There were 28 seconds on the clock when Graham Poll blew for a second free kick, the first being by Fletcher a much improved United player, the second being by Heinze on Ljungberg. Bergkamp’s ball in was met by another whistle against Pires. Fletcher on Vieira for another free kick and Poll was keeping a lid on proceedings but chose not to flash a yellow for an early dive by Cole. Another free kick conceded by Cygan on Shrek. Carroll out to save at Freddie’s feet before the Show Pony had a shot deflected for a corner. A wall of noise and tension, lots of tension accompanied the early proceedings.
‘Stand up for the Champions’ ‘One Arsene Wenger’ Lauren moaning at Poll about an assault by Heinze that he’d missed. A dubious foul awarded against Cole was met by a chorus of ‘Are you Riley in disguise?’ Dennis to Rob to Henry for a shot which was blocked and went for a corner. Pat got in a header from the ball in and amazingly Arsenal are 1-0 up from a corner. A stunned Arsenal crowd checked the replays to see if any pigs were flying over Highbury. No, indeed we’d taken the lead from a corner. Fletcher won a corner via Cole, which was headed clear by Cygan. A handball by Heinze and Fletcher late on Pat were both missed by Poll. Scholes dived against Pat and then Heinze hauled down Freddie for the first yellow card of the game. It was Giggs turn for the next yellow, this for a very late tackle on Cole. The pair had words after the incident that went on for quite a while. A Pires solo found Cole before the snarling little Scouse runt went in late on Lauren. ‘You dirty Northern Bastards’ ‘We won the League in Manchester’.
Campbell who this incident apart had a fine match made a bad mistake which led to the Noxious Granny Grabber setting up Giggs with a shot to equalise. 1-1 the shot appeared to take a deflection off Ashley Cole on its way past Almunia. Excessive and unnecessarily prolonged goal celebrations followed, albeit in front of United’s fans in the Clock End. Shrek skinned Cygan wide right and put away Scholes whose shot was blocked by Almunia. United pressed but Arsenal held firm before Neville hoofed one far too deep. A very strong penalty claim as Pires went down in the box but Poll was well away from the action and badly placed. His assistants in fact made many more mistakes than Poll during the course of the game and apart from his over indulgence at Rooney’s snarling antics and verbal abuse he had a good game. I say that as one who absolutely detests the Tring Trigger but feel he was entitled to miss some things because so much was going on, not always on the ball and sometimes when play had left the scene of the crime about to be committed.
Dennis from an angle on the right drilled the perfect low drive to make it 2-1 to the Arsenal and all seemed well again. ‘There’s only one Dennis Bergkamp’ Soon after we scored I noticed a little cameo that says much about our current state. Pat had the ball deep left and Almunia was on for the back pass but Vieira clearly didn’t trust our keeper’s ability to clear cleanly and subsequently lost it for a throw in to Manure. It spoke volumes.
‘Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal’ Cole was bombing forward now and in one Pires to Henry, to Cole move was almost there. More snarling from ‘You fat bastard’ who then went one on one against Almunia who stood up well to concede just the corner. Dennis was given offside but I’m not so sure. Dennis on song as he beat Silvestre all ends up before seeing Carroll save his shot. Rooney was at long last booked for handball, which Poll gestured to be for a count up of fouls. Needless to say the git continued to swear and snarl at Poll but instead of giving him what he deserved, a second yellow, Poll bent over backwards and told Keane to sort the little twat out. ‘Where’s your granny gone, where’s your granny gone?’ Pires actually tackled Neville before Vieira then made a meal of a Rooney tackle, staying down despite Poll waving play on. Heinze, who had a storming game was at it again before the break where Neville had words with Poll as they left the pitch.
Manure kicked off towards the North bank and Cygan stopped Scholes in United’s first attack. Lauren to Henry but his shot was weak. Silvestre and Dennis were now at it. A Heinze cross was blocked at the near post by Campbell. Lauren then saw off the Show Pony as they both crashed into advertising boards. Flamini to Freddie to Henry but a last ditch tackle from Silvestre saved the day for Manure. A fine mazy solo by Dennis and a pass to Lauren who had his shot deflected for a corner. Campbell went close with a header wide from Rob’s corner. Had we scored at this juncture, and we might well have, our season would have taken on a different complexion, but we were perhaps pressing when we should have been standing firm. Easy for me to say but unfortunately this Arsenal team doesn’t do standing firm. Which is tough on us who were brought up with a culture of McLintock and Adams. We can score against anyone it seems but anyone can score against us, and so it proved.
Having played a predictable 4-5-1 before half time United played three up after the break and we simply didn’t adjust. Rooney found Giggs who found the Show Pony galloping in from the left unattended to equalise. Lauren was left shaking his head. 2-2 and a massive lift for Manure. Piss taking goal celebrations in front of the North Bank should have seen a yellow card flashed but didn’t. There was an offside flag against United but a previous foot up by Flamini on Scholes provided a free kick from which they hit the post. We were rocky and teetered over when Giggs again found the Show Pony to make it 2-3. This time he did get a yellow for his celebrations, he was indeed fortunate that Arsenal fans are not by and large vicious because it wouldn’t have taken much for a silly punter to rush on and break his neck at this point. This was a five-minute spell to lift or sink a season.
O’Shea replaced the seemingly injured Fletcher. Some seriously crap offside calls followed at both ends. Dennis was called offside when through, but he quite clearly wasn’t. Flamini nearly got in following a great solo from Ashley. A Manure break ended with a weak shot by Ronaldo. Some time-wasting and diving followed as you might expect but Manure were happy to dive when required and play a controlled passing game while Arsenal appeared to give up at this juncture. United were still in control when despite winning a free kick, I think for offside, it all kicked off and ended with a stupid head-butt by Silvestre on Freddie. Poll didn't hesitate or consult his useless lino and flashed a red in Silvestre’s direction.
Henry fired wide from the edge of the box. Lauren was replaced by Fabregas, which would have made sense if we’d gone to three at the back, but we didn’t appear to. Pires found Thierry who had a decent overhead-kick which went straight to Carroll. To complete our agony a chip by O’Shea who looked to be offside made it 2-4. We meantime were pumping balls up to Dennis to head, which 99 times out of a 100 is a total waste of time, although he did head the ball on one cross from Fabregas. Reyes was carded for a nasty little foul on Keane in the five minutes added time and Vieira had one headed off the line by Scholes from a corner. Many punters voted with their feet as soon as O’Shea added the forth but the real fans stayed and chanted a creditable ‘We love you Arsenal we do’ Creditable because quite honestly we had capitulated the second half without a real fight.
It’s a funny old game but I didn’t see too many laughing faces in the queues for Arsenal tube station. Most felt that they were owed some sort of apology and one very wise fan, when asked whom we should have signed in the transfer window had no hesitation in relying ‘Don Howe’. Wise words indeed.