By Jonathan Gold
Arsenal may not win the league, but the United game won’t tell us either way
I’ll admit it, it still makes me grin a little bit each time I think about the fact that Arsenal lead the English Premier League. That happiness is tarnished only a little, however, to know that by the time most of you read this, they might not be any more.
There’s a certain sense of fatalism among Arsenal fans when Manchester United comes to London. While Fergie’s mob haven’t had it all their own way, there haven’t been too many occasions in recent seasons for wild celebrating among the Gooner faithful.
Given how evenly matched the teams are on paper, it’s difficult not to come away with the impression there’s just a little bit more steel and composure about Ferguson’s teams, which frequently shades the fact that Arsenal is a bit more talented most of the time. It’s still awfully close, of course. Age probably has something to do with it.
Even the last time Arsenal beat United – a 2-1 in November 2008 at the Emirates – the team had to survive United pulling a goal back at the end, and were under significant pressure the whole time. Does this sound particularly like the type of situation in which the Gunners have thrived this season? Nope.
Exactly. Even discounting (oh, couldn’t we please?) the truly horrifying collapse against Spurs, there have been a number of occasions this year where Arsenal have started brilliantly, taken the lead, and then melted like fondue in front of counter-pressure.
Against a United team short on firepower but long on tenacity and fortitude – a United team, let me remind you, which hasn’t lost in the league this year – Arsenal could be in for another heartbreaker.
There is only one factor I can see tipping this one in Arsenal’s favor, given the latest info I’ve heard puts Fabregas out of the starting 11, the game is at Old Trafford, and the Londoners’ defense is about as solid as a wet lunch bag, is named Samir Nasri.
If you haven’t seen his second against Fulham – hell, watch his first while you’re at it, it’s also pretty inspired – do it. Do it now. I’ll wait.
[Masterful Nasri Against Fulham]
You back? Seriously, how about that? While I grant you that some pundit somewhere will say that pretty much every young French guy who comes to Arsenal is “the next Zidane,” it’s awfully fun to watch one of them make that statement a little less of a stretch.
My goodness me, Nasri is in excellent form. Of course, this means that he’ll probably get injured this time around, probably by that unprintable Patrice Evra.
Side note: Evra is a classless, pathetic little wanna-be tough guy. Even if I wasn’t an Arsenal die-hard, I’d want to see somebody kick him into the cheap seats, if there were any to be found at Old Trafford.
Arsenal vs. Manchester United, as usual, will be one of the highlights of the season, a top rivalry game between two title contenders. However, it will probably have only a glancing effect on the Premier League’s title race.
From an Arsenal point of view, the game happens early enough in the schedule that a loss – even a big one – at Old Trafford won’t be the end of the campaign. That will happen much farther down the line, when injuries – once again – take their toll, and the team’s concentration fails – once again – during away matches against mediocre opposition.
I hope I’m wrong, but the season so far looks like yet another one where Arsenal’s slick play and youthful potential gets undone by the same old defensive and mental frailties.
For the London side, beating United will be the first step of many if the title is to head back to North London for the first time since THAT season. For United, grinding out a home result against a team with the obvious instabilities of Arsenal will prove little. Sure, they’ll take over the top spot if they win, but they have drawn against Fulham, Bolton, West Brom and Manchester City in the league, and have suffered a few more reverses elsewhere – most recently, a 4 – 0 thrashing at the hands of mighty, uh, West Ham in the League Cup.
Fergie’s uncharacteristically inconsistent team needs to settle down and get back to killing off lesser teams, like they did in their 7 – 1 destruction of Blackburn, albeit one managed by Sam Allardyce, who unaccountably still hasn’t been contacted by Real Madrid in the wake of their complete reaming by Barcelona.
So who wins? Probably United, given that their new-found flaws for the season don’t involve leaking goals by the boatload. But even with a loss as disheartening as that would be, Arsenal might still have a chance at the title, given the cracks in the previously impenetrable facades at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge.
Jonathan Gold is a contributing writer for TheSoccerGuysOnline.com. Contact Kevin Koczwara if you want to contribute a column to The Soccer Guys, Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.