10 February 2014

A tale of two clubs—Man U and Arsenal

I was going to go off on some poetic meditation about the storied rivalry between Arsenal and Man U, extolling each club's proud tradition, the number of trophies they've each claimed, the epic on- and off-pitch battles, the personalities, and so on, but after this weekend's results, it hardly seems worth it. Suffice it to say, one club dropped points in such an embarrassing fashion that Wednesday's match-up no longer feels like a heavyweight bout.

I refer, of course, to Man U's absurd draw. At home. To Fulham. Four minutes into Fergie, er, stoppage-time. A lot of folks, some of them Gooners, worry that it's Arsenal's loss at Anfield that has fatally wounded us and our prospects in the Prem. However, we only managed to come away with a result that most people predicted, even if the scoreline causes the eyes to boggle a bit. However, whether it was a one-goal loss or a four-goal loss has little to no impact on the next match, and it's not as if Saturday was some kind of first leg ahead of the FA Cup-tie with Liverpool next weekend. Therefore, for as shocking as the first twenty minutes of that match felt, it still leaves Arsenal firmly knotted in the middle of a three-team race for first, a point behind Chelsea and a point ahead of Man City.

Man U's draw with Fulham did more than cause them to drop two points. In a season full of forgettable firsts, this was just the latest: losing to Stoke for the first time since 1993. Losing to Sunderland for the first time since 2000. Losing at home to Swansea for the first time ever. Losing at home to Everton for the first time since 1992. Failing to beat Fulham at Old Trafford for the first time since 2003. The beat goes on and on, and Man U, despite adding Juan Mata, look like a club adrift, with talk of mutiny. Vidic has decided to leave. Ferdinand is ready to retire as well. Chicharito is "frustrated", according to Mexico coach Miguel Herrera. There is open debate over who will be shipped out in the summer, numbering as high as six to eight players. With a squad that includes six regulars over the age of 30 and two or three more at 28, there's little room to develop younger talent.

However, this is not a time to fret and ruminate over Man U's inner workings. It is a time to prepare to smash their teeth in (figuratively, of course). Nothing spiteful, but there's a championship to pursue, and we're not about to let some seventh-place squad interfere with us. They apparently still harbor some hope of climbing back into the top five so as to secure a spot in the Europa League or even the Champions League, and it's up to us to snuff all out all hope. For those who worry about Man U's apparent psychological advantage—I barely dare mention 8-2 without first getting a fainting couch and smelling salts—let's remember that our XI included Djourou, a brand-new Jenkinson, Traore, Lansbury, and Coquelin, not to mention a host of regulars who have since become among the best at their positions but who were at the time wet behind the ears: Szczesny, Koscielny, Ramsey, and Walcott. Still not convinced? Our last three matches against these wankers have come down to the slimmest of margins—a feebly shouldered "header" in November, an unfortunate Sagna tackle on van Persie, a squibbed clearance from Vermaelen—these are not the methods of a team that lords it over another.

Yes, van Persie has become a bit of a bogeyman, but both he and his club offer pale imitations of who they once were. In a way then, our loss at Anfield is a qualified "good thing". Of course, it would have been nice to have nicked a point, but all hope of that went out the window about ten minutes in. Instead, we have fresh motivation to go out and pummel our next opponent, who just so happens to be Man U. Set aside the history between these two clubs. Forget the last two or five or seven years. Forget that Man U has the best record against Arsenal of any club in the Prem. None of that matters. We go into Wednesday not facing a track record a but a squad that couldn't beat Cardiff Fulham or Sunderland or Swansea or Stoke and that barely escaped with a win over Hull. There's blood in the water, and we're the sharks.