Giddy-up, folks; while the Spurs-Chelsea tilt titillated a healthy portion of our commentariat yesterday morning—Me? I was unmoved—this afternoon should provide joy/pain for another sizable chunk of UFers as Fergie and Wengie square off for the umpteenth time.
What to wish for? An agonizing draw that does neither side any favours? A rousing Gunners win to knock TSE’s dreams of unbeaten seasons well and truly out of alignment? A comprehensive United victory to further destroy Chelsea’s weekend? Or how about just a quality game that makes this liveblog endeavor worth all our time?
Our friend David Hirshey chalked up some thoughts for ESPN, so we’ll let those simmer and roil in your mind as you count down the minutes to kickoff.
I’ll be back right on the cusp of 3pm with lineups.
Oh wow, I’m running late! Finished a Foulcast chat… the fruits of which you’ll hear tomorrow I reckon.
Man Utd (4-3-3): Van der Sar – Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra – Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson – Nani, Rooney, Park.
Subs: Kuszczak, Brown, Berbatov, Giggs, Smalling, Hernandez, Obertan.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Szczesny – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Rosicky, Wilshere – Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin.
Subs: Fabianski, Fabregas, van Persie, Walcott, Denilson, Djourou, Bendtner.
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire)
Let’s do this!
And let’s not get carried away about Dimitar’s absence. He’s essentially done a full season’s work in just two fixtures to date. Let’s not act like a hat-trick was forthcoming for him today; by my reckoning, his next goal’s coming in the spring of 2013.
We’re off! And United tip-tap it around the back a bit. Vidic floats one forward for Rooney but it doesn’t get there.
The talk of Howard Webb as “World Cup final ref” still makes me vomit. He was rubbish.
2 mins: Rooney’s offside after some ping-pong footy. Szczesny fluffs a clearance right to a United player—I think it was Nani?—but nothing comes of it.
4 mins: Song is fouled in midfield. Chippy stuff so far. Neither side have managed more than two passes without losing it. Arsenal demonstrate this slop as I type, with a lofted ball down the right intended for Nasri that gives the home side a throw-in.
Mild scare for United; Arshavin’s mazy infield run from the left keeps United on their heels, but the Russian’s pass to Song at the top of the box is poorly controlled. Chance gone. Had Song corralled it, he’d have been in for an uncontested shot.
6 mins: Clichy eludes a spot in Webb’s Black Book of Naughty Players, hauling Nani down as the Portuguese winger got inside him and had room to run. Arshavin chuckles with the ref while Clichy backtracks quietly. Nani limps off theatrically for another dose of magic spray. Life goes on, and United succeed in knocking the free kick into the box, only to play it all the way back to van der Sar.
Rosicky dances up the middle and finds Sagna wide right, but his cross is nodded clear. United’s break is sharp—cued by Rooney’s sharp dummy allowing the ball to run through to Anderson, but again, the cross is not up to snuff and the young Gunner goalie lurches off his line to collect in mid-air.
9 mins: Arsenal flirt with an attack again; Nasri picked up the loose ball following a strong run by Jackie W, though Sagna opts not to cross from the right flank, pinging it back infield for that trademark tippy-tappy around the edge of the box that ends when Chamakh nudges the defenders off the ball.
United’s retort is the Routiest Route 1 ever; a long hoof to Rooney, but the potato head does well to control the high ball ahead of not one, but two Arsenal defenders. His spin on the ball is slick, but the shot’s dead center on goal and Szczesny falls on it.
11 mins: Koscielny clips Rooney in midfield. Another United free-kick. Lots of niggling fouls early on.
12 mins: The dominant sound inside Old Trafford isn’t fan chants or songs about Wenger, but rather the shrill tone of Howard Webb’s whistle. Song bundles Anderson over in the attacking third—not the worst challenge you’ll ever see—but one that Webb couldn’t let go after several 50/50 collisions leading up to it. Someone’s totally getting sent off in this one.
Nani takes the free-kick, 35-ish yards out, and dips it right down Szczesny’s throat. Easy save, but the young lad did well. Arsenal resume their mesmerizing passing and movement, but Rosicky’s 1-2 with a rampaging Wilshere is over hit. Rosicky compounds his smaller error by hacking down the United man—I think Nani again… man, do I not like Nani—on the edge of United’s box.
15 mins: Ian Darke implores Arsenal to “add some steel to the silk.” Any budding aesthete would realize that such a combination would look ugly.
16 mins: The Gunners give it up inside their own half, but Alex Song does well to track back on Ji-Sung Park and rob him at the edge of the box. Back up the other way it comes, but Song’s pass forward to Arshavin was rubbish. The Russian kept chasing and won it back, but his cross sails over Chamakh’s head, being the only Gunner in the United box. Yawn.
18 mins: More self-destructive rubbish from the visitors. Wilshere gives it away to Anderson in midfield, and the Brazilian scampers forth, picking out Rooney on the edge of the box. Koscielny fluffs the clearance allowing Rooney to gather, but Clichy holds his ground, and Anderson’s flagged offside as Carrick reaches the loose ball and tries to one-time it through the Gunners’ offside trap.
21 mins: Two wayward efforts for Arsenal: first, Bacary Sagna hoicks his cross into the stands, and a minute later, Arshavin’s daisy-cutter skids well wide of goal. I’d say the Gunners are shading the territorial battle, but have no clue what to do with it yet.
23 mins: FIRST REAL CHANCE OF THE GAME! Fletcher’s cross isn’t menacing on its own, but becomes near-fatal as Squillaci nods it right at Nani inside the box. Lucky for Wenger and co that Nani didn’t get over the ball and sent his half-volley inches wide of the far post. Brainless play by Squillaci.
Moments later, Rooney tries to break his hilariously poor scoring-from-open-play duck with a speculative effort from the left corner of the box, but Szczesny falls on it. Smother’d.
24 mins: Nasri floats one into the area for Chamakh, but the Moroccan tumbles under the strain of Rafael’s presence.
25 mins: Evra gets into it with Howard Webb during a stoppage; the opinionated full-back is robbed by Wilshere near the edge of the box, but it’s a foul. Webb whistles play dead but Evra’s not happy, presumably asking Webb to give Jackie W a booking. Not happening.
28 mins: I almost fell asleep there. Must have been the latest mishit cross. Sagna provides a burst of 5-Hour Energy in the form of a lazy backpass to Szczesny that Rooney nearly intercepts. It’s cleared. This gives Darke and McManaman a chance to opine about how much “lighter and fitter” young Wazza looks following his tour of Oregon.
Corner to United, but Chamakh clears. On the return, Old Trafford screams “HANDBALL!” on Chamakh as he bungles a lower header completely. It does hit his hand, but who’s counting?
33 mins: See Sagna run! See Alex Song pass! See Gael Clichy completely fail his upfield pass intended for Rosicky!
34 mins: Alex Song appears surprised to have running room in the United third. So surprised, in fact, that his through-ball for Chamakh is comically bad. United then fail to keep possession, only for the Gunners to give it right back in midfield.
…. BEST LEAGUE IN THE WORLD!
36 mins: This game’s got worse passing stats than Kyle Orton! Anderson isn’t able to pass it around one defender in order to play Rooney in up the middle, and there are other dreadful examples in the seconds that follow. Szczesny does well to scamper off his line and collect.
This game is rubbish so far. The only remotely exciting thing to do has involved hunting for snoods.
38 mins: Vidic fouls Chamakh in the United third but Webb plays advantage. Not that it matters, mind you, as Nasri twinkletoes infield but can’t force a low through-ball past four or five United defenders.
40 mins: Nasri does well to slip past Rafael and take Rio Ferdinand on a run, but he doesn’t shoot, doesn’t pass, and in the end, the ball just trickles out for a goal kick.
GOAL—Manchester United 1, Arsenal 0—Ji-Sung Park, 41
When you hoof in a cross, occasionally goals will result. This one must feel especially soft for the Gunners, as it involved perhaps the shortest United player winning a header on the cusp of the six-yard box. The goal’s cued by Nani, who waltzes into the box with Clichy backpedaling the entire way. Nani’s cross takes a bump off Clichy’s toe, and it finds Park in the middle for a weird, twisting, improvised header that has nary a challenge by Squillaci or Koscielny, neither of whom were particularly well-positioned to challenge. Squillaci was closest, yet seemingly furthest away. Park gets style points for creativity, and Old Trafford enjoys its spoils.
Soft, soft goal from absolutely nothing, and now Arsenal will have to actually exert some effort instead of wandering around hoping they can walk it in past van der Sar.
To wit, Arshavin romps up the middle uncontested yet drags his low shot comfortably wide.
YELLOW CARD, Arsenal—Chamakh, 44
Get some magic spray, Nani. He tip-toes past the big Arsenal striker, who decides to leave a leg in Nani’s way as a parting gift. After several far meatier fouls, Webb finally flashes a caution for that. Oh well. It is what Howard Webb’s famous for, I suppose.
YELLOW CARD, Arsenal—Arshavin, 45 mins + 2
The Russian, presumably upset about his side’s slack defending in the last 5 minutes, slides in through Fletcher after trying to dribble it out of his box through a forest of United players. Soft card, though; looked like Arshavin was more interested in lunging for the ball though Fletcher did well to merely step in his path to draw the foul.
Nani bends it low but can’t get it past the first defender.
HALF TIME: Manchester United 1, Arsenal 0
Dross from both teams, though United are solving this thing faster than Wenger: just ping crosses in until the Gunners’ breathtakingly poor marking yields a goalscoring opportunity. With Howard Webb’s card lust heating up nicely, this has the potential to end in lots of spilled blood. Or a timid Gunners surrender. You choose.
Back in 10 minutes. Up above.