Arsenal eventually managed to get a home win in the Premier League yesterday, and in doing so they blew the title race wide open. Sadly the win came too late for Arsenal to have a real chance of winning the league, but Chelsea can go to the top of the table if they win away to United next Sunday. It should be a fascinating game, and as an Arsenal fan I'm not quite sure who I would like to see take the title.
Arsenal are only six points off the league leaders with three games left, but realistically they blew their chances with their inability to win at home in the league since they lost the Carling Cup final at the end of February. Consecutive draws against Sunderland, Blackburn, and Liverpool before yesterday's win have cost Arsenal very dearly, and their home record is the main reason for their failure to keep pace with United and Chelsea. United have taken 49 points from 17 home games, Chelsea have taken 44 points from 18 home games, and Arsenal have only managed 37 points from their 18 home games.
It's a tale of what might have been for Arsenal, and yesterday's result and performance showed what Arsenal are capable of. It's a pity it came too late, but it still felt very sweet to see Arsenal outplay United, and get a win that the players owed to themselves, and the fans as well. I've already said a few times this season that I really don't rate the current United team, and they showed very little to suggest they are anything but an average team yesterday.
The Arsenal team had one big change in it from the previous game, as Cesc Fabregas was unable to play, after picking up an injury in training on Saturday. The rumour mill on Twitter suggested there may have been other reasons for his absence, but the official club line was that he was injured. It meant Aaron Ramsey took his place in the team, but otherwise Arsene Wenger showed faith with the team which lost to Bolton the previous week.
United went with a central midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and Oliveira Anderson, and Wayne Rooney dropped back from his striking role alongside Javier Hernandez to support them also. Arsenal's central trio of Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, and Alex Song all played very well, and they ran the game from start to finish in my opinion. In previous games against Arsenal, United have often tried to spoil the midfield area by swamping it with players, but on this occasion they allowed Arsenal to play their game. It may have been due to the absence of Cesc, but with him missing, other Arsenal players stepped up to the mark.
The game itself was far from a classic, but Arsenal created a few decent chances early on, and failed to take them. Wilshere dragged a shot wide from inside the box early on, and Theo Walcott put a Gael Clichy cross just over the bar a short while later. United seemed to be content to defend, and hope to pick Arsenal off on the break, and they nearly did just that on a couple of occasions too.
At the centre of United's defence Nemanja Vidic was up to his usual tricks, and yet again the officials failed to spot him. He is one of those players who constantly cheats, but very rarely gets caught in the act, and he got away with conceding a penalty, and getting a red card on the half hour mark. A Walcott cross looked destined for the head of Robin Van Persie, but Vidic raised his hand to flick it away from him, but somehow it went unnoticed. The referee gave Arsenal a corner which must have meant he thought Vidic got his head to the ball, but he clearly handled it.
RVP was absolutely livid with the failure of the officials to notice the handball, and if it had been spotted a red card would also have to have been issued to Vidic, as well as a penalty to Arsenal. It would have resulted in Vidic missing the title decider for United against Chelsea next week as well, and who says cheating doesn't pay. Vidic has made a career out of tugging shirts, pushing players, and bending the rules any way he can get away with, and he rarely pays the price. I had a horrible feeling he would play a large part in helping United top get a result later in the game, but thankfully I was wrong.
At the start of the second half Andrey Arshavin replaced Samir Nasri, as the Frenchman had a problem with his hamstring. United started the second half a lot better than the first one, and they seemed to be gaining the upper hand until Arsenal made the breakthrough in the 56th minute. Arsenal won the ball in midfield, and Ramsey fed it to RVP who was wide on the right. He brought the ball into United's box, and held it up with three Arsenal players waiting for him to deliver the ball into the box. However, RVP cut it back to Ramsey who had followed up his pass by moving to the edge of the box, and Ramsey finished sweetly into the corner of the net.
It was no more than Arsenal deserved, and the stage was set for an exciting finale to a game United could not afford to lose. They huffed and puffed, but they created very little for a team sitting at the top of the table. Arsenal stood strong at the back, and had quite a few chances to finish United off on the break, but the final pass seemed to go astray every time. I was a little worried when Johan Djourou went off injured with 20 minutes left, as he was replaced by Sebastien Squillaci.
The game seemed to be petering out towards the end, but there was one more controversial moment for the referee to get wrong. Thankfully the decision went in Arsenal's favour this time, as a clumsy challenge by Clichy brought United Substitute down in the Arsenal box, but the referee chose to play on, and didn't give a penalty. It was a clear penalty in my opinion, but no more so than the one missed by the referee in the first half, and thankfully they did actually even each other out for once.
Overall I thought Arsenal worked very hard to close United down, and win the ball back when they lost it. They put in the sort of effort which had been missing on a few occasions at home this season, and they got the reward for their hard work. A win against United is always sweet, and Arsenal hadn't beaten them in far too long before yesterday in my opinion.
It was great to see Ramsey, Wilshere, and Song control the midfield, and show United that you actually do need a decent midfield at times. It's a shame that Arsenal's season which promised so much will amount to nothing, but at least the players managed to raise their game for a game which meant so much to the fans. Arsenal have three games left, and even if they win all three the chances are they will only finish third, but at least Champions League football is all but guaranteed for next season.
St. Totteringham's day has almost arrived, as Tottenham need to win their remaining four games, and hope Arsenal lose their last three, as well making up 25 goals in goal difference to overtake Arsenal. Since Arsene Wenger took the reins at Arsenal they have always finished above Spurs in the Premier League, and that will not change this season. It would seem Tottenham might well slip to sixth place, and not even qualify for the Europa League next season too, despite their Champions League heroics this season. It was a great weekend to be an Arsenal supporter for the first time in almost two months, and hopefully next season will bring more of the same.
Next up for Arsenal is a trip to Stoke next weekend, and that's where Ramsey had his leg shattered last season. It's a tough place to go, but hopefully Arsenal can show the same strength they showed yesterday when they play Stoke. If Cesc is still unable to play it should mean Ramsey starts, and I'm sure it will be a very emotional game for him if that is the case. I think he has the strength to relish that challenge, and show Stoke they left no lasting effect on his career.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from yesterday's game.
See You Tomorrow.