After not playing for a fortnight, it was nice to see United back in action. As we have become accustomed to, the ‘back four’ was once again patched up for a supposedly tough game at The Emirates, with Chris Smalling, back after a one match suspension, being by far the oldest defender on the pitch at 25 years of age. The others who started were Luke Shaw (19), Tyler Blackett (20) and Paddy McNair (19).
Unfortunately Luke Shaw twisted his ankle early on, and had to be substituted after just fifteen minutes. That meant that Smalling had to be in charge of a back-line made of two very young players, aided by Valencia and Ashley Young as wing-backs.
Thankfully David de Gea was bang on form again, and we quickly forgot about his dislocated finger as he went about doing an excellent job of keeping Arsenal at bay. He made some very good saves, and though none seemed world-class, he did enough to make sure United went into half-time still level with Arsenal.
The second half wasn’t much different, but as time went on Arsenal seemed to be losing some of their first-half energy. When against the run of play, Valencia’s cross hit the first defender and was deflected into goal, rather than behind for a corner, we all felt relief and much joy at going ahead with no shots on target!
Arsenal then pressed forward for an equaliser, which played into United’s hands, and when Fellaini gave the ball to Di Maria on the wing, the excitement grew as he calmly gave the ball to Rooney. Our captain duly ran ahead and chipped the ball over the Gunners’ substitute keeper to make it 2-0, and pretty much game over, though Arsenal did pull one back in injury-time.
This proved to be such a sweet victory, mainly because it put United in the top four, over-taking Arsenal in the process. It was the first away win under Van Gaal, and Arsenal’s first league defeat at The Emirates in 25 games. It also showed that some players can be better than we sometimes give them credit for. Apart from David de Gea, who was once again man of the match with his performance, players like Smalling, Fellaini and Valencia stepped up to be counted, and proved that they can be an asset to the squad. In Fellaini’s case, he even made Wilshere look like the fool that he is when Arsenal’s golden boy pushed his head into the Belgian’s chest. If ‘Jack the lad’ concentrated more on his playing, rather than his machismo, he’d be a much better footballer. Or is he trying to overtake John Terry in the ‘unlikeable’ stakes (though he still has a long way to go)? Oh well, he now has around three months out injured again, maybe it will give him time to reflect.
Other players who passed this test with flying colours were Blackett and McNair, who will give Jones and Evans a run for their money for a place in the first team once they’re fit again. Angel di Maria also had a good game, especially compared to the last few matches, though he could have put our minds at rest if he hadn’t missed that sitter in the end. Wayne Rooney as well played a blinder and for once did lead the team by example. The one worrying aspect from the past few weeks is Van Persie’s form. Once again, he looked disinterested, and hardly did much in the few times that he was involved. We know that he’s much better than this. We always say that you need to be happy in your workplace, as that will make you and those around you work better, but Van Persie looks miserable right now. We already mentioned last season that it might be better to let him go, though we hope that he starts smiling again and he shows us what made him one of our heroes just a couple of seasons ago.
Looking at other games, the Chelsea juggernaut continued apace when they beat ten men West Brom 2-0 to extend the lead at the top; City huffed and puffed to beat Swansea 2-1; Spurs came from behind to beat Hull 2-1; Everton won with the same score line at home to West Ham; Burnley surprised many by winning 2-1 at Stoke; while Crystal Palace beat L’pool 3-1, making this the fourth defeat in a row for last season’s nearly Champions.
Elsewhere, Lionel Messi broke two all-time goalscoring records in a few days, first in La Liga, then in Europe. Meaning that Ronaldo is not good, right? Or can we still appreciate both of them and feel lucky that we get TWO ‘out of this world’ players to watch at the same time? It is possible to admire both of them, you know.
Meanwhile, Nani is being the player that we always wished he could be for United, as he is combining his skills with consistency and goals while on loan at Sporting. Wouldn’t it be nice to get him back in this form, especially as United are still paying his wages? Though it seems like he’d prefer to stay in Portugal at the moment.
Ander Herrera and Johnny Evans continued their road to full-fitness by playing for the reserves in a 5-0 win against Blackburn. While Evans was taken off after an hour, Herrera completed the full-game, even scoring a goal.
United now play two games in four days, both at Old Trafford. Former captain and legend Steve Bruce’s Hull are up first, at 3pm (UK time) on Saturday, then another hero of the past, Mark Hughes, brings Stoke to ‘The Theatre of Dreams’ on Tuesday (7:45pm UK time). We certainly hope that we will be writing about two more home victories next week, to make sure that fourth place (and possibly higher) is consolidated. COME ON UNITED!!!