5 Things We Learned: Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal

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By Matthew Jones

1. Van Persie’s celebration

I GOT back to my car and upon tuning into 606 and TalkSport, one of the biggest talking points was should Robin van Persie have celebrated so animatedly against his former club.

I travelled to the game with a Gooner supporting mate of mine and he had no problem with the celebration. He also made me aware of an unsavoury song Arsenal fans sing about their former idol.

Of course I am aware of the significance of Van Persie not only playing for a fierce rival of Arsenal, but scoring in the three games he’s played against them since moving to Manchester, and more importantly netting the winner in yesterday’s game.

Arsenal fans are entitled to feel bitter and have ill feeling toward a player they used to adore.

But for all the taunts of Van Persie playing one decent season for Arsenal and spending most of his career there on the treatment table, it must be remembered that he was a terrific player for them.

Despite his injury woes, his record is mightily impressive – 96 goals in 194 appearances from 2004 top 2012.

OK, so his average of 24 games per season might only reflect about half of the games that Arsenal would play each campaign, but the bottom line is that when he was on the pitch he did the business.

I hold no grudge against Arsenal fans who want to boo Van Persie – his decision to leave for a bigger club and the desire to win more trophies as he enters the twilight of his career is still understandably a raw wound – but those that choose to boo, and worse, have short memories.

As for the criticism he’s attracted for celebrating, that issue is one of those useless talking points to fill columns and air time.

Barely three months after moving to Old Trafford, Van Persie scored barely three minutes into his first game against his former employers, in November 2012.

He was classy in the aftermath of what must have been a surreal moment, holding up his hands apologetically and failing to join in with the jubilant celebrations of his team-mates.

Despite receiving a hostile welcome back at the Emirates in the return game in April, he also produced a muted celebration when he scored the equalising penalty, despite obviously looking annoyed at the extent of the abuse from the home fans.

He’s now a true Red, Arsenal is in the past.

There’s a big debate as to whether these muted celebrations by players playing against their former sides should be observed at all – they don’t have to but is a sign of class when they do, particularly when you have played for a club for as long as Van Persie did Arsenal.

It’s not like he celebrated Emmanuel Adebayor style either, sprinting the length of the pitch after scoring for Manchester City in his first appearance against his former club, making a beeline for the Arsenal fans and sliding on his knees in front of them?!

He sprinted over to strike partner Wayne Rooney, acknowledging the pin point cross for the goal, which also represented a big goal in United’s season. One that finally seemed to suggest that our season has kicked into gear.

He didn’t celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans, there was no issue of goading or disrespect – unlike the song that the away fans had serenaded him with.

Perhaps if Van Persie had not celebrated, he would have been getting the same criticism from United fans?!

2. Jones’ yellow card

THE major issue that grated on me yesterday was the yellow card brandished to Phil Jones for an unfortunate and accidental collision with Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny.

The collision was brutal and ugly, but it was totally unintentional.

Szczęsny and Jones were both going for the ball and the Gunners’ ‘keeper gets there fractionally earlier than the United defender.

Perhaps there is added pressure on referee Michael Oliver because of the injury suffered by Hugo Lloris at Goodison Park the previous week and the spotlight cast on the issue of head injuries in the ensuing week, but I think the man in the middle simply gave Jones a caution because the Arsenal players were incensed.

They were calling for a red card though, so they can hardly have been happy with the yellow.

I was incensed myself at the yellow card. Me and a few people who sit around me came to the same conclusion.

We thought that no card should have been shown, but if the ref thinks it’s a violent and reckless challenge, he has to send Phil Jones off.

It’s either a straight red for violent conduct or it’s nothing because Oliver understands, despite the ferocity of the collision, it is accidental.

It simply CANNOT be a yellow card.

Perhaps you can argue that Oliver took the sting out of the situation by meeting both sets of fans and players halfway by indicating, with the yellow card, that Jones got away with it.

To me, he simply got it wrong.

3. Up and running

HOPEFULLY the Arsenal win confirms that our season is, at last, finally up and running, but let’s not get carried away.

It was a big win against the in form side of the season and league leaders.

After drab or downright demoralising results against the other title contenders, it was a big victory. It was a big victory for David Moyes, his biggest since taking charge. Taking the scalp of one of the big rivals will have felt really good to him. The team are used to winning big games but for Moyes, it’s a very new sensation.

Despite our early season woes, yesterday’s win, coupled with some very good results regarding the teams around us, shoots us straight back into the thick of it.

Five points off Arsenal at the top, three off Liverpool, a point behind Chelsea and now above, albeit on goal difference, Everton and Spurs, with the noisy neighbours a point behind again.

I’ve warned my United hating mates all season (despite only 11 games played you’d think it was all season the amount of stick I’ve had) not to write us off and, whether we’re good enough to win the title or not, we’ll certainly be up there, I’m convinced of that.

The ‘demise’ of Manchester United amuses me and after one brilliant result, suddenly people are scared of us again. It’s a funny old game football.

Despite our best result of the season, let’s not start slapping backs just yet.

Yesterday was a great result, an important result, but we’ll need many more like it if we are to mount a title defence.

Moyes is growing into the role, that is evident, and his players are beginning to find their feet and trust his vision for the club.

We can take great comfort in the result and several individual performances, including the impressive development of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans, and the continued brilliance of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, and it came against a side that has been the sole shining light of the Premier League so far this season (bar Southampton).

Several of Arsenal’s stars so far this season simply failed to show up. There’s an argument to be made for Moyes’ tactics and the fact our players stifled the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla of course, but the anonymous display of their midfield and Mesut Özil inparticular, can also be put down to a bug that had swept through the north London club during the week.

Arsenal will probably feel that Van Persie’s goal might have been avoided if Per Mertesacker, for example, had been playing.

Their best centre half was missing because of the virus, while Tomas Rosicky, who was so impressive against Borussia Dortmund in midweek, was also on his sickbed.

With other players possibly feeling the side-effects – Özil was a passenger in the game and has subsequently withdrawn from the Germany squad that faces friendlies against Italy and England during the international break, along with Mertesacker, due to flu – that may arguably account for his anonymity during the 90 minutes yesterday.

I don’t want to take too much away from United’s performance yesterday. At the same time I don’t want to build us up too much because we’ll still have our doubters. Mainly there’s still three quarters of the season to go. But I’m encouraged.

4. The kids are alright

WHEN we were soundly beaten at the Etihad, much was made of the fact Rio Ferdinand had played three games in the space of a week. While both Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have shown signs of decay over the last two to three years, they’re still our go to central defensive partnership – largely because of the perceived lack of quality or development behind them.

Yesterday, Ferdinand was not even in the squad and Vidic had to be replaced at half time due to injury.

Even before he was replaced, Chris Smalling was catching my eye playing, yet again, out of position at right back, while Phil Jones was also impressive alongside Michael Carrick in a defensive midfield role.

Smalling continued to catch the eye in the second half, rampaging forward to good effect down the wing, while looking particularly comfortable in the air as Arsenal, devoid of any creative ideas, resorted to pumping the ball long.

Jones, meanwhile, seamlessly drifted from alongside Carrick to alongside Evans in the back four to replace Vidic, putting in his usual display of madcap bravery and high energy.

Evans wasn’t particularly brilliant but he didn’t put a foot wrong either and, despite an improvement from the away side in the second half, which led to more pressure on our defence, the back four were stoic and calm, dealing with everything that came their way.

Ferdinand and Vidic are far from finished but after performances like that, particularly from Jones and Smalling, the young trio are finally beginning to put their hands up for regular starting berths.

United, essentially, have five quality centre backs. It would be nice to see a partnership develop between two of them, instead of this constant rotation, but it’s encouraging to see the future back line slowly develop.

5. Who needs a singing section

OLD Trafford was rocking yesterday, creating a fresh debate about the future of any possible future for a singing section.

David Moyes touched on the atmosphere in his post match interview and having been in the crowd, it was one of the best atmospheres over the last year and surely the loudest Old Trafford has been this season – bar of course for the noisy lot in the singing section at the Real Sociedad game.

The crowd was especially vociferous in the second half. Not only were the Stretford End in fine voice, with the ’20 times Man United’ chant getting a thorough airing in particular, but there was more noise that I can remember from the old Scoreboard End.

It was brilliant – but I’m still backing a singing section.

For two reasons.

Firstly, the atmosphere does tend to be a lot noisier for the big games, or when United are facing adversity.

Against the smaller teams, where United are expected to win, the majority of fans just want the game to be over quickly and to see a flurry of goals.

There were two games that stand out for me last season.

The first was Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League last 16, which I’m sure many other fans will agree with. Absolutely electric evening. It felt as if the crowd would carry United into the quarter finals by ourselves – until Turkish official Cuneyt Cakir sent Nani off of course.

Some fans may not be with me on the second – a 3-2 defeat to Spurs.

Despite the defeat, the whole crowd was immense and really got behind the team while they were not performing brilliantly.

In most other circumstances, the Old Trafford crowd would, again, have almost dragged United over the line themselves.

Wayne Rooney crashed a free kick against the post and the Londoners held on but it was amazing to be part of and I was proud of not only the players, but the Old Trafford audience for really getting behind their team.

The result almost didn’t matter.

The problem is is that our next home game is against Everton and while it’s a big game, both in terms of building on the momentum from the Arsenal victory and the fact Roberto Martinez’s team are rivals, the crowd may not feel they have the energy to give the team as much support as it did yesterday.

It sounds stupid but that’s how crowds at the big teams’ home grounds have evolved over the last decade.

Ticket prices have increased and fans believe they have a right to be entertained.

A report I read about Liverpool’s convincing victory over Fulham at Anfield on Saturday noted how quiet the home crowd were, which tends to happen when your team has the three points sewn up after half an hour.

Maybe the Everton game was a bad example. West Ham on December 21 will be true test of how loud and proud the fans can be.

Secondly, I was one of the lucky 1,400 fans in the singing section for the Sociedad game and as I said in my piece Old Trafford Needs Its Soul Back, it was arguably the best fan experience I’ve ever enjoyed following United.

It was truly something different. It was like being an away United fan – at home.

I love being a Stretford Ender but if I had the chance to move to a permanent singing section, I would do it in a heartbeat.

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1 Comment

  1. To be honest arsenal fans are not too down about this result. If you look at the week we have had its been a great one for us, beating Dortmund and Liverpool without losing a goal was fantastic. we came to old Trafford with no squad rotation and some big names missing and we still dominated large parts and looked like the home side, in the second half anyway. I can just feel this is going to be a great season for us and I cant wait till the next fixture at our place. and hey! maybe arsenal will have a sparkling brand new striker by then too.

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