x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Arsenal should be sitting pretty

Their victory against Manchester United shows what the Gunners can do but they continue to flatter to deceive.

Arsenal’s Alex Song, right, upends Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during yesterday’s gritty clash yesterday.
Arsenal’s Alex Song, right, upends Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during yesterday’s gritty clash yesterday.

Arsenal 1 // Manchester United 0

A much-used saying in the UK, if you want something desperately enough and have to turn to the last resort, is "Pretty pretty please".

It is said in a whining tone and, more often than not, it serves only to further antagonise the recipient of the plea and to make him dig his heels in even more.

Arsenal are the "Pretty pretty please" merchants of the Premier League. Pretty to watch, so pretty, as they weave their intricate patterns.

As at Emirates Stadium yesterday, against the solid might of Manchester United, they can be bewitching and beguiling. At times, a joy to behold.

Yet to what effect? Looking good might have its merits, there are points to be had for being aesthetically pleasing, especially in the hard school that is the Premier League.

But what if the cupboard remains bare, without a trophy in sight, after six years?

That is why Arsenal are so infuriating.

And that is why they will not win a glittering prize for perhaps another half-dozen seasons unless they rid themselves of the self-perpetuating myth that they can climb to the summit playing the beautiful game.

Barcelona can get away with it - they have hearts of steel as well - but Arsenal are, at the moment, little more than a poor man's Catalan giant. No end product to back up the intermittent brilliance.

At least yesterday, there was some substance to their style.

And it came without Cesc Fabregas, their captain and talisman, too.

The elegant Spaniard had succumbed to a training-ground thigh strain. And Samir Nasri, the influential French midfielder, did not appear after half time due to a hamstring niggle.

That Arsenal could see off United, the probable Champions League finalists, with little or no input from two of their most prominent players, offers hope for the future.

Fielding the youngest team in Premier League history, at an average age of 23 years, is a feather in the cap of Arsene Wenger, if nothing else in another barren season.

Too little, though, too late. To lose to Barca in the last 16 of the Champions League was no disgrace but to finish second best to Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final was careless in the extreme.

Again, Arsenal promised so much but failed to deliver on the big stage.

And, also, to accumulate only eight points from a possible 21, prior to United's visit to north London, was bordering on the criminal.

Just when the tough should get going - look at Chelsea - Arsenal slid into a pit of sloppiness and self-pity.

Even Wenger at his delusional best could not paper over the chasm-sized cracks.

United did have a rare off-day at the Emirates. They coped comfortably with Arsenal's early fancy-dan stuff, though were fortunate to escape a penalty when Nemanja Vidic, under pressure from Robin van Persie, clearly handled a cross from Theo Walcott.

Chris Foy, the referee, and Andy Garratt, his assistant, thought otherwise.

But where United could then have been reasonably expected to push on, to secure another win and close in on their record-breaking 19th league title, they merely expected it to happen rather than made it so.

That Wayne Rooney became increasingly engulfed in an angry red mist, mostly of his own making, only made their job harder.

Perhaps United, like Arsenal, should have had a spot kick, when Gael Clichy clipped Michael Owen in the area in the closing minutes but, by then, the die had been cast.

And at least, for the neutrals, United's defeat does allow the title race to be extended by another week.

All eyes on Old Trafford next Sunday, when Chelsea are the visitors.

Should Carlo Ancelotti's team win, they will go above United on goal difference.

Another twist in the nine-month marathon, just as the final sprint nears. Game on again.

But for Arsenal, once more, the end of the season will bring ... well, pretty much nothing.

Arsenal v Man Utd report card


•Keeper Wojciech Szczesny was steady when called upon in the Arsenal goal and made one particularly fine save from a Wayne Rooney free kick in the second half. B

•Defence A fine performance from Arsenal’s back four in what was an open game. B

•Midfield Missing Cesc Fabregas, their captain, Arsenal’s players stepped up their game. Jack Wilshere was a live wire and Aaron Ramsey gave a glimpse of the future with a superb goal. B+

•Strikers Robin van Persie had one of those days where he always looked about to score, without ever getting a solid chance. But he set up the only goal of the game with a patient pass. B

•Manager Arsene Wenger compensated for the absence of Fabregas by allowing Wilshere to move further forward and it worked to a tee. B

Overall Grade: B

•Keeper Edwin van der Sar only had two shots on target to deal with, but one of those was Ramsey’s finely placed strike for the goal that was out of the Dutch keeper’s reach. B

•Defence United dominated aerially at the back, but the open nature of the match forced them to leave too much space too often in the full-back positions. B-

•Midfield This was where the match was won and lost. Perhaps the absence of a player such as Darren Fletcher cost United as they left gaps between midfield and the back four. B-

•Strikers Javier Hernandez has been covered in accolades recently, but this was his poorest game this season. Rooney played well, but was often forced deep to get the ball. B-

•Manager Sir Alex Ferguson played an adventurous 4-4-2 and got it wrong. C

Overall Grade: B-