With the wind whistling around our ears the Mancs came to town with a six-point lead over the Chavs and decided to go for a nine-point lead, which of course made for an exciting match. Their early attacking play was dealt with but not over effectively. Eboue in the right back slot was stretched to put it mildly. Both United and the swirling wind that caused Lehmann to punt only as far as the half way line caused us problems early doors as Arsenal kicked towards the South end.
United had most of the early play and Giggs, with a shot that went wide, had their first real chance. Then Ronaldo, who is arguably the in form player of the Premiership, shot wide following a Rooney run. Giggs took out Rosicky but referee Steve Bennett didn't want to know. A Larsson dive saw Kolo get a joke booking but then Bennett proceeded to ignore all the Mancs foul play, as when Rooney did Eboue and Evra took out Flamini. Evra impressed me, the guy certainly has pace. Philippe headed a free kick at Van der Sar who took it with ease. Giggs went in on Adebayor with a nasty foul but no resulting card; he finally got a yellow however when he took out Cesc from behind.
For my money Scholes versus Fabregas was the battle of the game, both took hacks and both gave it out, both fought hard throughout and both were the heartbeat of their respective teams, but I thought Cesc just edged it because he kept going till the very end. If anything Cesc played deeper than Flamini in the first half and Mathieu too had a storming match. Vidic who was superb throughout headed over from a Giggs corner. At the other end Adebayor did well before Rosicky shot over, a move started by Hleb who stole the ball from a blue United shirt. Great cross by Matti in our first decisive spell of the match.
Evra took out Hleb and was duly carded before Clichy won a corner in a fine move. Rooney obstructed Eboue but won the free kick for United. The show pony was clip-clopping and step-overing around but was roundly jeered when he was caught offside. Adebayor and Henry combined well but it required a slide rule pass that didn't quite happen to finish off the move. Cesc hit a shot from range that was really motoring but was deflected for a corner but a wild shot from Hleb soon after went for nothing more than a throw. Adebayor to Henry for a shot that was saved. At the other end Rooney cut in from the right before screwing up.
What might have been a crucial decision by Bennett was the one where he refused Henry the penalty he probably should have had when he appeared to be tripped by the ugliest captain in world football. Soon after this Giggs gave up on a chase, appealed for a free kick and was awarded it. The home crowd were truly pissed with Bennett, so no change there then! Kolo and Jens went for the same ball and we were lucky to get away with an Arsenal breakaway. Henry and Adebayor on the right set it up for Flamini but his shot was somewhat Parlouresque. Giggs appeared to be well offside but there was no flag. Arsenal were pressing down the right with Eboue and won a corner, while at the other end Gael did well to see off the Welshman with the doormat on his chest. Rooney fouled Hleb and from the free kick Henry hit it into the wall before striking the rebound for a shot that was saved.
United went close with a corner that Jens punched clear only for it to fall to Rooney whose powerful shot was tipped over by our German keeper. They went closer still when Larsson's header was cleared off the line by Clichy from the resulting corner. Nil-nil at half time but I reckon United may have edged the half on both overall play and chances. The Gooners were relieved not to have fallen behind just before the break but knew there was much more to come from our boys.
After the break some fine Arsenal play resulted in Van der Sar having to save a powerful shot from Cesc. Fabregas, who relishes the big games, then stopped Ronaldo in his tracks. Arsenal continued to press and had a corner headed clear. Rosicky was the next to stop Ronaldo, this time at the expense of a corner to United. Arsenal then frustrated more than a couple of home fans by persisting in playing pass after pass around their box when a shot looked on. Eight minutes into the second half Ronaldo laid a ball off to Evra whose speedy run put him clear down their left before hitting a more than useful cross. Rooney lunged forward to meet the ball with a header at the far post to give the Mancs the lead. 0-1 United.
We nearly equalised almost immediately but a great chip by Cesc was tipped over for a corner by the Dutch keeper. A Clichy cross was cleared but fell to Tomas who shot wide. Ronaldo cut inside but his shot was blocked, while at the other end Henry thought he'd been obstructed. Timewasting was rampant throughout the United ranks and who could blame them, apart from 57,000 or so home fans in the 60,128 crowd that is? Van Persie replaced Hleb with 23 minutes to play.
Adebayor did well on our left but Rosicky had a shot with his left peg that was well off target. Rosicky to Adebayor with an almost killer ball, but Ferdinand and Vidic remained solid. Scholes was well into the time wasting before Adebayor panicked the United defence and both he and Van der Sar were apparently injured in goalmouth melee. Cesc on a break. Two consecutive corners as Arsenal continued to press and Flamini headed the second one wide. United players were going down and staying down, possibly timewasting or maybe injured, who knows?
Baptista replaced Flamini with twenty minutes to play as Arsene threw in the kitchen sink. The altogether nippier Saha replaced Larsson as United looked to soak it up and hit us on the break. It didn't work like that though because Arsenal continued to test the United defenders. Cesc battled for a ball and won it, Rosicky hit a pass across goal that Henry avoided in order for Robin to slide home an equaliser at the far post. Not the prettiest of goals but a very important one. 1-1 and pandemonium erupted in the stands. Big game, big goal, massive ovation. It was the 83rd minute and any result was still possible but Arsenal were definitely in the ascendancy. The match was clearly going to the wire.
Ronaldo was given a yellow card, not for the dive that should have seen a booking but for kicking the ball away. It was helter-skelter stuff now and the tension was such that breathing was only barely possible. Heinze replaced Ronaldo to shore up a defiant but creaking United defence that Arsenal were testing with every attack. Evra moved forward and Heinze went to left back. Unfortunately for United we were well into the time added for their timewasting when Eboue did the biz down our right, storming forward and hit a great, no make that perfect cross, at speed towards the far post where Henry powered home a match winning header in the 93rd minute. I'm sure our stadium is far too well built for the roof to come off but the subsequent crowd eruption must have frightened the builders. Brilliant stuff and a fantastic match winning goal. A real peach of a goal and all the sweeter because it was scored in the very time the Mancs had wasted. Hoyte replaced Eboue who had seemingly injured himself as he made the cross.
What a depressing trip back to Woking it would be for their travelling fans.