17 November 2014

Stars starting to align around our clash with Man U and...oh. Mike Dean.

De Gea? Out. Blind? Out. Carrick, Rojo, and Lingard, all out. Add to that list a whole host of "maybe's"—Falcao, Rafael, Jones, and Evans are all hoping to return by Saturday, according to most sources—and we might start to feel cautiously optimistic about our chances against a club against whom we've struggled. We haven't beaten Man U since May 2011, a string of six matches that includes that infamous 8-2 drubbing. Still, setting that aberration aside, we've only conceded six goals in the subsequent five matches. If we could have just done one or two better than the three that we've managed to score in that same set, we might have found a few wins. With Man U missing four or five key players and hoping that at least two or three can come back from injury, we might even lick our chops. Cue the unholy spectre that is Mike Dean, for it is he who shall preside over the proceedings.

For those who don't know, Mike Dean is a bit of a bête noire thanks to his involvement in quite a few infamous decisions, none of which have ever seemed to go our way. A 2010 Louis Saha goal for Tottenham during which Dean appeared to hop around in delight. The 2011 League Cup final, in which we lost 1-2 to Birmingham. The 2012 League Cup quarterfinal defeat to Bradford on penalties. A month before that, Koscielny was sent off (correctly, it must be noted) against Man City in what ended as an 0-2 defeat. These are just some of the lowlights. For more-pertinent results, we should look at the role Dean has played in our clashes with Man U. Four matches. Three losses. No wins. Without suggesting error or bias, it's worth pointing out that Dean has been involved in some painful, painful results against our long-time foes:
  • 29 August 2009: Man U 2-1 Arsenal. A 95th minute equalizer from some bloke named van Persie is disallowed because some other bloke named Gallas is ruled offside. Arsène sees red for his protestations. Earlier in the match, Darren Fletcher bowled over Arshavin with nary a whisper from Dean. Instead, it was Almunia who was called for bringing down Rooney, and the resulting penalty turned the tide in Man U's favor. 
  • 12 January 2012: Arsenal 1-2 Man U. Let's not breathe too much of this one, as it was a Danny Welbeck goal that made the difference. To be honest, there wasn't much from Dean to criticise in this one.
  • 3 November 2012: Man U 2-1 Arsenal. Wilshere was sent off for a second yellow that seemed harsh, Cazorla was called for a handball in the box (correct), and we had to endure the Dutch Skunk scoring thanks to a scuffed clearance from Vermaelen. Might we have done better at full strength in those last 20 minutes? Hard to tell, to be honest, as Man U did dominate that match for long stretches. 

Confirmation bias suggests that we'll find what we're looking for. In this case, we're looking for some kind of excuse to explain why we've struggled so much against Man U. Sure, Mike Dean seems to have played a role, but what? Can we really blame him for our failings against Birmingham or Bradford, or does the guilt lay closer to home? Against the likes of Man U, the story is little different. It's been a while since we could honestly measure ourselves against Man U. Saturday's fixture might offer the first chance in a decade when we could say, on paper, that we're equal to the challenge.

Given Man U's current form and injuries, we should feel like we can go into Saturday's clash on level terms, if not better, regardless of who the referee is. To some degree, we have a right to feel aggrieved at the treatement we've received at the hand of referees, whether they be Dean or Taylor or anyone else, but that mindset conceals deeper issues around transfers, formation, and tactics that have bedeviled us in match after match regardless of who the referee may be. If we can't knock off a squad as psychophrenic as Man U, well, we'll have to ask questions of ourselves first and foremost.

Thanks, by the way, for the messages and so on during my week off. This past week off was the first break I've given myself since starting in February 2013 during which time I've posted 896 times in those. It's good to hear that my ramblings have been missed almost as much as those ramblings have missed. The interlull coincided with a bout of ennui as well as a physical illness, but I'm back at it, for better or for worse.