely expected but not the level of performance. Arjen Robben who scored the winner went out injured in the second half. Eleven points is too far for even Man United to catch, especially with a well-drilled Chelsea team, but sometimes fantasy do turn into reality. Never give up.

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