Arsenal’s title bid is now over; a long spirited display of footballing skills has now come to a screeching halt. Arsenal lost to Manchester United at Old Trafford amongst screaming fan, blunders and yes, a rain of yellow cards.
As for their Champions’ Trophy hopes, this too was dashed primarily due to a penalty. Last time, it was Steven Gerrard, this time it was the usual suspect, Christiano Ronaldo. Arsenal made a few changes, a few forced and a few out of desperation. Almunia injured himself during practice and Wenger was forced to play Lehmann. Star winger Flammini was injured at Anfield and had to sit this one out bringing in Gilberto. Wenger however had the option of pushing Walcott back a little on the field and start with the young Englishman, but Wenger decided to let the more experienced Brazilian start – and he will rue that decision till he reaches his grave.
The match kicked off with a huge frenzy, people from three camps gathering all over the world to watch this match. There were the Manchester United fans, the Arsenal fans and very secretly supporting Arsenal were Chelsea fans – urging the young Gunners to push this win.
Arsenal ruled the first period, pushing the home team into their own half. The Reds were reeling, trying to attack on the break. Arsenal came close many times, the closest they could get was a Fabregas cross straight to Adebayor’s right foot. Edwin Van der Sar charged the Togo international, only to see the ball safely fly over the post, that was as close as a top team would let you get and Emanuel Adebayor’s terrible luck continued. Ronaldo and Rooney found their groove as they charged the Arsenal goal keeper – Jens Lehmann, skipping debutant Alexander Song, Rooney fired one in from close quarters but only to be deflected wide by Lehmann’s heel.
The gunners could breathe again; this was truly the only legitimate goal attempt by Manchester in the first half. Hleb and Clichy made a few lunges but all to be confounded by Brown and Ferdinand. Van Persie and Fabregas hit weak shots into Van Der Sar waiting hands; the Gunners were trying everything, they needed just the right amount of luck to get one in. The first half closed to the Arsenal looking stronger than the home side.
Second half brought, if nothing, then some luck for Arsenal when a Van Persie cross off a free kick was pushed in by Adebayor from between Ferdinand. Van Der Sar and Carrick, the Gunners had scored and so had Adebayor. The fans screamed and the Reds suddenly were pushed up, feeling a little apprehensive. The score line read- 1-0 for Arsenal, the score was almost 2-0 when Ferdinand trying to stop a cross from Adebayor almost drilled one into his own net, but a reflex save by Van Der Sar saved them the blushes. Sir Alex Ferguson was feeling oddly nervous; a sight not many had seen in the course of this league, the pompous and rather confident figure of Ferguson was looking diminutive. But as always, Arsenal blundered and as always it was their captain Gallas- handling a ball and incurring a penalty, which was taken by Ronaldo. On his second attempt he put it into the net leveling the score line. The Gunners had lost the lead the same way they lost it to Liverpool last week.
The Gunners still had some fight left in them, when Walcott came in for Eboue, the raw pace of the young man, started to put a little more pressure on the Reds, the youngster took one from his own half to Ferdinand territory. One reminisced of the skill used by Walcott which earned Arsenal the goal against Liverpool, this time he passed it to the captain in waiting Fabregas, who curled one in towards the far post, brushing Van Der Sar’s outstretched fingers and hitting the post! Lady luck was obviously looking somewhere else and so was the referee- not awarding the Gunners the corner.
This was not Arsenal’s day when a Gilberto challenge against Evra, saw Evra take a dive and awarding Manchester United a free kick inches away from the box. Owen Hargreeves had no problem putting it in as a helpless Lehmann looked on. Goal number 100 for Manchester United!
Struggling to gather momentum, Wenger brought in Nicolas Bendtner for Robin Van Persie; the Denmark international nodded two towards the goal but both hit the post and went another way. The final whistle blew, there might have been a few moist eyes in the Arsenal camp, but the Gunners will hold their head high, a tough game of football, this will match will be remembered for the fight shown by Arsenal.
Arsenal might have not won the match but they certainly won the hearts of all those in that stadium and many across the continents.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonker/365117577/]