The way I see it - Arsenal v Manchester United

Last updated : 26 March 2004 By Jason Hogan

In fact I have to admit that I am fairly pleased about the way things stand and I'll tell you why. Chelsea went in the game on the back of a huge wave of emotion and sympathy that had been whipped up by the press and the media and the hearts of so many so-called experts were definitely backing them even if their heads were not.

I watched a lot of the build up to the game on Sky and most of the emphasis was very much on Chelsea. Roving reporters talked almost exclusively to their fans gauging their opinions on Ranieri and Chelsea in general. I got the sense that it was a subtle exercise Sky had put in place to stoke up extra fire in their bellies and reinforce a belief that the night, and a famous victory to boot, was going to be theirs.

And so, when the game finally came around, the atmosphere was charged - highly charged, but you know what? When push came to shove, all the emotional tub thumping, all the impassioned vocal support for Ranieri and even all the passion that the Chelsea players showed on the night didn't prove to be enough in order to get the kind of result both they and everyone else outside of Highbury were craving.

Generally, I thought that we didn't play too badly at all and I thought that both Edu and Kolo Toure were particularly outstanding but ultimately, it was the fact that we refused to buckle and refused to conform to the script that was emotionally being mapped out before us, which spoke immeasurable volumes for us.

The goal itself from Pires epitomised all of that for me. Chelsea, having gone ahead through the opportunism of Gudjohnsen, were having easily their best spell in the game but in the blink of an eye, we found a way, an unlikely way, to change not only the mood on the night but the complexion of the tie as a whole. After all, who would have thought that the Arsenal would score with a header from Pires of all people?

Therein lies the key to this tie. I know, my fellow Gooners, that the advantage we have going into the second leg is a marginal one but if the goal from Pires scored proved anything, it is that we are developing the knack of being able to find that little bit extra when we need it most one way or another and when the margin for error is slight and the stakes are at their highest that's a healthy knack to have. You certainly cannot buy it!

Now, it's time to put the Champions League to bed and concentrate on Sunday and our little meeting with ManUre.

On the back of walloping Spurs last weekend, one of the ugly sisters (aka Phil Neville) sent out a defiant if not rather obvious message via Sky which basically pointed out that the title race isn't over until the trophy has been lifted and that trophies are won in May not March. Amazing how he managed to work that out all by himself, eh?

Interestingly enough Sky unearthed ManUre old boy David May (God only knows from where) to give his two pence worth in the build up to Sunday's game and in basic terms his argument was that it only takes one or two bad results for the complexion of a title race to change. "Give that man a cigar for stating the obvious- not!" was my reaction.

Now, I don't know whether these were genuine attempts to employ some kind of mind games. If they were then not only were they hilariously feeble attempts, they were downright tragic.

I mean, do Neville and May really think that everyone connected with Arsenal has suddenly been struck down with amnesia? Do they really think that we have all forgotten what happened last season (or indeed what happened in the aftermath of our meeting with them at Old Trafford this season)? Or are they simply trying to take us for fools?

Well, whilst I can't speak for any of our players, I think the pearls of wisdom those two have thrust upon the nation only give us even MORE motivation going into this game not less.

Although it's nice that we can point to the fact that we have a 12 point advantage over this lot going into the game, I am personally only interested first and foremost in one thing and one thing only come Sunday - revenge.

I have never forgotten how Ferguson, by way of ill-disguised gratitude, ran on to the Highbury pitch at the end of last year's game and shook referee Mark Halsey warmly by the hand after dismissing Sol Campbell. I have not forgotten how Old Purple Nose then strutted around on the Highbury pitch as if he owned it.

For me, this is the biggest game of the four we will have played in the next two weeks. I have said all along that I want to see us get our title back above everything else.

We have a chance here to effectively apply the straw that breaks the backs of ManUre once and for all. We owe it to ourselves to make the most of it.