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Man U/Arsenal – the view from Manchester

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By Phil Gregory

As part of the build up to our FA Cup tie away to Manchester United on Saturday, I posed a few questions to Manchester United fan Mark Butterworth. He’s also going to co-write the match preview for the game but here we wanted to take a look at some of the broader issues surrounding our title rivals. On y va…

Despite a recent stumble for your side, it looks to be a two-horse race for the Premier League title. I personally had hoped for Arsenal to be on top by this stage given United’s recent fixtures, but instead Arsenal are three points behind with a game in hand. How do you see the remaining fixtures playing out?

Obviously I’d rather be in our position than yours; points on the board are better than games in hand. On the respective run-ins, they’re a mixed bag really. You’ve got away trips to Blackpool, Stoke and Spurs which are all potential slipping points, while we’ve got to go to West Ham, where we always seem to slip up, and obviously go to your place. If we can pick up points in that game, I think the title’s ours for the taking. If you win, I can only see it staying in London. It’s that close

Defeats at Anfield and Stamford Bridge weren’t such shock results, but United’s away form this season certainly has been. Why do you think United are struggling so much on the road?

I’d love to be able to tell you that!  Early season disappointments at Everton and Fulham were ridiculous; they were down to lapses of concentration and a simple lack of professionalism. Our weak midfield tends to get bullied away from home, and Fergie’s Ranieri-style tinkering is annoying for a fan. The fact that he has a different team home and away is mystifying, as is his reluctance to play the league’s top scorer in Berbatov on big away days. Believe it or not, however, only you lot, City and Spurs have a better away record than us this season, thus it hasn’t been the huge dent in our title challenge that it should have been; everybody can take points off everybody.

Manchester United’s big objective this season is surely eclipsing Liverpool’s number of titles this season. While there is no chance of Liverpool adding to their tally in the foreseeable future, was their performance at Anfield motivated by a defence of their cherished record? How have United fans reacted to what was a pretty abject defeat?

Crushing disappointment, frankly. I’ve always said that teams up their game for United, and Liverpool are a case in point. Hell, only last week they got trounced by relegation-fodder West Ham. They’re a mediocre squad with a mediocre manager, the difference on the day was that we  had a makeshift centre back pairing and simply bottled it big style. There were literally no positives to take out of that game, apart from the hope we can take motivation from the fact that we’re still top of the league after two consecutive defeats.

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Arguably the biggest news coming out of the game at Anfield for Arsenal fans  was the injury to Nani, who has surely been United’s player of the season this year. Just how big a miss is the Portuguese winger?

He’s been instrumental this season. We saw flashes of his potential in his début season in 2007/8, then for some reason he flopped for 18 months, then woke up around January last year, against you lot at the Emirates I recall. Since then he’s been immense; he’s got the most assists in the league and 10 goals to boot. Can’t argue with that. So to answer your question, he is a massive loss; only Vidic would be a bigger blow.

…And indeed, the injury has left United short of wide players with other absentees such as Park and Valencia. Does United’s squad have the depth to cope or have the disappointing performances of the likes of Bebe and Obertan likely surprised Ferguson and left him short of options?

Our strength in depth is a huge worry.  You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head regarding Bebe and Obertan; they clearly don’t have what it takes to play at this level. With Park and Valencia out, in addition to mention Nani, our wings will most likely be populated by 37 year old Ryan Giggs and centre mid Darren Fletcher for the next few games. Frankly, that doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence! I think I’d prefer to see Fergie give one of the Da Silva twins a run on the wing.

Wayne Rooney hasn’t been anywhere near his best for a while now, yet got rewarded with a bumper new contract when he started casting glances elsewhere. What’s been the reaction to Rooney’s behaviour, and why is he looking quite so poor this season?

Well, my reaction has been somewhat different to that of the Old Trafford faithful (I use the word somewhat ironically.) Personally, I was devastated by his actions, his betrayal, his comments, everything. Whilst he was no doubt mislead by his agent Paul Stretford – about whom my thoughts could fill a whole new article – the final say rested with him and he delivered the fans an incredible stab in the back. Personally, I’ll never forgive him. Of course I’ll celebrate his goals as long as he’s still wearing a red shirt – especially if they come in the form of wonder goals against those sporting sky blue – but I can’t bring myself to sing his name as the majority of the Stretford End seems prepared to.

I can’t explain why he’s been so poor this year. I think he had a World Cup hangover, an injury, a marriage crisis and a contract saga distracting him at first, going a way to explaining his shoddy early season form, and now he’s finally picking up the pace a bit. He’s got four goals in his last five games, and the second most assists in the league (behind Nani), so whilst not justifying his outrageous wages, he’s heading in the right direction.

With a midfield of Wilshere, Fabregas and Song Arsenal fans are blessed with talent in the middle of the pitch. On the other hand, many United fans were after investment in that area this summer. Has a perceived lack of midfield creativity cost you, and what was the reaction to Carrick and Fletcher’s recent contract extensions?

A lack of creativity is clear to anyone watching recent United performances. After watching the likes of Van der Vaart and Ozil go for a pittance in the summer, it makes it all the more frustrating to see Carrick and Fletcher struggle along, and to watch Scholes have to drag us through the mud at the age of 36. In fact, the only positive in that position this season has been Anderson, who has really grabbed hold of games by the throat this year, especially at Old Trafford.

I must say, I was surprised to see Carrick get an extension. Since the Champions League final defeat against Barca in 2009, he’s been a shadow of his former self. I thought he was sure to go, along with Gibson, in the summer.

On the other hand, I was glad to see Fletcher sign up again; whilst he’s not been brilliant this season, he was influential in our 3 titles from 07-09, and I personally think that had he not been unjustly sent off in that semi-final in 09 (not that I’m bitter of course) the final could have been a whole different story. I know he comes in for a lot of stick from other fans – especially Arsenal’s! – but he is a very good player, and not just at “anti-football.”

With Robin Van Persie’s sending off coming off the back of a dire refereeing performance against Sunderland in the Premier League, Arsenal fans are at their wits end with refereeing decisions. With United being the main beneficiaries of every decision that goes against Arsenal the temptation is to assume that its only us that suffer these errors. While I feel Arsenal have gotten short shrift far too often this season and rarely got the benefit of an official’s mistake, how have the referees affected United this season?

Of course I’m going to disagree with you on this one. The last few games have had me tearing my hair out. Primarily Martin Atkinson’s joke of a display at the Bridge: not sending Luiz off, ignoring a very strong penalty shout then having the audacity to give Kalou a spot kick that even Ivanovic admitted was “never a penalty.” Annoyingly, it was Atkinson who cost us the same fixture, and arguable the title, last season with a string of joke decisions against us. Then there was Phil Dowd at Anfield last week not sending off Carragher for his assault on Nani, though I’m certainly not blaming the ref for our loss there before you jump down my throat! Oh, and there was Bowyer’s “goal” at St. Andrews, which should have been disallowed for offside, handball and a foul! And Rafael’s harsh sending off at White Hart Lane. But apart from that I’m struggling!

What I think you’re really getting at is the whole Rooney elbow scenario. And yes, he should never have got away with what is essentially assault, but Steven Gerrard got away with similar against Danny Welbeck so there’s precedent there. I’m not defending either of them given their past records, more simply highlighting the incompetence of the FA to deal with incidents such as these.

With regards to Arsenal’s last game, the world bar Sergio Busquets seems of the opinion it was an undeserved sending off for Robin Van Persie. What did you make of it?

It was an absolute joke. I don’t think I’m being a cynic when I say that Barca seem to get a very favourable bias from officials in Europe. I’d point you to their semi-final against Chelsea a few years ago if you needed any evidence. I’m not saying there’s any conspiracy, just that referees seem to bottle it almost in awe of the names on display in front of them. That said, the best team won the match: no attempts on target and 30% possession?  To put that in context, in the final against us in 2009, which was generally regarded as a footballing lesson delivered by the Catalan club, we still managed 47% possession and 11 attempts, 4 of which were on target.)

Thanks to Mark for taking the time to field these questions, always interesting to know what the opposition is thinking.


If you think things are up and down now, try the world in 1910, when Arsenal went bust and then arose from the ashes to form the modern club.  Making the Arsenal.  Details here.

32 comments to Man U/Arsenal – the view from Manchester

  • Tee Song

    I know all fans find it hard to be objective concerning ref decisions and their teams but it simply beggars belief that any semi-intelligent ManUre fan could complain about ref decisions. I mean, it’s not just Arsenal fans who complain of bias for ManUre, its’ every team in the league. It’s even widely acknowledged, jokingly of course, in the press when they use the phrase “Fergie time.”

  • walter

    I don’t know if MU fans be blamed about it. After a while you find it so normal that you think the rules are like that.

    This reminds me of an interview that I once have seen of Ferdinand. He told that when he was a West Ham player he hated Utd because they got all the calls and the decisions from the refs. But I think now he finds it a normal thing to get the decisions.
    Once you get in to that state of mind it is hard to change that.

    And that is why SAF comes out every time they get a decision going against them but they never say it when they have the decisions for 25 games in a row.

    I think I am the only one who can say that we got a decision going our way. 😉

  • walter

    *** can be blamed *** it should have been.

  • Phil

    It’s tricky for us, as we generally see all the Arsenal games (so see that the majority of the time the “errors” aren’t to our benefit). We odn’t see many United games so we can’t judge very fairly, and the offences we hear about are generally those that are publicised via the papers, which doesn’t help keep us unbiased.

    Really, to call it either way you’d need a few neutral referees reviewing both sides games and comparing te decisions.

  • terry

    I predict a 3-0 to united

  • Rhys Jaggar

    The Man Utd fan was right about decisions at Stamford Bridge.

    The thing about that was that Chelsea winning made both the title and the 4th place more ‘exciting’.

  • To back up Tee Song’s point, ever seen the “UNTIL WE SCORE” picture of Sir Gumchomper?

    Actually, United have gotten a few questionable calls against them this season. But will that happen at Old Trafford, in a knockout tie, against “foreign” Arsenal? I doubt it. Still, after the backstabs this season at Sunderland, Newcastle and Barcelona, the referee’s performance tomorrow will look tame by comparison, unless he (I think I heard it will be Chris Foy, who hasn’t pissed me off yet) “goes Dowd” on us.

  • rage

    sleeping with the enemy!! >:C

  • rage

    oh crap! im FIRSSSSSTTTTTTT!!!!!! WOO HOO!!! 😀

  • rage

    oh… im not 🙁

  • Wrenny

    The part about the refereeing decisions made me chuckle. He’s absolutely right about those incidents, they were wrong or harsh on Utd, but he would do well to also acknowledge the number of decisions that have unquestionably gone their way this season.

    Off the top of my head I can think of five red card offences that they have gotten away with – Rooney’s elbow, Gary Neville twice for denying clear goal-scoring opportunities, Rio’s kung-fu kick on Sagna, and Fletcher’s shove on Howard Webb in the same game.

    Vidic often pushes his luck with shirt-pulls and barges so I’m sure that he’s also escaped a sending off or two, but I haven’t seen all Utd’s games to point out specific incidents.

  • nicky

    If we can remain uninjured for the whole match AND uncarded we will win.It’s a tall order given the ref, the baying crowd and Fergie time but it can be done. We will have to keep our cool in the face of thuggery from the likes of Scholes,Giggs and the younger Vidic,Fletcher and Rooney. Oh for a brave, fair and unbiased referee……where is he?

  • Phil

    Baying crowd nicky? Old Trafford is just corporates and day trippers nowadays, despite what United fans like to claim when criticising our atmosphere

  • Jonny

    Mr Butterworth, thanks for your thoughts – however, whilst I agree the ref was atrocious in the Chelsea game, it was hardly one-way traffic. Rooney had already barged a player to the floor and somehow escaped a clear yellow and then dived in the penalty area and again went unpunished. He scored seconds later.

    Not only should not have been on the pitch to start with he should have been sent off again before he scored. He was a foul-mouthed diving, whingeing, injury-feigning twat throughout the game.

    The ref fucked up with Luiz but Rooney deserved it for his attempts at conning and bullying the ref throughout the game -even if Man Utd may not have.

  • Shard

    I would love if every week, our team ‘suffered’ at the hands of the referee the way ManU did. Seriously. The referee was useless (as is the norm), but he was quite evenly useless.

    Absolutely correct about the ManU fans getting used to the decisions being called their way, as the correct call. That’s exactly what I was trying to explain to a friend of mine who supports them and disagrees that refs favour them.. Needless to say he wouldn’t listen of course.

  • Tasos

    Thanks Phil Gregory and Mark Butterworth.

    Excellent idea to get the views from rival fans. Its always going to be difficult to totally agree but I thought Mark put his points across well.

    Team selection will be fascinating for both sides tomorrow. For us, I believe its a matter of who’s fit and able after Tuesday, for Utd its a case of who will they risk ahead of Tuesdays CL encounter.

    Maybe we have an edge, we have now been eliminated by Barca and can fully focus on the match. If Utd rest players and put out an under strength team with the likes of Bebe, Evans, Gibson and/or Obertan, they are taking a huge risk and I will fancy us coming away with the right result.

    I also accept that any Arsenal victory will require a fair and balanced display from the official at Old Trafford tomorrow…Q Dogface.

  • harrish

    need to win please. Simples

  • Mark

    Christ, Wrenny, I’d done by best to forget about that Gary Neville incident against West Brom! Haha.
    It is difficult to acknowledge decisions going for you, I can only suggest that it’s because I’m used to it. I will admit, however, that Howard Webb does seem to love us a bit, and Old Trafford does have an effect on referees. Im sure the Emirates is the same though!

  • Anne

    Hey guys,

    Sorry, off topic, but I missed most of the comments on the Barca threads so I’m posting this here. It’s just something that I thought some of you might enjoy. These are some links to Crackovia, a local Catalan sketch comedy show that makes fun of Barca all the time. The clips hit on some of the same issues that you guys have been complaining about, so if you’re interested in having a laugh at Barca’s expense, feel free to check them out:

    1) “Barca worship” and glorification in the media.

    This is a parody of a real Nike spot called “we are one” that aired after Barca won the treble.

    2) “Barca Bankrupt”

    Background: This is a parody of a Heineken ad (you’ve probably seen it), where a couple is giving a party and all the women freak out over the wife’s walk-in closet, and then the men freak out over the husband’s walk-in fridge that’s full of Heineken. Crackovia’s version, “Think in Green,” involves the Barca president freaking out over Real Madrid President Florentino Perez’s walk-in safe that’s full of cash.

    3) Cesc transfer saga.

    This one, “Cesc, on? Cesc, on?,” doesn’t have English subtitles but it’s pretty self-explanatory. Barca President Joan Laporta knocks on Cesc’s door and finds Real Madrid Prez Perez and Arsenal Prez Hill-Wood already there, and they all argue over Cesc, to the tune of the song “Sex Bomb.” Laporta’s verse is basically “You’re going to return to Barca, and there’s nothing you can do to escape,” Perez’s is “Come to Real Madrid and we’ll buy you an airplane, etc.,” and Cesc is yelling “I don’t want to go to Real Madrid or Barca, just leave me alone!” It’s pretty funny.

    That’s all. I’ve defended Barca on here in the past, but after the game last week, I thought that more of a “peace offering” was in order. So, hope you enjoyed it:) If you did, here are a couple more links to Crackovia sketches that don’t have anything to do w/ Arsenal, but are still really funny:

    Christiano Ronaldo in parody of “Greased Lightning” (song from the musical Grease)

    Guardiola and Mourinho in “Beauty and the Beast” (with vocals by Mesut Ozil and Carles Puyol)

    Hope that gave some of you a laugh. Cheers.

  • gooner80

    I think Man U may throw this game!! they will end up playing two more games in April if they go through, to make it look credible arsenal will probably get a controversial decision their way. The worst result will be a replay because man u will play a weakened side.

    Personally I believe we should keep our best players fit so therefore shouldn’t risk them,

    I think the Fa cup is lower on united’s wish list just how they conveniently got whipped by west ham in the carling cup, man U know about fixture congestion and didnt want it in FEB, so they sure as hell dont want 8 GAMES in April.

    I think Arsenal fans are really divided on whether to really go for the cup or just play for the league it is a sort of stick or twist, the way I see it is that if it’s impossible for us two win both I prefer the league sop players should be rested and if that means the FA cup turns into a farce where neither side wants to win it then so be it, even if it is possible to win both but at a huge cost and risk of injury to key players then it is not worth it. BUT if AW believes his players can do both without any detrimental affect then he should go for both

  • GOONER80

    I think Man U may throw this game!! they will end up playing two more games in April if they go through, to make it look credible arsenal will probably get a controversial decision their way. The worst result will be a replay because man u will play a weakened side.

    Personally I believe we should keep our best players fit so therefore shouldn’t risk them,

    I think the Fa cup is lower on united’s wish list just how they conveniently got whipped by west ham in the carling cup, man U know about fixture congestion and didnt want it in FEB, so they sure as hell dont want 8 GAMES in April.

    I think Arsenal fans are really divided on whether to really go for the cup or just play for the league it is a sort of stick or twist, the way I see it is that if it’s impossible for us two win both I prefer the league sop players should be rested and if that means the FA cup turns into a farce where neither side wants to win it then so be it, even if it is possible to win both but at a huge cost and risk of injury to key players then it is not worth it. BUT if AW believes his players can do both without any detrimental affect then he should go for both

  • FinnGooner

    Going out from FA Cup might not be bad but for sake of the tem and because it is MANU I want us to win. especially if we will play against 15 men team (our players need get that belief that they can win even if ref helps other team like in Barca).

  • Amerigooner

    Well: the only positives to the last two weeks are:

    – they’re over
    – we can focus on the league and hopefully get our players fit, while ManUre has to juggle a massive fixture backup. We’ve see how that’s effected our squad the last month, with any luck at all, their squad will be decimated similarly.

  • jayj

    Arsenal are the only team in the league who’s season ends come march every season, I pleased united won even as an Arsenal fan because for too long we bottle it when comes to the crunch. Wenger can talk all he wants and his beliefs, the truth is Fabregras might as well leave because Barca as bankrupt as they might be will win something, Wiltshire will leave after afew seasons figuring out the Arsenal are going nowhere, Nasri can easily fit into the barca team and that includes Van Persie as well. Players like Rosicky, Douroju, Denilson, Diaby, Alumina couldn’t get into the West ham team. I’ve supported Wenger for so long but even I’m starting to see the cracks now, Wenger has been here too long unopposed/secure. I know Tony will bring up some stats but here’s a fact Arsenal always crumble this time in a season and today was no different, why has he been waiting on Vermalen (out for the season) the two goals conceded today were an travesty, Wenger wouldn’t spend 10mil on Cahill or 2mil on Shwazter, now I praying Arsenal fail to qualify for the CL and lets see how the finances hurt. If this club thinks that all that counts is the bank balance does that make us the fans feel better.

  • Sammy The Snake


    With all that’s going on around Japan, you’ve gotte feel happy to be alive. Arsenal melting away once again in the space of two weeks in March, and finishing the year 2nd, 3rd or 4th, should be put in perspective.

    (or that’s what I tell myself to feel a bit less sh!t!).

  • Uj31

    Im not a glory hunter but come on. You guys cant be seriously backing the manager when he says that almunia, diaby, denilson, rosicky & arshavin (unless he can regain his form) deserve to wear the mighty arsenal shirt.
    The manager wants solid financials, I agree.
    Buy young player instead of ready made players, i agree.
    Spend what we earn, i agree.
    Play attractive football matched/bettered only by barceloonatics, i agree.

    Not buying a dm but play an attacking midfielder there instead, i disagree.
    Not buying good defender yet spend 14 on 2 average ones, i disagree. (15m for cahill but we spent 14 on koscielny and squillaci)
    Playing players week in week out who dont play their skin out but its ok (arshavin, diaby, denilson, rosicky), i disagree.
    Not criticizing the players who dont perform but its ok (arshavin, diaby, denilson, rosicky, almunia), i disagree.
    Complaining and criticizing everyone else but himself and the players but its ok, i disagree.
    3 cups out the window in the matter of 2 weeks and its ok, i disagree.
    Better stats yet arsenal still looses the match and the manager claims that arsenal were the better side, i disagree.
    We have the most expensive tickets and 3M a day match revenue but we cant criticize the manager or the players and should back them up no matter what!
    Guys, i know that we are all suppose to support the team and the manager thru thick and thin but when and where do we draw a line and say, enough is enough!!!

  • Marcus

    It will be interesting to watch ManU go for the treble now, and see how the media portrays them if and when they fall short

  • jayj

    The more I think about it the less scense it makes following Wengers structure, Wenger only purchases young unknown players or value for money players – stick with me here.
    Young unknown players are risky business just look at Denilson, how much is his worth but we all know his cost e.g. no tracking,dumb challenges,eye for a goal NOT and clumsy passer. Diaby fits that bill aswell, Rosicky (value player) who truly has lost his value with the arsenal support and needs to go, always injured and big time bottler.
    Question – Does Wenger get a commission on money saved every season? Because if he does then Arsenal will never win anything. Luck does come into play but are we to believe we are unlucky every season or the ref hates us every single time we lose.
    No club in the world would of had Alumina between the sticks as long as we’ve had him, wenger has never addressed the issue, what does it say about the rest of our squad if our young keeper retains the No1 spot from Alumina, how bad is he?
    Wenger plan is a failure, we are no Barca nore do we have that calibre of player, even Barca know they have to spend to get the right player, now I’m not saying we need to spend top dollar but it’s so bloody obvious from the goals we’re leaking we need a CB and a fucking Goal keeper and another DM.Today a ten yr old kid said prior to kick off Arsenal will lose they always do at this stage.

  • jayj

    I love the response from some of the supporters, OH going out of the CL or FA cup may not be sooo BAD!
    Well lets see if they change the tone come next week when Arsenal fail @ WBA, and remember I told you 1st. This season is heading the same way as many before it, Wenger wake the fuck up. WBA,Totteham,Newcastle beat us @ the Emirates we even let a 4 goal lead slip, and we haven’t scored in the last 3 games (not counting barca own goal), would Manu or Chelsea do this? Oh and dont forget the Carling/FA cup replays to lower league opposition, and how could I forget the carling cup final, would any of our rivals implode in such famous manner that has become the norm for arsenal and lets remember we failed to even register a shot @ the nou camp, now no team has ever managed that makes me sooo fucking proud. Wearing the Arsenal shirt has become a symbol of accepting failure and that is the reason why Fergie doesn’t bother with the mind games against us because he knows we’ll shoot our selves down instead.How many times has his tactics of flooding the midfield stifaled the Arsenal and Wenger can’t even counter this time and again. Mourinho laughed @ Wenger’s tactics proclaiming he would beat us week in week out given the chance. Time to call it a day Wenger, I’m soo fucking pissed now.

  • Don

    Why does Wenger continue to torture us by playing Diaby and Denilson in the same team?.One is bad enough but both of them no way.United played 7 defenders yet still beat us comfortably.Wenger cant even blame the ref.And now Djourou is injured well done Arsene for not signing a CB in january.We can win the league but we wont

  • harrish

    This is another one of the great wenger debacles. Out of yet another competition by a team who played with seven defenders. We have no tactics to win over united. Can just imagine that mug terry in his armchair.

  • harrish

    The dross in our team will continue to play and get games and I fear that every season it will be the same old excuses we hav players injured blah blah. I personally dnt think we have it in our sqaud to win jack all this season and if wenger had any shame he shud walk at the end of the season