By Rasheed Abu Bakar
In a game that failed to live up to all the hype surrounding it, a tepid Manchester United side did just enough for a 2-1 win against London rivals Arsenal.
With United’s recent form, and Arsenal’s stunning come-from-behind 7-5 win in the League Cup against Reading, I was expecting a goal fest. However, the game fell far short of the blockbuster-action these two teams deliver each time they face each other.
Thomas Vermaelen, supposedly the Gunners' equivalent of Nemanja Vidic, gift-wrapped and delivered United’s first goal as his careless clearance in the third minute fell to Robin van Persie, who clinically drilled the ball past Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Having hardly moved out of third gear, United still afforded a penalty miss from Wayne Rooney before Patrice Evra headed in the second goal to kill off Arsenal’s optimism and climb to the summit of the Premier League table.
The three points were welcome, especially since Chelsea and Manchester City both failed to win; however, the manner in which United won was still not completely satisfactory.
The team failed to convert many of the chances they created and after losing the title on goal difference last year, you would have expected more impetus from the team. With 13 shots on goal, United only had six on target, four of which were saved by Mannone.
In all honesty, I felt the game was a bore. After playing so well twice against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, I was hoping for United to register another convincing win and carry on a decent run of form but strangely, the hunger was there but the final ball into the box was too blasé.
The flat 4-4-2 deployed saw Ashley Young and Valencia with a lot of ‘ball time’ but either Arsenal’s fullbacks got the better of them, or the crosses were cleared away from danger.
Valencia in particular looked most dangerous and got past Andre Santos with ease at times but again, the final ball was disappointing. The Ecuadorian also had one glaring miss with the goal gaping, after being set up by Van Persie's low cross.
It did help that Arsenal didn’t really turn up for the game. They were careless from the start and Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski did little to trouble Rio Ferdinand and crew at the back – David De Gea only had a couple of saves to make.
We were lucky that the Gunners were firing blanks but let’s admit it: when Santi Cazorla curled in Arsenal’s consolation, I’m sure many United fans were thanking their lucky stars that it was the last kick of the game. Even when Jack Wilshere was sent off, United failed to capitalize to put the game out of Arsenal’s reach.
On their day, Chelsea, Manchester City and even Liverpool could have really put United to the sword. Without sounding like a pessimistic broken record, United have to make sure they kill off games as early as they can. This means capitalizing on chances, and practicing more penalties at Carrington seems highly advisable as well.
Complacency or not, there was a positive from the game – Wayne Rooney. Whether he‘s a out and out number 9, a mix-breed 9.5 or a traditional number 10, we saw how reliable and flexible he can be.
It seems to me that Van Persie’s form so far has taken the pressure off Rooney and given him more freedom - more freedom to fill that ‘playmaker’ role he’s proving to be really good at. It’s still early days though, and Sir Alex Ferguson is known to mix things up throughout the season so let’s not worry about Rooney and where he plays just yet.
Let’s just hope Ferguson quickly finds those sharp lethal scoring boots that are in abundance at Carrington, and were missing on Saturday.
"Rasheed's love for Manchester United started way back in the nineties after watching a crazy old Scot named Sir Alex Ferguson run onto the sacred grass of Old Trafford jumping for joy as Steve Bruce headed in the winner against Sheffield Wednesday in the 1992-93 season – easily one of the most influential games that spurred United to claim the inaugural Premier League title. Since then, it has been Manchester United and nothing else."