Arsenal, Chelsea Stutter and Manchester United's Season May Have Just Begun

raam shanker@raam_s13Contributor INovember 21, 2010

Architects of a Great Season?
Architects of a Great Season?Michael Regan/Getty Images

I am not a big fan of traffic, especially on my road. Yesterday, however, was a different story. I was watching match day traffic on Barlow Moor Road head towards the Theatre of Dreams and for some not-so-strange reason I was pleased.

The 95 minutes of football that I had just witnessed had such a profound effect on me that I actually stood near my window admiring a crawling convoy of “bangers-and-mash” cars as if it were a Picasso on display at The Louvre.

Talking of Picasso and Louvre, what Tottenham did at the Emirates was nothing short of a masterpiece.

In fact, ever since Harry Redknapp took over at White Hart Lane, they’ve been a treat to watch. In his first match in charge they were 4-0 down and came back to finish 4-4. Against? Arsenal of course! Yesterday, however, they stepped up a gear.

They were trailing 2-0 at halftime and I should emphasise the fact that they were only 2-0 down thanks to some great defending by William Gallas, who I am sure would have walked up to Samir Nasri after the game and told him who his daddy was after Nasri did not shake Gallas’ hand before kick off.

The biggest impact on the game occurred at halftime when Jermaine Defoe was brought in. He made his presence felt within five minutes and Spurs pulled one back thanks to Gareth “Twinkle-Toes” Bale. Two more goals, one each from Van der Vaart (penalty) and Kaboul, later on sealed the game for Spurs.

Then they had to endure another five minutes of added time misery. But when the final whistle blew, it was worth the wait. Their first win against their nemesis in donkey’s years meant they moved level on points with Bolton Wanderers and Manchester City surprisingly! Yes, it is surprising isn’t it?

Bolton with little or no major investment are rubbing shoulders against Manchester City, whose spending spree makes us all believe that the financial crisis happened on a different planet.

Sorry, I digress, again! Spurs could’ve been top four had they boasted a better goal difference. Oh and talking of top four, Arsenal could’ve been top of the table if they’d won yesterday. But they did not; and the best part? The eventual manifestation of Wengers’ frustration when he hurled the bottle was quite evocative. It said “we’ve bottled it again.” Even though the cameraman who captured that moment was no da Vinci, it was nothing short of a Mona Lisa to the United fans.

United fans appear to have had a few changes this season to whom we like and who’s a legend to us. Last season we were all chanting Rooney’s name for everything so much so that when I did not get a good pay raise I decided to ring Old Trafford to ask if he could do something about it. Honest.

Sir Alex signed “an unknown Mexican player” called “something” and it was news to all of us. Then came the World Cup and we were introduced to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. It was not all hunky-dory as we saw Rooney fade into oblivion during the same tournament.

But we blamed it on England (rightly so) and hoped come August he’d be back to his best. Berbatov was our villain of last season. Lazy, disinterested and a waste of space and money.

August came and Berba and Chicharito started to shine and Rooney started to whine. One thing led to another and he wanted to leave. But Sir Alex somehow “convinced” him to stay.

Fast forward to yesterday, Rooney had a new contract, was back from America and was on the bench. Arsenal had lost and Chelsea were up against Birmingham sans Terry and Lampard. And we had Wigan at home.

A boring first half display by United was a bit like a supermarket curry sauce that you chuck into your saucepan, add meat, wait for a bit and eat.

Yes it was football, it was played by United, but it just wasn’t quite the same. It was a very tepid display and it’s only redeeming factor was it could have been a great prescription to cure insomnia. Since I did not want to sleep I teleported to Birmingham.

At this time things were getting a little more interesting at St. Andrews in Birmingham. Ben Foster was inspiring Birmingham City to play the game of their lives with a succession of saves from Didier Drogba. Soon enough, Birmingham City caught Chelsea sleeping and Petr Cech was beaten.

Lee Bowyer had given Birmingham City the lead! Things were getting a bit too edgy for my liking and hence I decided to get back to Manchester, at the press of a button.

Just on time; and bang! Just before halftime Evra heads United ahead from a Nani set piece. It was no longer tepid, it was warm! Then it was halftime. In the second half came the moment we’d all been waiting for. Seeing Rooney in a United shirt yet again. He came on for Macheda, who had a quiet day which makes me wonder whether he’ll become a super-sub just like Ole.

Rooney’s introduction was met with mixed response, but he did look sharp and after a few jittery touches settled in and even headed a splendid shot at goal straight into the goal keeper’s hands. But then something else happened that stole the limelight away from Rooney in a flash. Two red cards were handed out to Wigan in the space of two minutes, reducing them to nine men. Since things were getting spicy at Manchester I decided to stay here.

In the past, when Wigan have travelled to United, they’ve been beaten convincingly even though they had eleven men on. But now, they were down two men and I hoped for a cricket score.

However, Wigan held on, attack after attack. A superb header from Chicharito doubled United’s lead and wrapped up three points effectively. The final whistle blew and we were joint top for the next four minutes at least.

I decided to quickly take a peek at what was going on down the M6 in Birmingham. Of course I did not have to endure the miserable traffic as I had my teleportation device. Things were still the same, 1-0 to Birmingham City, Foster was still in charge and Chelsea were still relentless. The referee for some strange reason said four added minutes.

Why four added minutes in a half where not much happened is still a mystery to me. The point is that Foster stood defiant and Chelsea could not do much. It felt like eternity, but then the referee blew the final whistle sending Chelsea into a run of three defeats from four games.

Although the match itself was mostly about Ben Foster and a little about Lee Bowyer’s goal, some interesting stats came out in the wash. Birmingham fired only three shots while Chelsea managed a staggering 32. Of those three, only one was on target for Birmingham City giving them 33.33% efficiency.

Chelsea got nine shots on target out of 32 giving them an accuracy of 28.12%. What comes next is what highlights Ben Foster’s performance. Number of saves for Birmingham was nine, giving the goal keeper an efficiency of 100%. Number of saves for Chelsea was zero (obviously)! Possession? Birmingham City a paltry 38% and Chelsea a staggering 62%.

These three results i.e. Arsenal 2 v. Spurs 3, Man United 2 v. Wigan 0 and Birmingham 1 v. Chelsea 0, meant United went joint top with Chelsea only separated by goal difference and Arsenal, who should’ve been top, were third.

This brings me to the most popular phrase at Old Trafford in recent times, “We’re no longer what we were since Ronaldo left.”

I have two answers for that. We lost the title last season to Chelsea by a mere point. It all boils down to one defeat at home to Chelsea and one draw away to Blackburn.

We got out of Europe against a resurgent Bayern Munich. In Munich, we got the lead and were heading for a draw when they got a goal in extra time. We were cruising at home 3-0 and a bad red card to Rafael saw us go out.

Now just go back to 2008, Moscow. Put yourself in a Chelsea fan’s shoes just before Terry is stepping up to take his penalty. Remember that? We were lucky on that day. We were not so lucky against Bayern. It’s just one of those things, it happens all the time. I am not giving excuses for the defeat, but merely stating that things are not as catastrophic as they seem.

Another popular phrase in United circles so far this season has been: “United are not playing well.” The way I see it, with over a third of the season gone, United are still undefeated. To “not play well” and still remain undefeated and be joint top is way better than play well and squander the top position.

Also, around Christmas is when things start coming together for United—always. Going by that logic, if we’ve not played well so far we’re only going to get better, and that my friends, could mean we are potentially looking at one of United’s greatest seasons yet.

True, we’ve still not faced Arsenal or Chelsea. But would you rather face them at a time when your team is known to peak or would you want to face them when your team is still spluttering and coughing? I choose the former and look forward to the days ahead!


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