Three lovely last minute points at the Grove yesterday. Delicious last minute points made sweeter with the last minute loser tears of so many United fans. For a while though it did look as if our first defeat the new stadium was on the cards after Wayne Rooney had given them the lead in the second half with a header.
Somewhere though, someone was smiling on us, as first Robin van Persie equalised and then in the third minute of the four injury time minutes Thierry Henry’s fantastic header won the game for Arsenal. Given the fact we had something like 18 attempts on goal and ended up with 4 strikers on the pitch then you have to say we deserved it.
The first half ended goalless but it could have been different had the referee awarded a penalty when Gary Neville made contact with Thierry Henry in the box. I’ve seen penalties given for a lot less in my time. At the other end United had two good chances as the half was drawing to a close. Wayne Rooney’s fantastic dipping shot brought out a top class save from Jens and from the subsequent corner he made an even better one when Henrik Larsson was given a free header.
Eight minutes in the second half though they took the lead. Ronaldo played Evra down the right hand side, his cross was glanced on by Kolo Toure and Gael Clichy was drawn to the ball leaving Rooney free behind him to stoop and head it home. We continued to press and probe without ever creating anything clear cut with most of our play going through the remarkable Cesc. I thought he carried the midfield yesterday as Hleb, Flamini and Rosicky didn’t really perform anywhere near as well as they can. Robin van Persie came on for Hleb and he got the equaliser with just seven minutes of the ninety remaining. Roisicky and Fabregas won the ball back from Scholes who was holding it between his legs on the ground, Cesc pushed it on for Rosicky whose low cross may or may not have been touched on by Henry but van Persie arrived at the back post ahead of Gary Neville and made a difficult finish look simple.
After that there was only one team that was going to win it and the winner came so, so late. Fabregas picked up the ball after an Adebayor knock down, gave it to Eboue who played a one-two with Rosicky and whipped in an absolutely fantastic cross. Henry didn’t even have to move, the cross took the defenders out of the game, and the header was just fantastic. It’s the sort of header someone like Shearer scored on a regular basis. The technique, the power, all text book. After that there was no way back for United and that’s twice this season we’ve done them with late goals. Lovely!
Overall I thought we deserved it though and in general the team played pretty well. I thought we were solid at the back, the two centre-halves were hardly troubled, Clichy was a little culpable for the goal but he did well otherwise and we saw the best and worst of Emmanuel Eboue. A really brilliant cross for Henry’s goal, and it’s not the first time he’s done that this season, and tremendous energy to get that far up the pitch so late in the game, but again some dreadful antics which he simply must cut out of his game and do it soon. There was an incident with Rooney in the first half when he slapped the United player and got some half hearted fingertips back from Shrek but the way he went down clutching his head was embarrassing. Then when he and Ronaldo clashed late in the second half he had another quick hold of his head just in case the ref might have been going to book him before he realised he didn’t have to.
Then he actually made the diving gesture to Ronaldo, which would be fair enough if it were any other player, but really Eboue has no place castigating anyone for being light on their feet or for playacting. I honestly though the vortex was going open up there and then. Defensively I thought he was ok, to be fair, he made some good tackles but it is an area of his game that still needs work. However, unless he cuts out the diving and the acting, the cheating, then he’s going to end up with an unshakeable reputation and at some point it’s going to cost the team a goal or a match. The manager or the captain, who was so quick to praise him for the cross (and rightly so) needs to tell him that sort of behaviour is not acceptable. If he cuts it out he could become a very good player which is why it’s so maddening to see him up to the same shit again and again.
Midfield I’ve covered. Up front you can’t help but love Adebayor’s enthusiasm, energy and workrate. He didn’t have his best game but he never stopped working, he was a ballboy making sure they took their goal kicks quickly, he pushed their players out of the way so we could take free kicks and that sort of effort and commitment does make a difference even if he didn’t have his best ever game for us. And the captain. A quiet game and then he goes and scores a quality winner like that. That’s four in four since his comeback and you could see how much it meant to him.
The only downside was the news after the game that Robin van Persie has broken his fifth metatarsal and looks set to miss some weeks. It hasn’t been confirmed yet quite how long he’ll be out but based on other players that have had this injury it could be anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months. Let’s hope it’s not too serious and get well soon, Robin. Reports yesterday said Boro had made a bid for Jeremie Aliadiere, you’d have to think he’ll be kept around until the summer if it turns out Robin is going to be out for a good length of time.
Afterwards Arsene Wenger praised the team for wanting to win the game right to the last minute while the captain’s interview on Sky afterwards was interesting. He was quick to praise the team and the effort everyone put in, making sure to see his Man of the Match champagne was for the lads, but he put the victory, spectacular as it was, into perspective, saying:
A win against Manchester United is always special but especially so with the way we did it today. Doing the double over them is always a pleasure but I would rather be up [in the league] with them than beat them twice.
Now, that’s not to take anything away from what was as enjoyable a victory as we’ve had in a long time. A last minute winner against the old enemy and coming back from 1-0 down. Just classic. But, like Thierry said, all of us would rather be closer to the top of the table. What this has done though is made the title race a title race again. I know we’re 12 points back and it’s probably too far for us but there are still 14 games to go and a lot can happen between now and then.
United still have to play Chelsea and Liverpool, we still have to go to Anfield and Chelsea still have to come to the Grove so the last part of the season is going to be very interesting. Our record against the other ‘top 4′ sides is excellent this season though. Two wins against United, a win at home against the Mug Smashers and a point at the bridge. If we can keep it up and not make mistakes against the supposedly ‘lesser’ teams then who knows?!
It’s a busy week this week with the first leg of the Carling Cup against Sp*rs on Wednesday. For today though let’s just sit back and bask in the warmth of yesterday’s win.Â Till tomorrow.