The Antagonist - Arsenal and United touched on perfection
Published: 12 Mar 2010 - 12:01:58
The term 'perfect performance' is often banded about indiscriminately, but the total annihilation of two of Europe's best by Arsenal and Man United in midweek almost deserved such a superlative epithet and put a smile back on our faces, after a seemingly interminable period of sleaze and shady goings-on in the domestic game.
Taking the Arsenal v Porto match first, I have to admit to standing up, on my own, in my living room, and clapping as Samir Nasri produced his impossibly mazy dribble between a cluster of bemused Porto defenders and slotted the ball past the flailing arms and legs of Helton.
It was an unconscious reaction from a confirmed non-Gooner to a rare moment of pure genius. Poor defending, maybe, but come on...let's revel in such brilliant improvisation and ingenuity.
It was swiftly followed by a move of such speed and incision, that culminated in Emmanuel Eboue sweeping in the fourth goal, that you wondered how it was that Porto started this match with a goal lead.
Many other moments in that game made what little hair I have left stand on end and made me recall why I fell in love with the game in the first place.
YOUNG GUNNERS ON FIRE
The most striking thing for me was the high level of skill shown by the Arsenal tyros, usually at breakneck pace and often with the precision of micro surgeons.
Say what you like about Wenger's PR skills, he has produced a team that plays football the way we wish everyone would.
Their defensive naivety may prevent them carrying off any trophies at the end of the season, but they are guaranteed to give their supporters a fantastic ride in the attempt and should be applauded for that.
Yes, the Gunners struggled a bit for ten minutes or so at the start of the second half but every team comes under pressure at some time in a match and this is almost inevitable when you play at the tempo Arsenal play at .
It is impossible to keep up that sort of pace for ninety minutes even if your average age barely creeps into the twenties.
SKY PUNDITS MISSED THE POINT
It angered me to listen to the Sky pundits Tony Adams, Graeme Souness and Ruud Gullit concentrate on the inadequacy of Porto's performance rather than the magnificence of Arsenal's.
This was replicated on Wednesday when ITV's Andy Townsend and Marcel Desailly seemed more interested in trashing the performance and tactics of Milan than lauding the almost imperceptible merging of teamwork and individual brilliance that surely now make Man United amongst the favourites to win a fourth Champions League.
And, we had the added bonus of the best player on the pitch being English. (At this point, spare a thought for the poor old tennis fans who genuinely have nothing to cheer apart from the prospect of playing Greenland in Division Z of the Davis Cup next year.)
Back to United. I am unashamedly a prawn sandwich muncher, man and boy, and got very excited about their performance on Wednesday which, perhaps, was not quite played at Arsenal pace but arguably with greater control and shape.
I suppose you could describe it as a more mature performance although that makes it sound more boring than it was.
UNITED IN EVERY SENSE
Once again I could have been seen clapping and whooping on my own (I really must get out more) at Wayne Rooney's brilliance and the almost telepathic support from United's bit players who rarely disappoint, work their socks off for the greater cause and are as integral to the action as the catcher in a trapeze act.
Indeed, I feel slightly ashamed referring to them as bit players...they are far better than that.
Agreed, Milan are not the side they were. They are an ageing and defensively fragile outfit littered with individuals who don't appear to understand the meaning of team ethic.
However, they are still classy enough to take advantage of any side who are not on their mettle and United seldom fail on that front.
Comparing the two English sides, Arsenal, despite their sporadic genius, are still very much a 'works in progress' whereas United,for the most part, appear to be the finished article and the team more likely to end up with silverware this year.
Perhaps there was a hint of jealousy in Tony Adams comments on Tuesday.
After all, when he started playing for Arsenal their style of play was more suited to a cup of Horlicks and a good book than the adrenalin charged, 'edge of your seat' stuff served up but the current incumbents.
Remember, 'boring, boring Arsenal' and 'one nil to the Ar-se-nal'.
These are not, thank god, the type of chants you are likely to hear at the Emirates these days.
So come on Tone and all you other pundits, let's try to get a bit more excited when our teams 'turn it on' like they did this week and take heed of the old adage 'you can only play what is put in front of you'.
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