Ed Diggins is back with his Matchday Diary, after making the trek from Dublin to Manchester (via Birmingham) to see his Manchester Utd side beat Arsenal 2-1 this weekend.
Gunning Up, 29th August 2009 – v Arsenal
Wow, that was tense! The purists would have penciled it in as a game lacking real quality. The enthusiasts would say it was a typical “Big Four” clash. Tackles were tough, incident aplenty, controversy galore. Amazing stuff, with the game in the balance right though the ninety-nine or so minutes of action.
Birmingham Airport is our chosen gateway to England this weekend. Leaving it a bit tight, no room for any delays. Thankfully, the plane and trains are on time and we arrive outside Old Trafford just after 3PM. Plenty of time. There’s a better atmosphere about the place today. More people are gathered in the usual spots, both pubs the “Trafford” and “Blaize” are hopping and there’s plenty of chanting outside them too. The Wesley Brown Song* is gathering pace. I love it, it’s going to be the song of the season for United, unless something new comes along. Tevez is getting some stick, and well deserved. Liverpool are losing, oh no they ain’t! They’re losing again. Level again! Matt Le Tessier is providing the feeds on Soccer Saturday. They win, no surprise!
I am feeling more confident today. All the superstitions are in place. My travel buddy today is Eoin and this is our sixth season going to Old Trafford together, and we have yet to see United lose. Or draw. That record must be over 30 games at this stage, and every game has been won. I’ve even got my ‘lucky jacket’ on. We head for the ground about 15 minutes before kick off. I’m already stuffed from a KFC bargain bucket, but the Bacon Burger has to be done. Never miss it. Dig in.
As we walk around towards the Strettie, the nerves set in. Two weeks ago it was at this point that all hell broke loose. Our ‘friend’ with the purple coat walks past and I wonder for a moment if our paths will cross in a few minutes again. My new season ticket arrived in the post on Wednesday. The ‘welcome back’ letter is dated July 23rd, post marked August 19th. So, it sat in a pile somewhere for five weeks and they just happened to forget to post it. As I remove the card from my wallet, my heart beat rises as I’ve no faith in that ticket office anymore.
The nano second it takes the automatic turnstile to change from red to green is painful. But it’s in vain. We’re sorted, and we’re in. A quick trip to the little boy’s room and we’re all set. Stone Roses “This is the one” blasts out, I even missed that the last time.
The team is as expected. Three in the middle with Nani and Valencia out wide, Rooney up top.
The atmosphere is much improved today, no stewards about, so we’re allowed to stand for the entire game. We can see the East Stand lower also in a similar stance, and it really helps. The place is rocking as the game kicks off.
The opening ten minutes are slow, Fletch’ hits one over when he should have done better. It’s scrappy. United can’t hold on to the ball, Brown looks shaky and Giggs is giving away the ball more often then a dodgy bingo caller. Giggsy is a United legend, we dare not criticise him, but for the opening forty five minutes he was woeful. Carrick too. Rooney is isolated and getting absolutely no service.
Arsenal have a lot of puff, but no blow. Evra deflects Van Persie’s goal-bound shot over and from the resulting corner, Arshavin’s driven effort whizzes past the post. Foster, better next time please. Evra, who is immense, is brought down and Rooney stands over it. Hits it, it’s in … well, it looked in from our seats, but they’re at the opposite end of the ground!
Forty minutes in, and Arsenal hit the front. Van Persie takes a dive in the box – of all weeks to be at it, he does it again. Then he falls a second time but the ref waves play on. Fletch goes straight into Arshavin and the Russian looks for a peno. The noise levels hit defcon five. To me, he’s got the ball with his chest (pitch is very slippery, it’s raining now) and then took the little fella out. The ref agrees. In the corner of my eye, I see Wenger doing an angry dance on the touchline. The PG rating that comes with this article prevents me from telling you what the chant was. It matters little.
Arshavin is barely off his backside when he turns and shoots. Looks to me a top strike. “Foster should have done better” is one comment. I put it down to a quality strike, though I have yet to see a TV replay. Half time is called. I am deperessed. I think of this column. God only knows what I will write if it stays like this.
More of the same as we restart. Arsenal, intent on sitting back and breaking in packs, with United’s only joy coming when we run at them. It’s a no brainer. Arsenal break once more, their first real success at cutting United open. Van Persie is sure he scores but Foster pulls off a save of top quality. The turning point of the game as it turns out.
Moments later, Giggs produces the pass of the season. Almunia comes rushing out, the contact is enough to send Rooney tumbling down just feet in front of us. It’s a clear penalty. “Contact, Contact, Contact” says Mike Dean as Almunia gets the yellow. “This one’s mine,” says Rooney, as Nani and Giggs come calling. Massive concentration on his face. Bang. 1-1. game on.
It’s end to end now. Van Persie hits the bar from a free wide out on the right, Foster probably had it covered. The bar is still shaking as Fletcher bursts forward. He goes fifty yards before Denilson brings him down. Giggsy floats in and Diaby heads home. United have somehow turned it around. Diaby, having a fine game, goes wickedly close at the other end. The next twenty minutes are tense. No chances are created. Berba’ is on for Giggs, and Park is on for Valencia. Arshavin is off, the cheat from Wednesday night is on. He gets a great reception. As does Eboue, who gets a yellow for diving – also in disgrace, leaving the pitch immediately. Arsenal seem toothless, with nothing being created at either end. Brown and Vidic are mopping up everything and O’Shea and Evra are top notch. As we hit the 90th minute, the fourth official’s board says five minutes. “What the ****?” The other way around and they would be talking about it for weeks.
Nani produces a glorious pass to send Berba in. I’ve 17/1 for 3-1 – is this it? Noooooooooo, it ends up in Row Z of the upper tier. We break again, this time Nani is through, but Almunia saves. Nani blasts the rebound over. That’s it surely … we wait for the whistle. Dean plays on. As we enter the 96th minute, a high ball is lofted in. I notice the flag is up. Seconds later, the ball is in the back of the net. Wenger is off dancing again, while the Arsenal fans are jumping for joy away to our right. But it’s short lived. The game is over, massive win and three massive points.
Wenger is sent to the stand. At least he smiles, fair play. I have great time for Wenger, he is an excellent manager. Some of his comments are biased, but all managers are guilty of that. Arsenal need to be careful, they are a great side, but some of their player’s antics leave a lot to be desired. They will end up being hated very easily.
I’ll finish with Darren Fletcher. What a player he is now. Ridiculed for years, he is now one of the top midfielders in the Premier League. Saturday was the best I have ever seen him play but one newspaper rated him a ‘6’ and gave Man of the Match to Rooney, as did Sky Sports. It makes me wonder, what game some people watch and how some people earn a living from this great game. The lad gets no credit, and it’s about time he did.
As we leave the ground, the place is rocking. More of this please. The trip home is a long one via Birmingham again, but is still sweet. Three more points.
Until the next time, Viva United.
* The Wesley Brown Song –
He’s big, he’s bad, he’s Wesley Brown,
The hardest man, in all the town.
With orange hair bewaaaaaaaare,
Come and have a go if you dare.