Manchester Utd 2-1 Arsenal
So, an early defeat, but I’m still scratching my head to work out how we came out of that game with nul points.
Last season, in our second game we capitulated meekly to Fulham at Craven Cottage, a defeat that set the tone for the next six months. This season, we’ve also lost one of our first three games of the season – but there the parallels end. Whereas at Fulham we deserved nothing more, yesterday at Man Utd we threw the game away.
We were utterly dominant until Almunia made the first of two bad Arsenal mistakes. We’d had a clear-cut penalty denied, we’d scored a fabulous goal and van Persie had come within a goalkeeper’s ankle of making it 2-0. Nothing less than we deserved.
Then Almunia scuttled out of his goal at Rooney, way too far out, there was contact and the inconsistent Mike Dean gave the penno. “Old Trafford-ish” was the word Wenger used to describe the penalty being given, a genius description that implies without accusing. Rooney made the most of it – he’d begun to fall before the contact – but contact there was and really, Almunia can have few complaints. Rather than chastising Dean in this instance, (reserve your opprobrium for the clearest of penalties you’ll ever see, denied to Arshavin, shortly before his 30-yard rocket), perhaps we should look closer to home. What was Almunia thinking? It was an avoidable penalty.
And it changed the course of the game. Utd, hitherto huffing and puffing, got the wind up them and though van Persie managed to hit the bar from a free kick, it wasn’t long before Diaby scored the most extraordinary own goal. A free kick, no pressure, and he nodded it right past Almunia. Words fail.
So we found ourselves down, and despite a mazy run and shot from the no doubt severely embarrassed Diaby, and a last-minute goal correctly given offside, that was that.
Well, that wasn’t quite that: the absurdly officious Dean still found time to send Wenger to the stands for kicking a water bottle in frustration, a mere few seconds before he was due to blow the final whistle. Wenger had no way of getting to the stands, so with the most incredible chutzpah, went and stood on a raised dais like a god, arms outstretched, ignoring the usual vile chants. “Where am I supposed to go, you jobsworth half-witted git”, he said. Or at least, that’s how I saw it.
Dean’s inconsistent, card-happy refereeing provided several other talking points. Watch Wenger’s post-match interview below:
Nevertheless, Wenger was pretty upbeat, and so he should be. Until we shot ourselves in the foot, we looked excellent. Even when the game started going away from us we created a few chances. We passed well, defended well, and looked comfortable. Utd came back strongly after the penalty, but you’d expect them to.
The way we performed makes the end result – and the two mistakes – that bit more frustrating. But in the cold light of day we can also be pleased, I think, as on the evidence so far, we’ve made a step up from last campaign.
Onwards and upwards.