Well what a result in the FA Cup 5th round match yesterday at Old Trafford; Man U not just beating traditional rivals Arsenal but actually making them look no better than the Holloway Tavern Sunday league team. 4-0 was a tremendous anti-dote to that awful performance against the Blue Mooners and a fantastic way to celebrate SAF’s 100th Cup tie at the club.
But perhaps more satisfying than the result was the performances from some of the Man U players. Arsenal will claim they had key men missing well so did United with Ronaldo, Giggs and Tevez all sidelined and Scholes on only briefly. But the Red’s replacements had excellent games; Nani revelled in not having Ronaldo there to overshadow him. He was a torment throughout the whole match and if his teasing keepy-uppy was a little cheeky (though brilliant) then his goal was stunningly executed and well-deserved. And his goal-celebrating back flip was just great. Perhaps more impressive however was the performance of Anderson in midfield. He’s only 19 but is playing like he’s been in United’s midfield since Bobby Charlton’s day. He looks so assured and dangerous. Whisper it quietly but the Premiership’s most complete midfielder in the last 10 years, Paul Scholes, may struggle to keep this kid out of the side now. I think many people thought SAF/Queiroz paid over the odds for these two last summer but like Ronaldo the investment is looking shrewd now.
Of the home-grown players I thought Fletcher had a great game too for a change. He took his 2nd headed goal brilliantly and one of his crosses from the wing in the first-half whilst under real pressure and running at full tilt was just perfect. And the recipient of that pass, Wayne Rooney, was quite simply on a different level from everyone on the pitch yesterday. He is running into some great form and playing as a lone striker, he terrorised players of the calibre of Gallas and Toure. He showed he can play in the role if he is supported by fast-raiding midfielders and quick accurate through passes. It was a performance of shock and awe and I’ve only ever seen it done as effectively by one other person – Alan Smith’s first 40 minutes against Roma in the 7-0 thrashing in the Champions League. It was exactly similar – running the centre-backs ragged with pace and aggression and a totally fearless performance. It was just thrilling to watch.
As for Arsenal well they were poor yesterday. It insults the intelligence for Wenger to blame the pitch. It didn’t prevent Man U from playing some delightful stuff. No, there wasn’t one Arenal player who played with any credit (except maybe Lehmann who pulled off some v good saves) and several really did look like pub players. Eboue’s tackle on Evra was shocking and the attempts to scythe down Nani by Hoyte and Flamini and the dirty kick on him out of the referee’s vision by a cynical and frustrated Gallas deserved more than yellow cards in my view. Maybe Arsenal hearts weren’t really on this match, perhaps saving themselves for the match v AC Milan. I always think that’s a wrong attitude to take into any game. Momentum is everything in football and I just don’t think you can pick and choose when to turn it on.
United have come back from a poor last performance in real style and have teased out outstanding performances from two or three squad players who can take that into future matches when the matches start piling up. Arsenal’s season may have hit a buffer at exactly the wrong time. I suspect Wenger may have thought the same thing. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare against Milan now. But the Reds look to be hitting their stride perfectly. I hope…