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History Could Repeat Itself Between Manchester United and Arsenal

Consecutive defeats to rivals Chelsea and Liverpool in the space of a week has diminished Manchester United’s lead at the top of the table to three points and suddenly thrown the title race wide open. Arsenal suffered an equally miserable week, drawing at home to Sunderland before a morale crushing defeat to Barcelona in midweek left the Gunners with only the League and FA Cup to play for. With United’s lead narrowed and Arsenal possessing a game in hand, Arsene Wenger and his players will still be confident of capturing their first piece of silverware in six years.  

After a winless week for both clubs, it goes without saying the next match will make or break both team’s seasons. Coincidentally, the table toppers go head-to-head on Saturday in a titanic FA Cup clash at Old Trafford, a match that brings back memories of an unforgettable and extraordinary semi-final replay between both clubs almost 11 years ago during United’s treble winning season. A certain Ryan Giggs was the hero (or one of several) that day, scoring one of the most incredible goals ever seen in extra time as United eliminated Arsenal and set themselves on the road to further glory before the season’s end.

When the draw for the quarter-finals was made on February 20th it was that remarkable game at Villa Park that emerged in my mind. But as Arsenal continued to edge closer to United in the standings, it was no longer the epic replay in 1999 that came to mind. Well aware that a win could give either side the boost required to go on a winning run and simultaneously derail the other’s title challenge, all I could think about was another historic but more recent match between both clubs in February 2008.

With United chasing league leaders Arsenal, a Darren Fletcher inspired Manchester United sent out a huge statement of intent to the North Londoners and the rest of the league. Playing as a lone striker, Wayne Rooney was in fine form and opened the scoring before two headers by Fletcher sandwiched a delightful finish by Nani to give United a monumental 4-0 win. Arsenal were crushed. United’s win was more than just a sharp riposte for those who doubted their title credentials, but was the fuel they needed to overtake Arsenal in the standings and end the season in a flourish. After a failed attempt to blame the pitch, Wenger painfully admitted United were the superior side, by far. The ‘Professor’ particularly singled out Rooney for praise.

“Against us I thought Rooney was fantastic. He was sharp, mobile, quick, aggressive, even good in the air. He did everything.”

What United supporters would give for a similar performance on Saturday from their number 10. And oh how Manchester United would give anything to have history repeat itself. Following the win, Rooney and co. went on to win seven out of their next eight league games and would eventually clinch back-to-back Premier League titles.

Speaking on the performance against Arsenal, which came just a week after an agonizing home defeat to Manchester City, Sir Alex Ferguson said: “They (his players) have made amends for that (City defeat) with a marvelous performance.”

Strange that United find themselves in the exact same predicament. Another marvelous performance by United on Saturday will go a long way in helping United overcome its disappointing loss to Liverpool last weekend and spur them on for the remainder of the season. The Red Devils may have exited the FA Cup the following round after beating Arsenal in 2008, but United gained the ultimate prize by advancing all the way to the final of the Champions League and beating Chelsea in penalties. Prior the cup win over Arsenal, United had drawn Tottenham before suffering the painful defeat at home to Manchester City on the day marking the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster. With United in a dip of form and losing ground in the title race, it’s amazing what a big win over your title challengers can do.

And in Arsenal’s case, it is incredible how a monumental loss can completely derail your season. After being outplayed and humiliated at Old Trafford, Arsenal failed to record a win in their next five league matches. Wenger’s side would only win two out of their next 10 games, including a 2-1 loss to United in April which effectively ended their chances of winning the title. Favorites for the title in February and trophyless in May, Arsenal’s season fell apart after their FA Cup humiliation, paving the way for a miserable end to the season.

Fast forward three years later and although Arsenal are not necessarily favorites for the title, they are certainly in the running, and according to Samir Nasiri have ‘one hand on the trophy’. If history should repeat itself on Saturday and Arsenal suffer another defeat against Manchester United, Arsenal may slowly drift further and further away from the title while United storm forward in pursuit of their record 19th league title. And as every supporter is most likely well aware of, the two clubs will go head-to-head again in a potential title decider on May 1st at the Emirates.

If ever history needed a platform to repeat itself, this is it. Will Arsenal allow themselves to suffer the same fate as 2008 while United claim an unprecedented and highly sought 19th league title? Saturday could tell us just that…

Written by: Jeff Harbert

United 4-0 Arsenal highlights (2008)

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Feb. 28th – March 6th: Drugs, Knives and Guns

A round-up of all the latest headline-grabbing stories from this past  week…

Drugs, knives, record breakers, referee abuse, flying elbows and even flying bullets. This week had everything you could imagine. The beginning of the week consisted of the media using up column inch after column inch bashing Wayne Rooney for intentionally elbowing James McCarthy during Manchester United’s 4-0 win over Wigan. Referee Mark Clattenburg witnessed the incident but let Rooney off with a warning. By now the rest of the world has seen the incident and berated the Football Association for failing to ban the United striker, who later went on to score that game as well as against Chelsea three days later. By no coincidence, the infamous elbow was still being talked about in the press even after the defeat to Chelsea.

Staying on topic, Sir Alex Ferguson was not so lucky to escape punishment from the FA this week. His comments to MUTV about referee Martin Atkinson after his side’s 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge gave the FA the opportunity to give him a fifth impoper conduct charge in as many years. Ferguson is no stranger to this type of controversy, however, and it is somewhat of a surprise that the newspapers chose to focus more on his punishment than Chelsea’s victory.

As for Chelsea, they too ended up in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Or at least a certain Ashley Cole did (not for the first time either). Reports surfaced early Saturday morning claiming that Cole shot and injured a club intern with an air rifle. And considering who the culprit was, who could really be surprised? Plenty of media outlets focused heavily on the incident and a few days later plenty of fans at Stamford Bridge were sarcastically yelling “Shoooooot” every time Cole had possession.

As if that hadn’t given us enough to talk about, Manchester City defender Kolo Toure went and got himself suspended by his club for testing positive for a “specified substance”. The length of his ban remains to be seen, although former manager Arsene Wenger has defended the Ivory Coast defender and claimed he took his wife’s dietary pills. Regardless of what the truth may be, Toure has probably forced his name into more newspapers than anyone else this week.

Over in Spain, Jose Mourinho managed to escape a knife attack that saw his body guard stabbed in an effort to attack the ‘special one’. Apparently this man has a huge adhorrence for the Real Madrid boss… either that or he just wanted Spain to grab a few headlines of its own this week too.

Controversy aside, plenty of media focused on Ryan Giggs, who on Wednesday marked his 20th season playing for the Manchester United first team. The night before also saw him equal Bobby Charlton’s club record of 606 league appearances. Lastly, Birmingham City stole the headlines with their unlikely 2-1 triumph over Arsenal in the League Cup final.

So… quite an uneventful week, eh? One can only wonder what the upcoming week can possibly have in store for us!

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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David Luiz: Abramovich Gets It Right This Time

Roman Abramovich is anything but shy when it comes to the transfer market. After all, here’s a man who paid a combined 48.43 pounds for Didier Drogba and Michael Essien and most recently splashed 50 million pounds for the purchase of Fernando Torres from Liverpool. Drogba and Essien have been integral figures in Chelsea’s recent success, and despite his stuttering start, few will be betting against Torres to have a similar impact.

Abramovich’s money has not always been well spent, however. In May 2006, Chelsea bought Andriy Shevchenko from AC Milan for 30.8 million pounds. Soon later Shaun Wright-Phillips arrived from Manchester City for 21 million pounds. Both players failed to live up to their price tags and both players returned to their previous clubs with a sense of disappointment hanging over their heads, as well as that of the Chelsea owner. Who could blame him though, especially after great things had been promised, particularly for the Ukraine forward.

“I think Shevchenko is the type of player we would like. At the end of the day to improve what we have got, it has to be a great player and Shevchenko certainly comes into that class.” These were the words of Peter Kenyon, Chelsea’s Chief Executive.

Fast forward to January, 2011 and similar things were being promised for another mega signing by Abramovich.

“He is one of the great defensive prospects in world football,” Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay said. “I am sure he will prove a valuable addition to the Chelsea squad.”

Also adding to the hype was Chelsea Chairman Bruce Buck, who claimed: “It is a delight to have completed this transfer for a fantastic young footballer who we have admired for some time and will hopefully serve us well for the rest of this season and going forward.”

This time, however, Chelsea appears like being spot on in their assessment of their latest acquisition: David Luiz Moreira Marinho.

The 23-year-old Brazilian international, purchased for 21 million pounds from Benfica, already looks like being a bargain buy for Chelsea. His performances for the reigning champions have already caught the eye and few players have managed to justify their price tag as quickly as Luiz has. In the short span of a month he has proven that not only can he handle the demands of the Premier League, but he can excel as a strong defender who is a big danger going forward. Simply ask Manchester United.

Luiz has demonstrated an admirable work rate and impressive ability and composure with the ball at his feet. It has quickly become apparent how much the former Benfica centre-back enjoys bringing the ball forward from the back and setting up attacks for his side. Luiz may have only scored four goals in 72 appearances for the Lisbon club, but he is more than willing to get forward and is fairly capable in front of goal, especially for a defender.

Judging by his three performances so far, Luiz may be exactly what Chelsea need to finally turn the corner. His debut consisted of a half-hour substitute cameo in a 1-0 loss to Liverpool and although he conceded a last minute penalty in his next match against Fulham, Luiz was still awarded with the Barclays Man of the Match award. His performance against Manchester United, which included the equalizing goal, was worthy of a second Man of the Match – although some will argue he was slightly fortunate not to be sent off for a second yellow card for a foul on Wayne Rooney.

Luiz’ performances certainly haven’t been flawless, but they have been more than enough to prove his quality. With the more games he plays, the more experience he’ll gain and learn how to cut out the mistakes in his game, such as an over eagerness to dive right in and a tendency to stick too close to his man. Overall, Chelsea has found themselves a top notch defender and a real difference maker, not just on the defensive end.

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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Chelsea Comeback Halts Manchester United

Another Chelsea and Manchester United match at Stamford Bridge, another big occasion between these two sides marred in controversy. Wayne Rooney fired United ahead midway through the first half, but a first Chelsea goal by David Luiz and a Frank Lampard penalty, courtesy of a questionable decision by referee Martin Atkinson, gave the home side a 2-1 win to propel Chelsea into fourth place ahead of Tottenham and leave United four points clear of Arsenal with an extra game played.

United will feel hard done by the result after an impressive first half display which saw Rooney score in his third successive league game. The Reds dominated much of the half’s proceedings and could have been 2-0 up had John Terry not gone unpunished for what appeared to be a hand ball in his own penalty box off a rasping shot by Nani.

United failed to build on their lead, however, and Chelsea started the second half determined to level proceedings. They did just that on 53 minutes when Luiz volleyed home at the far post. Buoyed by the equaliser, the home side continued to threaten and with 13 minutes remaining Stamford Bridge was in ecstasy. Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot after Chelsea substitute Yuri Zhirkov went down under a seemingly soft Chris Smalling challenge, leaving Lampard to step up and smash Chelsea into the lead from 12 yards out. United provided little response and from then on only one team looked like being a winner.

To make matters worse for United, Nemanja Vidic was sent off for a second yellow card in the dying minutes and will now miss United’s next big match against Liverpool on Sunday. His suspension, and particularly the loss, will come as a big blow for Sir Alex Ferguson – who was adamant Luiz should have also been sent to the showers for an off the ball foul on Rooney with the score still locked at 1-1.

Controversy aside, it was a thrilling match that involved plenty of end-to-end football. All too often big matches fail to live up to the hype but the latest crunch meeting between these two sides was a pulsating match and a spectacle that even the neutrals could appreciate. Despite the controversy, United only have themselves to blame for not building on their solid first half performance and instead allowing the reigning champions back into the game. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team still sit on top of the table and you can be assured that the fiery scot will be the last one to press the panic button. United played well for large portions of the match but will need to translate that over 90 minutes it they hope to keep Arsenal at bay. Chelsea, meanwhile, will be confident of building on this result and earning a top-four finish after leapfrogging Spurs in the standings.

Man of the Match: David Luiz

Big time stats:

  • Chelsea extended their unbeaten record against United at Stamford Bridge to nine games (6 wins, 3 draws).
  • Seven of Chelsea’s league goals this season have been scored by defenders (3rd highest in EPL)
  • Wayne Rooney became the first United player – barring Nani – to score from outside the box in 23 league games.
  • The loss snaps a 33 game streak in which Manchester United have won every time Rooney has scored.
  • Ryan Giggs equaled Bobby Chalrton’s record of 606 league appearances for Manchester United when he came on as a substitute in the second half. Ironically, Giggs surpassed Charlton’s record of overall appearances for Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League Final against Chelsea.
  • Sir Alex Ferguson fielded an unchanged side in consecutive games
  • Martin Atkinson has awarded the most penalties in the Premier League this season (11) and given out the most red cards (10)

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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