My favourite memory of Highbury was seeing George Graham score a scissor kick against Man Utd in front of the Clock End in a 2-2 draw. George Best having scored an equally brilliant goal in front of the North Bank. It was 1969.
That reason that that goal remains imprinted upon my memory is due to the opponents. Manchester United were and are the glamour team of English football. Liverpool may have an equally spectacular history, Arsenal have collected a mass of silverware over the years, but MU are the team football fans know throughout the world.
Before I started my football love affair MU were already in my head. My parents used to take the family on driving tours around Europe in the early 60’s; whenever I met a friendly child and said I was English, the first thing they said was “Bobby Charlton”, not Bobby Moore, not Geoff Hurst and certainly not Iain Ure!. Throughout my childhood Sir Bobby was the most famous player in the World. Had he played for Everton, he would have been a fine player but not a World superstar.
And then along came George Best. By this time I was a staunch Gooner, season ticket holder and North Banker, but George was the man. We had Stroller and Raddy, Geordie Armstrong and Storey, but in the schoolyard, everyone wanted to be Bestie. He summed up Man United; Glamour, swagger, style and brio.
There have been so many great MU memories; McLair missing a penalty in front of the North Bank, Ruud doing the same (prompting Keown’s wonderful response), Cantona getting sent off for kicking Nuttie, PV & Keane’s tunnel incident, TH goal of the season at the Clock End, Wiltord’s EPL winner at OT, and countless more. All are legendary because of the opponents. Beating MU is the best because MU are the true Arsenal rivals – let’s be honest, THFC are local rivals but hardly true rivals in a footballing sense, after all they last won the League in Black & White!
Which brings me to Sunday’s game. Sir Alex has perpetuated the United mystique, he is without question the best manager of all time (even surpassing Busby and Shankly), but and it is a large but, the current Man Utd team is a pale shadow of the former teams. Where is the panache, the swagger and the style? This United is a reflection of the worst sides of SAF’s personality. It is aggressive, streetwise, functional, dare I say common. It is full of snarling, vicious thugs. What must Giggs think when he takes to the field alongside Vidic, Anderson and Fletcher.? Whilst one could never say that United have been a team that doesn’t use hard men, (from Stiles, to Robson, to Keane,) all the previous enforcers had skill, could find a pass and create space for themselves. Fletcher, Anderson, Carrick and the very ageing Scholes are the worst midfield United have fielded in 15 years. What possessed SAF to bring a touch player like Berbatov into this team? It is a team built upon the strengths of Rooney – power, athleticism, simmering violence, and arrogance – though to be fair to Rooney, he is also a wonderful footballer.
There is an ethos to Arsene Wenger’s teams. He insists that all his players are well versed in the “beautiful game”. Opposition fans could point at PV4 and say that he was aggressive, well he was, but he was also one hell of a player, possessing pace, awareness and huge skill. There would never be a time when AW accepted the way this current MU team play. Where is MU’s Cesc, Arshavin or Rosicky? Who is their playmaker? They don’t have one because they rely so heavily on one player’s creative ability. Compare our goalscorers; So far MU have 4 players who have scored over 3 goals in the PL. We have 10 players who have scored 3 or more in the PL. To me this is a shameful reflection upon the state of MU. And a testament to Mr Wenger.
The key battles on Sunday will be Fletcher/Fabregas and Rooney/Gallas. If we get a fair ref (hardly likely versus MU), Cesc will run rings around Fletcher, but if as I expect there is a systematic rotational attack upon Fab and we get the usual weak ref, then we will have problems. Can WG control Rooney? We shall see, what is certain is that WG is having his best season in the shirt, so I am hopeful.
We have big game players in Arshavin, Fabregas and Gallas. Should Song be fit to play, we have the strength to outpower Utd. I feel confident that Clichy and Sagna are capable of nullifying the threat of Nani and Valencia. A raring to go Bendtner, and Nasri. The boundless energy of Rosicky, and the ageless Sol. What chance have United got?