Well, that wasn’t the best game of football I’ve seen between these sides, but Manchester United’s 2-0 victory over Arsenal was entertaining, competitive and for the most part pretty even. It just happened to be United who took their chances when they came. The Gunners had a host of chances, but lacked cutting edge in the final third. United, on the other hand, counter-attacked with breakneck speed (and if we’re honest, were able to cut through Arsenal’s midfield with too much ease) and were clinical when they needed to be. In the end, goals from Fabio and Wayne Rooney sent Arsenal crashing out of the cup.
Tough couple of weeks to be an Arsenal fan. Everybody and their auntie has been keen to note that this is the third competition that the Gunners have dropped out of in 13 days. And I’ve just done it again – the pain, the bitter disappointment – it’s unavoidable. To make things worse, Johan Djourou picked up a season-ending injury (dislocated shoulder) and the Gunners will have to rely on the shaky, slow, Sebestien Squillaci for the title run-in. My only advice is to get back on your feet, dust yourself off and get behind your team as they attempt to wrestle the Premier League trophy away from favourites Manchester United (who will have earned a lot in impetus from today’s game).
Arsenal’s exit from the FA Cup and the Champion’s League may actually be to their benefit, should their renewed focus see them overtake United, who will have their attention split in three different directions. It’s too close to call right now, but that May 1st clash between the two sides is looking more and more decisive.
Sir Alex Ferguson, on the other hand will likely be delighted having seen his side respond to the disappointment of two losses on the trot against Liverpool and Chelsea. The fact that he managed to defeat Arsenal with seven players in the starting line up that are considered to be defenders is the icing on the cake. It means that the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes (who had a rather feisty, red-card-worthy cameo) remain fit and ready for United’s Champion’s League clash with Marseille this Tuesday.
Better still, the game saw Antonio Valencia make his first appearance for six months. There’s been a lot of criticism in recent times about United’s lack of width – a problem that Valencia’s return should help to smooth out. Sir Alex Ferguson was delighted with the winger’s return: “It was a fantastic performance. The boy is an absolutely brilliant player and he calmed us down in possession of the ball.”
Arsenal may have taken a serious knock to their confidence over the last fortnight, but Arsene Wenger still believes his side has the stones to put the past behind them and go on to win the Premier League: “I believe we can do it. It is a good test for us now to show we can regroup, and to show the mental strength, togetherness and respond quickly.”
To regroup, to raise morale and to provide a genuine challenge for United may well be one of the greatest challenges of Wenger’s career. Things may look glum, but there’s nothing like the thought of the Premier League trophy to soothe aching souls. Arsenal are down, but they’re certainly not out.
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