1. Classy Arsenal
The issue of the guard of honour, whether Arsenal would provide one, and the return of the former hero turned villain Robin van Persie dominated much of the build-up to Sunday’s game.
Ultimately, it passed with the minimum of fuss. The club and its players did Arsenal proud.
Why there was such a furore about whether or not there would be a guard of honour mattered little to United fans, although it did I suppose heighten the stakes between two sets of fans that are becoming increasingly distant at best.
Arsenal, as Sir Alex Ferguson referred to them, are a classy club, and they showed that by the players’ immaculate conducting of the guard as United took to the field.
It’s been bestowed upon us before and we’ve had to grin and bear it also.
I can imagine it’s not a nice feeling for players but I’m a big believer that it can act as a spur to propel you to greatness.
Gary Neville made reference to it before and after the game as something that has spurred him on to better things as a United player and how Arsenal players must have felt yesterday will no doubt have been a similar feeling United’s youngsters felt at the Stadium of Light on the final day of last season.
Fergie said to his young players in-particularly after that game that they had to use the pain as motivation, and look how much difference a year makes.
2. Should he stay or should he go
I fully expect the Wayne Rooney debate to carry on into the summer months. It’s not usually the way United like to conduct things, long and drawn out, but until he signs a new contract or United accept an offer for the Scouser, it will be one of the major talking points of the close season. His fitness has been a cause for concern this season while doubts linger as to the health of his relationship with his manager. One thing I know for certain is that we’ll be sorry if we sell him.
His form and fitness at times have baffled and caused frustration but he’s still weighed in with almost 20 goals and leads the way with assists too (13).
In recent weeks Van Persie has been back among the headlines with his impending, and now concluded, return to the Emirates as well as his hat-trick against Aston Villa, but Rooney’s creative presence in the last few weeks has played a thrilling, if underrated, supporting act.
Making room for Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski, by either selling Rooney or Javier Hernandez, is and will continue to dominate the back pages, but I can’t help but feel that if the old master lets Rooney go, it will be one of the few things that he will live to regret from his Old Trafford tenure.
3. Van Persie proves he was right to leave the Emirates
Arsenal fans can boo and hiss all they like but Robin van Persie will know, after United claimed back the title from Manchester City last Monday in the 3-0 win against Aston Villa, that he made the right decision last summer.
You can understand Arsenal fans’ bitterness. He’s a top class player which he has proven so many times this season. My brother’s an Arsenal fan and his biggest gripe with the Dutchman’s departure was how he left after really only one full season of playing at full fitness.
He may only have been fully fit for just last season, but he had been at Arsenal for eight years. He’s hardly a mercenary.
Fans of Liverpool, United, Barcelona and Tottenham can all have valid reasons for being riled by the departures of Fernando Torres and Carlos Tevez, respectively, for financial gain, as well as Luis Figo and Sol Campbell who went to join fierce rivals Real Madrid and Arsenal, but I think more sensible Gooners will understand why Van Persie left. Level headed fans will know their vitriol would be better bottled up and saved for the board of directors at the Emirates who sanctioned the move.
Van Persie was not motivated by greed or excess. He knew, at 29, that time was running out for him to add to his solitary medal in English football, the 2005 FA Cup win.
He wasn’t even a major player for Arsenal eight years ago so this season’s title will really come as sweet release to him.
4. Back to the future?
When I wrote a column on this fixture from earlier in the season, I remarked that the famous old rivalry between United and Arsenal, that reached fractious new heights under the Ferguson/Wenger era, was dead and buried.
United won that game 2-1, hugely flattering the Gunners.
Having witnessed Sunday’s offering, I wonder if this was closer to a return to the Arsenal/United duels of old?
Who can forget the blood and thunder battles? Roy Keane trying to scrap Patrick Vieira in the tunnel at Highbury after the Frenchman had tried to pick a fight with Gary Neville before the kick-off. Martin Keown and fellow players jeering Ruud van Nistelrooy after the striker missed a last minute
penalty to win the game for United at Old Trafford.
True, United have already won the title and had little to play for but the Premier League points record and pride, while Arsenal have only really played their best football of the season in recent weeks, but Van Persie’s departure last season finally, I think, made it abundantly clear to everyone associated with the club that Arsenal are in real danger of falling from the top table of English football.
Even staunch Wenger supporters turned on him last summer and getting into the top four this season and his handling of this summer’s transfer market will go a long way to deciding if he will still be in charge after the conclusion of an eighth trophy-less season.
One thing’s for sure.
His and Arsenal’s ability to re-ignite the famous old feud will play a huge part in any return to success they envisage.
5. The next generation
Critics say it’s the worst United side in years, possibly ever under Fergie.
In reality it’s a transitional period between the old and new guard at Old Trafford.
United legends Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are still digging their heels in, while Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra are entering their twilight years in football.
Youth, while exciting, is often chastised for its petulance and lack of strength and inexperience – yet some very raw and exciting youngsters at the Theatre of Dreams have battled through difficult times this season and emerged better for it.
David de Gea has bore the brunt of the criticism but it speaks volumes that he has been named in the Premier League team of the season.
Many feared for the career of Rafael da Silva at United after he was sent off in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich in 2010, yet this has been his finest season in the red shirt. I think he can count himself unlucky not to have made the team of the season, although his fellow South American Pablo Zabaleta has been superb too.
Jonny Evans’ name is now used in serious debates as to whether he should be our first choice centre back, while Fergie claimed recently that Phil Jones could become United’s greatest ever player. That may be a little farfetched but those of us who watch United week in week out can appreciate where the boss is coming from. Big and tough but pacy and with a feather-touch foot, the former Blackburn man is an exciting talent.
Tom Cleverley has been seen fleetingly since the Champions League exit to Real Madrid, and perhaps his absence from pre-season is beginning to take effect, but he’s completed his first injury free season at United and that will stand him in good stead for the next campaign.
It’s been more difficult to gauge Chris Smalling’s development as he has floated in and out of the side while Danny Welbeck excites in every area apart from in front of goal, but with these latter two it’s a case of a little more game time and tweaking minor facets of their game.
The new generation are not waiting patiently to receive the baton from the heroes of the past anymore, they are preparing a revolt to rip it from their grasp.
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