On your mark, get set, and go. It was the first of the big four clashes of the Premier league, barely three weeks into the new season—a season which has seen a sea of change for both clubs in question—Manchester United and Arsenal.
And more so for United, who are without their most valuable player, both in terms of capital and quality. For Arsenal, it will be another season trying to win back the title they lost half a decade ago. And Arsenal will also be without key players in their squad in the form of Adebayor and Toure, perhaps the latter most likely to be missed.
While United, for a change, decided to be thrifty in the transfer market, it was a more predictable summer for Arsenal in terms of spending. While both teams, no doubt, will be less stronger by the departure of key personnel, the ability of the rest of the squad, rather the new squad, to adapt to life without the big names that are now gone, will decide the destiny of the League title.
As we kick off this first clash of the big guns, both teams have been on the ascendancy, more so for Arsenal who had a hundred percent record going into this game.
United, the perennial slow starters, didn't let their supporters down by putting on a horrible performance against Burnley only to turn on the heat against Wigan last week, putting five against the home team.
The game was killed before the kick off by the teams put out by both managers, crowded mid-fields and a single man up front—the perfect combination for a scrappy affair—as most of the encounters between the big teams turn out to be. Rather than discussing the game in general, let us shed some light on the two key moments in the game.
The First Half: Incident One
Premise: A cross from the right hand side of the field falls to Arshavin, the Russian takes a touch and as he is about to pull the trigger, Fletcher makes a rash diving challenge, getting less of the ball and more of the man, probably the man first.
Result: The referee, Mike Dean, waves play on and asks Arshavin to get up.
Argument: The referee, just 10 yards away from the action, should have awarded a penalty to the Gunners and booked Fletcher.
My Call: A clear cut penalty, United get the advantage of playing at home that they get from time to time each season. For Arsenal, another decision goes against them as Arsene bemoans the call on the edge of the technical area.
For Arsenal, justice is done a few seconds later when a rocket ends up in the back of the United net, oh, that was actually the ball launched by the little Russian. Another glaring example of the Arsene's shout that 50-50 calls never go Arsenal's way.
None the less, Arsenal finish the half as they started—on a high, with a solitary goal's advantage to show for.
The Second Half: Incident Two
Premise: Giggs plays in Rooney through a diagonal ball, it is a race to the ball between the striker and the keeper.
Result: Rooney wins the ball and eventually the penalty. Almunia wins the man, a yellow card for his effort, a penalty against his team that is later converted by Rooney.
Argument: Rooney is a diver. He was looking for the penalty. He should be banned for two games. Blah Blah Blah.
My Call: A penalty again, though not as clear cut as the one involving Arshavin. The referee made the right decision, albeit a tough one to make.
To all those who are trying to make a meal out of this issue—get a life people. Those who are making these baseless arguments, are constructing them on a very dicey foundation. Making comparisons of this incident to the one involving Edurado in the mid-week tie against Celtic is plain stupidity.
Although the penalty award given to Edurado can be branded controversial to say least, the decision by UEFA to review the case probably vindicates Arsene Wenger's claims that his team have been subjected to a witch-hunt. But regardless of that incident, the incident involving Rooney was straight forward for the following reasons:
1. The attacker took the ball past the keeper.
2. The keeper made no contact with the ball.
3. The keeper made contact with the attacker
People often stress on thinking "out of the box." In this case, all Rooney did was thinking "inside the box." He knew that, if he won the race to the ball and took the the ball away from Almunia, there was a high probability of Almunia committing the foul on Rooney.
Though Arsenal will walk away empty handed from this tie, there will be a lot of positives to take along. For starters, this squad can believe that it is capable of taking on teams and getting the results even without the likes of Fabregas and Rosciky.
As far as the moans and the groans from a few sections of the fans go, get on with it guys, you don't get the result you deserve sometimes. But it is the consistency in performance and the ability to grind out results while not on top form that will decide the destiny of the league title.
The Bigger Picture:
How this game will affect the bigger picture i.e. the league title, is a long shot. The league is a marathon and not a 100m dash. For Arsenal, winning the title with this squad will depend on the fitness of this set of players and the consistency in their level of performance. For United, this season will be a tough one, adjusting to life after Ronaldo.
With the other big guns like Chelsea and Liverpool, and the emergence of teams like Manchester City and Tottemham Hotspurs early this season provides a lip-smacking prospect of seeing a closely fought league. Who survives and prevails is a thing that only time will tell. Bring it on I say.