Arsenal fluff their lines in Premier League clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford - The Warm-Up
Manchester United took the points and Cristiano Ronaldo took the plaudits as the Michael Carrick era came to a swift end at Old Trafford. Arsenal, however, need to take a long, hard look at themselves, as the race for fourth place in the Premier League tightens up. And Spurs got exactly the result they needed against Brentford.
'We were sloppy against United' - Arteta reacts to defeat at Old Trafford
It's a powerful thing, nostalgia. It distorts the present, past and future. There will probably be a time when the prospect of Manchester United against Arsenal doesn't fall under the shadow of what was once and what will never be again: Keane, Vieira, red cards, pizza, brilliant football played at breakneck speed and fuelled by blood-warming contempt.
For United, with their new manager watching in the stands, this was a chance to scamper about and look impressive, and on the whole, they managed it. With Arsenal playing out from the back as they do, United went after them with great enthusiasm and some success. Even Ronaldo, back in the starting line-up — sorry, sensationally restored after his snub — spent some time huffing and puffing after defenders. Perhaps he's noticed that hassling the opposition provides lots of opportunities for pointing.
The overall impression was of a group that had decided to have a quick Google of the new boss before getting underway, and this certainly explains Harry Maguire's post-match comments. "Well, Clive, for me, the dictionary definition of pressing, comparative more pressing, superlative most pressing, is needing urgent attention. Insistent, earnest, or persistent. At the end of the day."
Ronaldo's goals have taken the headlines because the number 800 is very large and looks cool. But the man of the match in a more total, all-encompassing sense, was Fred. There he was, jumping on his own goalkeeper's ankles, giving rise to the least controversial controversy in Premier League history. (For something to be actually controversial, the final outcome has to either feel wrong despite being technically right or feel right despite being technically wrong. De Gea's quick crumple satisfies neither test: it felt like it should be a goal, and the laws and the referees agreed.)
'The timing is right' - Carrick announces he is quitting Man Utd
And there Fred was, minutes later, up in the Arsenal penalty area, breaking his own ankles to create a beautiful first-time back-flick and set up Bruno Fernandes. We don't know precisely what Ralf Rangnick looks for in his players, but if it's the capacity to run all night while constantly trying weird stuff, then the age of Fred is here. And it's going to be wonderful. For somebody. For everybody.
As for Arsenal, this was one of those games that look in both directions. They were the better team for half an hour, they were unlucky not to get a penalty of their own, they were always in the game, the kids were decent to excellent. The problem, once again, was the grown-ups. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang now misses tap-ins, rendering him almost entirely without function, and neither Partey nor Elneny could get close to Fred. Though as we've established, that can happen to anyone. Including Fred.
It does seem, at least to the Warm-Up's eyes, that this version of Arsenal do a lot of things right. But they also seem to stop trying to win the game as soon as they're winning it. At 1-0 down, United were vulnerable: a thrown-together team under a novice manager, heads scrambled by a weird goal. And Arsenal just faded back into themselves, as if attempting to see their one-goal lead through to the end.
Neither of these teams will be winning the title: as both teams clattered against each other and against their own limitations, it was easy to see why this result leaves the losers 10 points off top and the winners ten points off third. The squeaky thing for Arsenal is just how tight this makes the race for fourth.
Unless their new managerial appointment goes very, very wrong, United are coming through the worst part of their season and should get better from here. The same is true of Tottenham. And Arsenal, with a settled squad and a settled manager, have completely failed to take advantage of this: they sit one point ahead of Spurs, who have a game in hand, and just two ahead of United.
Obviously, it's all academic, since Manager of the Year David Moyes is taking West Ham into the land of milk and Gazprom, but still. As a rule, Manchester United are too rich to stay properly rubbish forever. So when they are properly rubbish, as they have been this season, everybody else really needs to make the most of it.
Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United celebrates
Image credit: Getty Images
Speaking of Tottenham
Consider the 2-0 home win. It is a quietly beautiful thing. Not the most impressive victory, certainly not the most spectacular, and rarely the most exciting. But it is, perhaps, at some gut level, the most satisfying.
It is the footballing equivalent of your favourite meal made just the way you like it, of that knackered old jumper that sits just right across your shoulders, of the first glass of cool water after a hard day's last long walk. It is the seven out of 10 film that you like better than the 10 out of 10s.
It is the result that boringly successful and successfully boring football teams are built from. It speaks of competence, of predictability, of a team that knows what to do and then does it. The first goal is "job" and the second is "done"; the clean sheet is the full-stop. And it is, we're betting, precisely what Antonio Conte wanted when he looked at his early fixtures and saw "Brentford (H)".
Job done. A scrappy goal from a threatening set-piece, an excellent team goal, a potentially dangerous opponent kept to just one shot on target, and that a pretty weak effort. A few more days like this, and the league table will start to look a much friendlier place. After all these seasons, after all this time, Antonio Conte finally got his regular day of Barclays.
'Today Tottenham showed great desire' - Conte delighted with win over Brentford
IN OTHER NEWS
There are some things that are better that titles and trophies. Harry Kane, for example, is king of an entire day.
Michael Carrick, first-team coach and interim-interim Manchester United manager, has decided to go out on a high and has left the club following last night's win over Arsenal. As a player, he racked up five league titles and a Champions League in 464 games, which isn't bad going. And his win percentage of 66.7% makes him the club's greatest manager of all time. No further questions on that point, please.
Obviously, he wasn't much of a goalscorer, but Youtube videos of sensible constructive passing are, if we're being honest, incredibly boring. Besides, keep an eye on the celebrations for the second goal. That's Manchester United's technical director Darren Fletcher and, yep, that's Alan Smith punching him in the face.
Here's Nicky Bandini over at the Guardian, taking a look at Serie A upstarts Sassuolo and their highly promising striker Gianluca Scamacca. The Warm-Up is a firm believer that the first job of a proper no.9 is to kick the ball incredibly hard, as Scamacca does. All the rest is details.
Scamacca’s qualities were evident – physical power, extravagant technique and rare height at almost 6ft 5in. But the step from there to becoming a consistent scorer is still a significant one. He netted a modest nine times at Genoa last season – though that number starts to look more impressive when you see that it was one goal for every 104 minutes he spent on the pitch.
The two best teams in the Championship throw down tonight, as first-placed Fulham host second-placed Bournemouth. Union Berlin take on RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, if any United fans are looking for a quick hit of Rangnick-consultancy-ball. And the second round of the men's FA Cup gets underway with Gateshead vs. Charlton Athletic.
Have a good weekend. Tom Adams will be here on Monday with news of the women's FA Cup final and other bits and bobs.