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Some Final Thoughts on the Farce at Old Trafford
Since my post from yesterday, “Why Saturday Was A Fantastic Day To Be A Gooner,” really didn’t deal with the actual match itself, but rather dealt with the dive and the ramifications of the match, I’d like to take this wet and gloomy Monday morning to briefly discuss the match. Obviously, there were a few flashpoints, as there almost always are when we play United…
It’s telling that many people, including Rooney, came out after the match praising Darren Fletcher as United’s best player on the day. Fletcher did nothing but freely commit fouls with the absolute approval of Mike Dean. In a match which saw 8 yellow cards, how can Darren Fletcher not have received one of them? But never mind yellow cards, Fletcher’s two-footed lunge at Arshavin should’ve been a penalty and a sending-off. It is possible that only a matter of millimeters meant the difference between Arshavin getting up to then rip one into the United net or lying on the ground writhing in agony and missing 3 months of the season. It was a cynical and desperate challenge by a player whose technical inferiority forced him to commit fouls regularly and Dean let him get away with that while showing Arsenal yellow cards for breathing.
Arsene has come out in the press today criticizing United’s tactics and Fletcher’s “performance.” I think he may not be giving his own team enough credit. I highly doubt United came out with the intent to play the way they did, they were forced into it by an Arsenal side that pinned them back in their own half for long stretches of the game, an Arsenal defense that easily cleared almost every ball sent in to them, an Arsenal midfield that pressed United so high up in their own half that United’s central midfield was useless. For long periods, Rooney was left up top alone and chasing onto balls Bolton-style.
Fletcher’s “attack” on Arshavin was inexcusable and could have easily been a sending-0ff anywhere else in the world but Old Trafford with any other referee in the world except Mike Dean. Only the combination of Old Trafford and Mike Dean could not give something so blatant. And some people have said that the non-call did not matter because Arshavin scored immediately afterward. But that is hardly the point. The point is that the non-call was everything wrong about the entire match in a microcosm.
To speak about Rooney’s dive for a final time, I would like to say that what he did is absolutely no different than what Eduardo did or what every player does. Every player goes down in anticipation of contact, it’s just a natural, instinctual reaction. In Eduardo’s situation, Boruc had just barely gotten his arms out of the way whereas Almunia did not. But in both cases it was not the contact that made the player go to ground but the anticipation of it. Rooney was obviously already falling down before any contact was made. It only became cheating for Eduardo because the referee was out of position and made the wrong call. Why is THAT Eduardo’s fault? I believe that if it had not been given that Eduardo would not have argued about it, like Wenger said.
Can the same be said about Rooney yesterday? Of course, Almunia has no business coming out for that ball. That said, Rooney was obviously looking for the penalty as the ball was already out of play by the time he made contact with Almunia and he was already looking back at the ref screaming for a penalty before he’d even finished his slide. I just don’t understand how the same offence is worth a yellow card if charged on the pitch but a two-match ban if charged after the fact. It makes the punishment dependent on whether or not the referee gets the call right. If you want to have a ban, it has to be strictly based on the player’s actions and NOT on whether or not the referee made the right or wrong call.
I would also like to reiterate one point from yesterday’s piece. It has seemed obvious to many of us that there is a different team spirit this year than last. I expect this match to have the same catalytic effect that our early-season trip to Old Trafford in 2003/04 had. I believe that, especially coming on the heels of the Eduardo vilification, it will further insulate the side and draw them even closer together. If the Eduardo situation wasn’t enough, this should foster that “Us vs. the world” attitude that so many of Arsenal and Wenger’s greatest sides have had. I believe that it will have been increased by Wenger’s outright defence of Eduardo in midweek and, especially, by his refusal to leave the pitch by going into the stand on Saturday rather than just heading back to the changing room with the match still not over.
It seems that Wenger is to be issued a public apology for being forced to go into the stands where he has been viciously chanted at for a decade. That’s all well and good but that decision is in no way nearly as significant as the decision to assign that match to Mike Dean. United did not expect the match that Arsenal brought to them on Saturday especially without Cesc in the lineup. Simply put, this is not the same old Arsenal of the last three years. Don’t let the spin from the press fool you. How anyone can write that United’s performance “emphasised [their] claims on a fourth consecutive title” is beyond me. They never looked like scoring a goal on their own except on a few counterattacks in the stoppage time when Arsenal were bombing forward in search of an equalizer and they only won the match on a dubious call and two individual errors. Yesterday, my article stressed that the positives from Saturday far outweighed the negatives and I feel far better about our title chances after Saturday than I did last week. [digg=http://digg.com/soccer/Some_Final_Thoughts_on_the_Farce_at_Old_Trafford]
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ARSENE WENGER POST-MATCH INTERVIEW