The centre piece of this weekend’s football was undoubtedly the visit of Manchester United to Arsenal, highlighted by Sky’s decision to make the game the first ever live 3D sports broadcast. For Arsenal fans it will be an unwelcome reason to remember a match that they would rather forget, but for their United counterparts it was a day to savour. The opening exchanges were more fairly matched than many reports suggest, an early goal line clearance from a United corner was sandwiched between two good Arsenal chances, with Arshavin screwing two shots not far wide of the same post. Nani was the next to see a shot end up on the wrong side of the woodwork. In the 33rd minute an Arsenal clearance was collected by Carrick in midfield and sent out wide to Nani who produced a moment of pure training-pitch-magic to nip past the tormented Clichy, sidestep another player and then loft a ball to the far post to be turned in by Manuel Almunia for an own goal. It was an outrageous piece of skill by the often maligned Portuguese and it was the point at which the game played straight into Alex Ferguson’s hands.
Every intent of this Arsenal team is to get forward and on a day when they couldn’t take their chances it allowed man united to relax and look for an opening. They found it just four minutes later, the away side unleashed a ruthless counterattack directly from a promising Arsenal corner. The move was started and finished by the devastating Wayne Rooney and involved only a simple pass to man of the match Nani and another into the box before the ball found the net. The goal and the game as a whole had echoes of last season’s Champions League semi-final, again in the second half Arsenal poured forward only to be rewarded with another incise counterattack this time finished off by Ji Sung Park.
Thomas Vermaelen, almost horizontal as he lashed in a shot via a deflection off of Brown, added an ounce of respectability to the scoreline 10 minutes from time. The Belgian was one of the few players in red and white to come out of the game with much pride, Arshavin and Song showed endeavour but the team barely competed after going 2-0 down. Denilson, Clichy and Almunia had particularly poor games and the abject form of the latter two is surely one of the premier league’s worst kept secrets. Just as Aston Villa had targeted the Gunners’ left flank and tested their goalkeeper’s decision making so too did Manchester United. The game will serve as a warning to Chelsea not to underestimate United, who are now only a point behind the leaders, but it leaves Arsenal much in the same position as they had been after their crushing defeat to the Blues in November. They now travel to Stanford Bridge on Sunday in desperate need of a win.
There were, of course, other matches this weekend in the premier league. Chelsea ensured they would remain top ahead of the game at the Emirates with a win away to Burnley who showed fight to equalise through Fletcher after Anelka had opened the scoring only to bow under late pressure to concede from a corner. John Terry rose highest to head home a Lampard corner and show that the media storm surrounding him off the pitch was not affecting his performances on it. In the race for forth place Tottenham dropped points after a 91st minute equaliser for Birmingham City which continued their impressive unbeaten run at home. Man City and Aston Villa continued to put pressure on Liverpool, all three teams recorded 2-0 victories, but last years runners up would be leapfrogged in the table if City and Villa win their games in hand. The win for Liverpool took their unbeaten run to six games, a welcome run of form for the erratic North-West side. Their city rivals Everton also continued their better run of form by snatching a narrow victory against a Wigan side unlucky to only hit the bar late on.
At the bottom this weekend saw another defeat for Pompey, this time at the hands of Mancester City. Nothing went their way in the match – just like their dealings in the transfer window, with Harry Redknapp returning midweek to snap up Younes Kaboul, arguably Portsmouth’s best player this season. The club are still not allowed to spend money on players due to the money they still owe to other clubs, ironically from several deals negotiated by Redknapp himself. Draws in games between Hull and Wolves (both were lauded as goal shy yet played out a 2-2 thriller) and West Ham and Blackburn (not a ‘nice game’ in the honest words of manager Zola) will have done none of the sides much good. As a gap seems to be opening at the top of the premier league, the other end is remaining a close and tense affair.