Not Fulham-related at all*, but I felt I just had to pen something about a breathtaking performance from Manchester United at the Emirates last night. Arsene Wenger was quoted widely before the game as saying that he was adamant that Arsenal’s youngsters would come good – and, for about eight minutes, it looked like we could have an encounter every bit as memorable as the all-English quarter-final between Chelsea and Liverpool last month.
But then Kieran Gibbs, a promising young full-back, made an untimely slip that was clinically punished by the underrated Park Ji-Sung. The South Korean does all the things you could ask of a midfielder efficiently and pops up with the odd crucial goal too. The highest compliment you can pay him is to look at United’s substitutes bench. Packed full of big names, but Ferguson trusts Park in a massive game.
Much will be said about Ronaldo’s free-kick, but for me it was the third United goal that summed up just how irrepressible they were last night. It came from an Arsenal corner and was clinical in his execution. From Vidic’s calm header to Park’s awarness to spring Ronaldo into motion, to the vision of the Portuguese to see Rooney scampering down the left. Rooney, growing into his winger’s role, could have tried to beat Almunia from the edge of the box but instead squared it for Ronaldo to underline United’s dominance.
A few years ago, I heard Darren Fletcher decried on a radio phone-in as being one of the worst United players ever to wear the shirt. At the time, as he was a youngster, I thought it was a silly over-reaction. Now, it looks downright insulting. Together, Fletcher, the impressive Anderson – playing in a holding role very different to the attacking position he had in Brazilian football – and Michael Carrick, who must be inching closer to a regular spot in the England side with displays as complete as these, stopped Fabregas, Song and Nasri from having any effect on the contest. It was such a shame that a ridiculous refereeing decision will rob Fletcher of the biggest night of his career in Rome. He’s had a terrific year and deserves better.
We can only hope that Chelsea-Barcelona is as absorbing as that game was one-sided. I suppose the way those early goals killed off Arsenal will sound a warning to Hiddink’s man. If they leave too many gaps for Barca to exploit, the damage of an away goal could prove terminal.
*I did say it wasn’t Fulham related, but I couldn’t resist sharing this with you. After United’s third goal, I got a text from a fellow Fulham fan. It simply said: ‘And we beat this lot 2-0’. Priceless.