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Smalling & Jones Step into the Light!

 Posted by on November 12, 2013 at 11:19 am  Blogs/Media
Nov 122013

Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal
Robin van Persie Wayne Ro 011 Smalling & Jones Step into the Light!Beyond all the embarrassing braggadocio set forth by Arsenal’s players, managers, fans, pundits and the eternally biased London media which was the usual usual, there was the seed of doubt we knew was there at Manchester United F.C. The difficulties for a new manager and his coaches taking over from a dynasty of relentless success, two or three players kept at the club past their sell-by dates, a new chief executive and owners who know as much about football as they do about brain surgery, an unfathomable lack of passion, the Wayne Rooney soap opera, the Tiago Alcantara/Cesc Fabregas circus; and, worst of all, the recent unfathomable failure to cope of so many of our young players. Well, yesterday, over 94 minutes at Old Trafford, United’s problems did not get sorted out, per sé, but they were put in sensible perspective. Maybe nothing was ever really as bad as it had seemed. Maybe this instant gratification thing we’re addicted to is the real problem!

Yes. Perspective-wise, I always love playing Arsenal. I always make money. Their fans are so spoiled and bitter, so easy to wind up, so lacking in integrity or any kind of moral fiber: They remind me of their team. Just as I have seen and read about Dubya declaring victory in Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s line in the sand and Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich, Arsenal fans win the Premier League and the European Champions Cup every November. Aren’t they fantastic? And a betting man’s dream sucker bait!

Anyway, save for the very end of the match, during a final twenty minute stretch where a Red D team which had worked its socks off throughout began to look tired, Manchester United dominated the game. Ticky-tacky Arsenal huffed and puffed but they couldn’t blow down Old Trafford and were incapable of building up into their usual quick-tempo tsunami-style. United simply wouldn’t let them play! Then, 27 minutes in, when Rooney executed a rarity for him, a perfectly taken corner, Les Gooners were stunned. Arsene Wenger’s addiction to a policy of zonal marking meant Van Persie could make a long leaping sprint for the ball completely unimpeded. Seeing it all too late, the Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud attempted to block his path, but Van Persie was already high above him, his header zipping past Szczesny into the net.

71028979 71028978 Smalling & Jones Step into the Light!What followed–which I assume was a reaction to Arsène Wenger’s prematch assertion to the gathered ghouls of Fleet Street that RVP is still, deep down, an Arse man–saw the Dutch striker run to the touchline to embrace Wayne Rooney and his teammates before charging, arms aloft, to greet the faithful of the Stretford End. Not really a United player deep down, hunh, Arsene? You could have fooled me!71030210 71030671 Smalling & Jones Step into the Light!

The kudos and post-match awards may have deservedly gone to Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and David Moyes, but for me it was truly the night of the water-carriers. David De Gea finally put the pundit quacks who have accused him of being a pussy in the box in their place. Not only was he up there in the air laying out some muscle and brawn and punching away the ball almost as hard as he kicks, the warrior Spaniard was so totally amped and in the zone that he ruthlessly (albeit unintentionally)laid out his center-back hard man Nemanja Vidic because he was in the way of the ball. Even more impressive, however, were Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Both have talent to burn, but have also been repeatedly guilty of lacking in concentration. energy and desire the last two seasons. This was not the case against Arsenal. Last week, it seems, some kind of epiphany took place in both of them because, in their case, ‘potential’ is no longer a valid concept. Something wonderful happened to Phil and Chris and a thousand flowers bloomed!

Interestingly, earlier in the day, the players Smalling and Jones have ostensibly replaced in the squad, John O’Shea and Wes Brown(back from almost two years on the sidelines), both had fantastic matches in Sunderland’s shock home win over Manchester City. Meanwhile Chris Smalling played his best game ever for Manchester United. Confident and brave, he committed himself totally to making tackles in the box. It’s a risky business being responsible, but Smalling had his war face on and made a number of crisp, surgically precise tackles that reminded me of a certain Bryan Robson in his pomp. Very vocal, despite owning an even tinier set of vocal cords than David Beckham, Smalling has repeatedly begged off from playing at right back previously. I’m guessing here but having disappointed rather repeatedly this season as a center-back, Smalling may well have been told by the new Gaffer that he was definitely standing in vicinity of the last-chance saloon. Whatever the reason, Smalling was brilliant against Arsenal. Indeed, beyond a number of brave, superbly timed tackles in the penalty box, Smalling made a number of fine quick runs down the right flank, Smalling even came close to firing the coup-de-grace and scoring a second goal when, left unmarked in front of Arsenal’s goalmouth, he narrowly missed making an easy-peasy header at the other end from a Patrice Evra free-kick.

How fantastic that, on exactly the same day, Phil Jones stepped forward and finally became one of United’s most important players. His versatility made him look to be of the same worth as a Touré or a Mascharano. Assigned the mission impossible task of standing mobile watch in front of his back four and smothering the probings of Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and the Premier League’s flavor-of-the-month, Aaron Ramsey, Jones was the one on fire. The rubber-faced, stout-hearted big man not only accomplished his mission, but executed it impressively. Again and again, his intuitive tackling, quick ball recoveries and instinct for covering up for out-of-position team-mates repeatedly choked off Arsenal’s speedy but predictable moves before they could fully develop, making life a lot easier for his defenders. Like Johnny O’Shea, Jones can do any job he is asked to do in games. Unfortunately, until this Sunday he has never been quite up to doing it consistently and in a fully concentrated manner. After being superb in the first half, he was then required to change positions in the second half and fill in for the injured Vidic alongside Jonny Evans. Evans, who is never up to it in games where he has to take charge of the back line, was wise enough to let Jones give orders along with De Gea and came off all the better for it.

Indeed, Les Gooners only managed to get any traction on the game at all after the break due to Jones’ absence in central midfield and the substituted Cleverley’s inability to withstand any kind of sustained physical contact. As well as being great defensively, Jones made a number of powerful runs with the ball in the first half, and the biggest conundrum facing both Moyes and England’s manager Roy Hodgson from now on is just where to place the lad to receive maximum potential. The answer may actually be simple. Against lightning-quick small teams like Chelsea he needs a more stationery role. The question in fact seems to be whether, game by game, is he better assigned particular opponents to mark or in a less specific role.

A last bit of kudos for Rooney. The cliché about Wayne Rooney is that he covers every blade of grass. And as capricious as he’s capable of being, there can be no denial of just how much desire and sense of will he utilized in the little masterpiece he made of this game. Twice before the half, Rooney made decisive tackles on the cusp of his own box before galloping 75 yards into the Arsenal six yard box. Then, a few minutes later, sprinting back 70 yards to chase down a long, dropping ball, punted out of defense by Arteta. His feelings about David Moyes may be ambivalent, but the dour Scot has the Scouser playing at a level of fitness and confidence which is off the charts.

During injury time Old Trafford had a bit of bum-squeak as the pony-tail-bunned Arsenal substitute Nicklas Bendtner–looking like a refugee hit-man from an 80s Steven Seagal movie–tried in vain to connect with an exquisite Bacary Sagna cross. It was as close as they ever got on the night. Asked about it by the press, Wenger said his team was “inhibited by nervousness.” Butterflies in the 92nd minute? Pretty unforgivable, it seems to me, especially if you keep up the talk about winning the championship. To be sure, Arsenal’s five-point lead still needs to be whittled down further. United now sit fifth, after a hop, skip and a jump over Everton, Spurs and Manchester City to bring themselves within a point of Chelsea. United have not lost for six weeks now and the blogs will surely ease off on their personal attacks on Our Dour Davey.
Manchester Uniteds Vidic 012 Smalling & Jones Step into the Light!

Nov 052012

Manchester United 2 -1 A r s e n a l
Patrice Evra of Mancheste 006 DOh Trafford










It was a miserable day for football fans in general, particularly so for Arsenal supporters as they not only got to watch their former star Robin Van Persie pay a major part in their defeat, but were also reminded, ad infinitum, of the reason he chose to leave them in the first place. On a day where United were so far short of even their usual trademark fluidity that even Wayne Rooney cocking up a penalty proved meaningless, Les Gooners were, by comparison, like your Uncle Fred’s pub team.

“Coming out of the changing room, you would have thought we had lost the game,” Rio Ferdinand said after the match.‘The game went dead at stages. We created a number of clear chances but we always left them with a little sniff. It was 2-1 in the end but it could have been five or six..” A far less even tempered Sir Alex Ferguson put it this way. “We should have won by four or five, it was a strange game. The whole day was disappointing .”

How silly the traveling Arsenal fans must have felt. How ironic that, having booed him relentlessly during introductions before kickoff, that, as they kept their relentless noise going, their hapless Dutch center back Thomas Vermaelen, while stepping in to block a poorly executed Rafael Da Silva cross, made a dreadful hash of his clearance, putting it right at the tricky feet of Van Persie. The ruthless Dutch striker did not hesitate, slotting his tenth goal of the season past goalie Vito Mannone. Unlike other, more embittered expatriates of Wenger’s Premiership profit machine like Adebayor, Gallas and Cole, RVP did not celebrate ostentatiously or gesture toward the Arsenal crowd. He simply wheeled away in triumph, bobbing his sleekly coiffed barnet hither and thither. A player who simply oozes class, he is worth every single penny Sir Alex Ferguson spent on him.

The football throughout the rest of this dreadful duel is barely worth discussing, and to be fair to United, expectations should never have been too high after the two fantastic exhibitions they give in combat at Stamford Bridge last week. It was awful football throughout and a game which the Red Devils controlled throughout save for their predictable lapse in concentration to allow Santí Cazoría to score a consolation goal at the very death. Only Arsenal’s goalkeeper, Vito Mannone managed to cover himself with glory, making a fantastic save of a rising Van Persie rocket after Wayne Rooney had supplied him with a sublime dish midway through the half.

Indeed, with left back Andre Santos repeatedly humiliated by Luís Antonio Valencia–having a distinctly average day, I might add–Mannone had his work cut out, repeatedly making brave saves from Rooney, Valencia, Young and Van Persie as his back four repeatedly seemed hapless and flat-footed. Then, on the cusp of half time, the referee Mike Dean blew for a penalty after Cazoría blocked a Young pass inside the box with an upraised arm. Rooney hit it low, soft and wide and Mannone was there again to keep the margin at one.

For the rest of the second half, misery reigned for Arsenal fans, as, apart from a botched miscue of a pass from Carrick, which Cazoría himself also botched with little but De Gea and an open goal in front of him. United squandered opportunities repeatedly and, to some booing fans, flippantly. Eventually, however, 67 minutes in, as Van Persie hit a weak squib for Mannone to make a meal out of of a fingertip save , Young tapped his corner short to Rooney. His diagonal cross was well headed home by a high-leaping Patrice Evra.

To pile on the misery even more severely, Jack Wilshere, desperately trying to put out fires all day, after a yellow card followed by repeated warnings from Mike Dean, put in one too many hard studs-up challenges on Patrice Evra and was dismissed. Everybody has bad days, but, as they go, for the Jekyll and Hyde Gooners, this was indeed a doozy! Santiago Cazoría who has by far been the club’s best player all season looked like he was hobbling into March for most of the match. Like Wilshere, he was simply trying to do too much to compensate for his lackluster teammates. When the clever Spanish play maker pulled one back, threading the needle through a packed penalty area it actually made the score line of 2-1 seem like an injustice. For those of us who were there  at Old Trafford a year ago in September, Arsenal played far superior football in their 8-2 loss. Such are the ironies of the beautiful game!

United now top the Premier League. Considering the porous nature of Our defense, it is almost a miracle. Clearly, though, Chelsea own defensive issues of their own and Manchester City will have problems of their own throughout the season related more to commitment and psychology than excellence. This thing can indeed be won!

Robin van Persie applauds 003 DOh Trafford