By Randy Osae
Arsenal held their nerves to pull off a momentous victory over Manchester United in absolutely pulsating fashion at the Emirates Stadium and send a resonant message to all doubters.
Indeed, the Gunners – by the help of Nasri’s brace – chose to conquer United the hard way. Rafael da Silva’s consolation for the visitors on 90 minutes had echoed memories of the draw gifted to Tottenham recently, but this time, Wenger’s men rode their luck to secure some pride.
The manager had rung several changes to his depleted Arsenal side. Manuel Almunia and Abou Diaby returned to the starting line-up, Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie’s absences made Bendtner Arsenal’s chief attacker upfront, while Kolo Toure was left on the bench for Gallas.
All pre-match talks were about Wenger’s men being underdogs, and their opponents made those accusations obvious with a tempting start. First, Silvestre’s insane back-pass to Almunia had to be grabbed by the Spaniard to stop a hungry Rooney from pouncing. That meant an indirect freekick in Arsenal’s box, and had Carrick’s blatant shot from 16 yards been shifted a bit, the new-believing Emirates Stadium crowd could have been saddened quick.
United then put the ball into the net. But Berbatov had been ruled offside before he rebounded off Rooney’s parried shot by Almunia. Then on, Arsenal, absorbing inspiration from their home fans, immediately found their stride. Nicklas Bendtner could have put the Gunners ahead had his header off Clichy’s well taken cross not been a little high.
Even so, United were still better looking every time they attacked, and many could have bet their souls on Rooney to score when he found a cut-back ball on his feet with no challenge from ten yards out. But Arsenal were fortunate enough as his shot went begging.
So often Arsenal are the ones to go behind in these sort of situations and have to make a comeback. But today had a different blessing. The Gunners avoided a setback and rather buoyed their chances as Samir Nasri struck the ball with his left foot from the edge of the box after Fabregas’ deep freekick from the right had not been fully cleared by United. On its way past Van der Sar, Nasri’s volley took a deflection off Gary Neville. But what mattered most was that after 23 minutes, Arsenal were bossing the game instead of being bossed.
The Gunners’ defence was still vulnerable as ever though. And it was even tougher to hold on to that slender lead during the first five minutes of being ahead. A series of dodgy decisions by referee Howard Webb gifted Ronaldo a sight at goal from set-pieces – one of them almost causing an own-goal by Gael Clichy. The Gunners did keep their cool and ensured they went back into the dressing room with their fate under control.
And just after the restart, they perfected their destiny with another goal from Samir Nasri. A series of slick and quick passes saw Fabregas in possession and with Theo Walcott making a run to the left, Arsenal’s Spaniard picked out a free Samir Nasri on the edge of the box and the Frenchman thundered his shot past Van der Sar.
Now, the attacking mission was deemed intact, but the best way of winning was to keep shop shut. Arsenal’s defence were then strangled by constant United surges until Almunia finally went down after been kicked by Carrick. His treatment allowed Gallas to bark motivations at his teammates and when play resumed, Arsenal were more ordinary.
Arsenal’s Spanish stopper eventually hinted inability to continue and was replaced by Fabianski as Walcott went off for Alex Song. And later on, Kolo Toure was brought in for a hard-working Diaby.
The last time Arsenal led 2-0 and Wenger pulled heavy strings of changes, the Gunners rued a defeat-like draw in the end. And when Rafael da Silva struck with six minutes of injury time left – reminiscent of Jenas’ against Spurs – it was time to bite your nails.
Despite looking nervy as ever as those seconds reduced, and squandering chances for a fatal third goal, Arsene Wenger’s men were spared through the character they had shown today and were finally allowed to cheer at the sound of the final whistle.
Yes we can!, as Barack Obama would say.