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Nothing we didn’t already know

In truth, we didn’t learn much we didn’t already know on Saturday afternoon.

Manchester United are a team who can attack with a speed, directness and threat which few teams anywhere in world football can match.

Hardly news.

Arsenal are a team who pass the ball with pace, precision and patience. And who this season have developed a resilience which has been lacking in previous years, as well as a happy knack of scoring goals late on in matches. William Gallas‘s late, late equaliser on Saturday was the tenth time in eleven Premier League games this season they have scored in the last ten minutes.

Nothing new there, then.

And, despite all the pre-match hype which suggested the outcome of the game could have a major influence on the title race – in a season which is less than one-third complete thus far – we are none the wiser after Saturday’s 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium.

We did not get a decisive result. What we did get was an absorbing, dramatic and occasionally brilliant game of football – which has not always been the case in previous encounters between these two sides. Overall, the two sides did a pretty good job of neutralising each other, but at times the football was breathtaking. United counter-attacked incisively at speed, which was how they scored both their goals. Arsenal stuck to their philosophy of moving the ball the length and width of the field with almost surgical precision. The first equaliser early in the second half was a perfect example of Wenger-ball. Cesc Fabregas touched the ball three times in the move: he started in his own penalty area, sprinted forward to link up play with another pass in the centre circle, and finally popped up in the heart of the Man U box to stroke home a calm finish. In between, the tricky Alexander Hleb, deep inside his own half, wriggled free of the close attentions of a United player before expertly chipping the ball forward to Fabregas. And it was full back Bacary Sagna who made the critical overlapping run which put him in position to cut back the cross from which Fabregas scored his eleventh goal of an already prolific season. It was a quite wonderful piece of counter-attacking team play, box-to-box with precise runs and passes scything a way through the Premier League’s most stingy defence.

In the end, although both sides had enough good chances to win, a draw was probably about right. Man U can look back on having won a hard-earned point from perhaps their most difficult fixture; Arsenal can take heart from the way they twice battled back from a goal down and played right through to the end. And overall the championship race remains finely balanced – and with Chelsea winning again and Liverpool grimly hanging in there, it is by no means a two-horse race – with all the key questions tantalisingly unanswered.

It wasn’t the meaty main course – or the repeat of the infamous Battle of the Buffet – the media were determined to serve up. But it was a pretty tasty hors d’oeuvre to whet the appetite.

The battle for the Premier League title is just warming up, with the potentially critical return fixture at Old Trafford scheduled for April 12th. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the ride.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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