Logic stated that we shouldn't have been optimistic about the game given the form of the two teams and the fact that both of our perceived cutting edges were not available to play up front. But when have football fans ever been logical? The choristers under the stand competed for the rudest Cashley chant and seemed to have little or no fears about the battle ahead.
Their stadium looks pretty impressive these days but as soon as you sit down on the pinchingly narrow bits of red plastic and crush your kneecaps on the seat in front you become aware of the lack of screens other than that showing the names of the two teams and the score, both of which I already knew.
United kicked off and had the best of the very early play with Ronaldo shooting wide. Graham Poll was in charge and it wasn't long before his inane grin beamed form ear to ear as he booked Lehmann for handball. Quite clearly the ball was not over the line at the edge of the box, nor was Poll either close to it or in line. Ronaldo fired over the free kick. A wild tackle by Scholes on Gilberto was waved play on and a decent attack down our left followed. Rooney tried to appeal for the use of elbow against Gilberto just because our Brazilian saw him off. We applauded his fine sportsmanship, not. Kolo was next in the book for a foul on Saha near the halfway line. Cesc won a goal kick for Arsenal that should have been a United corner.
We hit our rhythm after about ten minutes and from the moment of our first one touch passing sequence we looked to be in control even when we weren't. Eleven minutes in and Adebayor won us a penalty in front of the Stretford End, the far end to the travelling Gooners. Quite why there was no card I can only put down to the whimsical nature of our beloved Graham Poll. Gilberto, once again captain for the day, stepped up but slipped as he took the spot kick making it an easy save for Kuszczak the surprise choice in goal for Manure. For some teams this would have been a major a blow and a sign that when your luck is out it is really out. But we're talking Arsenal here and a team that had to get a result.
The atmosphere seemed great but that was probably an illusion because all I could really hear were Gooners. Tomas to Freddie with an almost killer ball. Scholes on Cesc for a free kick as the ball went from end to end. Gallas won a corner ‘Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal' Tomas took it and the winning Scrabble score in goal punched clear. Tomas with an absolute rocket, which was well saved low to the Scrabble score's right. Great play by Adebayor on the right. ‘Shall we sing a song for you?'
Djourou did brilliantly and maintained that level of performance for the entire match. Arsenal were up for it big time and looking the part, we were the better footballing team but it takes more than that to win at Old Trollop. Another hack on Cesc who was running the game now, he will without doubt be the best midfield player ever if he maintains such brilliant progress under Wenger. A Manure corner punched clear by Jens. A rare good move from Manure as Ronaldo found Rooney who shot wide to a chorus of ‘You fat bar steward'. Silvestre replaced by Evra after 23 minutes. ‘Your support is fecking sh*t'. It was a fast and furious game but we were definitely edging it and our passing was vastly superior. A laughable dive by the show pony won a free kick courtesy of Poll. ‘Graham Poll is a fecking ars*hole'. Ronaldo hit it into our wall. Saha was caught offside.
Because Ronaldo had played down the United left flank Eboue had remained more defensive than is his wont but a rare sortie forward culminated in an Adebayor to Freddie move. A wild shot from Tomas. O'Shea on the ball as an erudite Gooner behind me screamed ‘He's just a fecking navvy, take him out'. A United corner and it was Ferdinand's turn on the rota to trample on Jen's feet, so he did. Half time arrived shortly after Jens punched clear from Rooney. The first half had flown by, I'd enjoyed it and I'd suggest it was a real cracker for the neutrals. Unfortunately I'm not a neutral and so my tensionomitor was still pointing to ‘seriously uptight'. This was a big game but we looked up for it and we certainly looked the part.
And now if I may, a word of warning relating to the half-time break. Non smoking stadiums have resulted in the bogs becoming the furtive hang out of nicotine-challenged addicts. Breathing apparatus is now recommended on entry to the toilets of any non-smoking stadium, especially if there is a lack of available stairwells.
Arsenal resumed proceedings by kicking off towards the Gooners. A Fabregas cross won a freekick for handball off Evra. A quick free kick, which Djourou headed on and Gilberto headed onto the bar, but the ball was already out of play. Rosicky and Adebayor stormed into the box; Tomas' cross was headed clear. Cesc hit one that was not too far wide. United won a corner at the other end. Another move and a good header out from Gilberto followed by a fast break. Evra hoofed clear. ‘And it's Arsenal, Arsenal FC they're by far the greatest team the world has ever seen'. Our vocal support was pretty well continuous and included the response ‘We forgot that you were here' to the occasional whispers from the Mancs. Gilberto to Gallas, almost. Gallas was fouled, not given. ‘Super Tom Rosicky'. Some great play by Adebayor but but after he made the space his shot was fired over. A perfect tackle by Cesc won the Mancs a free kick. An error by Ferdinand was hacked clear. Fletcher to Saha who headed past the post.
West picked up a yellow for a very obvious foul on Adebayor who was working his rocks off still. Neville took out Freddie well off the ball but there was no card. Hleb back to concede a corner. Ronaldo knocked it in and Jens took it with ease. Eboue stole the ball and set up a chance for Adebayor but his shot was too easy for the keeper. Gallas stole the ball off Rooney and a great attack saw a shot cannon off one of our players for a goal kick. Cesc with an almost perfect ball to Adebayor. Eboue with a cross that was headed clear. United broke but Djourou was on hand to stop their attack. Hleb to Rosicky whose shot was wide. Hleb was replaced by the Baptista to a chant of ‘Beast, Beast, Beast, Beast'. Freddie moved left, Tomas moved right as Kolo stopped a Rooney run.
Scholes took out Rosicky well off the ball with total intent; play on said Poll and then gave a yellow instead of the warranted red. A hoofed clearance from Brown. Gallas saw off Rooney. A Ronaldo cross held by Jens. Another great move but Freddie was caught offside. The tiring Scholes and Rooney were replaced. On came the cheating little git Solskjaer in what I believe was his first game against us since he got Campbell sent off. And Carrick who received a predictable chant in honour of his previous club.
The Beast broke and set himself up for a shot that was fired just wide. Another fabulous ball from Fabregas. Handball not given on the edge of their box. Great play by Djourou and a foul throw from the foul faced Neville. There were five minutes to go, we were on top, passing the other team to death but we were still only on course to pick up just our third point in our opening four games. The killer touch had seemingly once again eluded us. Not so.
The key moment of the entire match came about when the show pony tried to be unnecessarily flash in his own half with one of his little tricks. Well it didn't trick Cesc; our Spaniard took the ball away from their Portuguese man of woe and skipped away leaving a bemused Ronaldo sitting on his arse. Twinkle toes then jinked his way through and got one little piece of luck that could change our season. What looked like an attempted flick pass bounced back to him and so he carried on carving through the red shirts as if they didn't exist. Cesc then spotted a killer pass thanks to Adebayor's tireless running that lasted till the final whistle. The ball he put through looked perfect for a left foot strike but our big number twenty-five stretched with his right peg to stab home to the accompaniment of a massive eruption of Gooners behind the goal. 0-1 to Arsenal with four minutes to play. After running away to his left and becoming aware of a distinct lack of Gooners in that general vicinity he came over to the fans in our corner and celebrated with us. Get in there.
It's moments like these that make the sometimes irksome, always time consuming, invariably expensive, often disappointing trips to the far flung homes of rival Premiership Clubs worth all the hassle, all the grief and all the aggro. Being at Old Trafford when their biggest ever Premiership crowd has just seen the home team mugged by a late goal is something you cannot explain, you just had to be there. There was a suggestion from someone that we might go fecking mental and so we did. Deliriously happy screaming Gooners hugging unknown fellows because we could, because we wanted to and because we'd just revived our season and given Fergusmoan a good slap in the process. It was one of the best ‘up yours Ferguson' moments I've experienced, and there have been a few. The tourists started heading off towards the exits, the stadium became morose in a quiet sort of way except for our corner of Gooner heaven, or the ‘2002 Champions Section' as we know it.
There is a difference between scoring and winning and on this occasion the difference was Lehmann. Shortly after our goal Solskjaer had a shot blocked shortly after unleashing a goal bound effort that he found hard to believe Jens was able to tip round. Flamini replaced Adebayor who went off to raptous applause from our corner of the ground. Jens made another save. Flamini kicked Evra in the head by accident and then Freddie was allowed to be knocked over by Ronaldo. ‘Who the feck are Man United?' as the final whistle saw what remained of their fans streaming away.
The men in yellow came over to celebrate with us and even Wenger thought about joining them. Gallas seemed to enjoy the act of winning at Old Trollop no end. But then again we all did.