Man United away; no thanks, most footie fans would have said to you last season. And the season before. And the one before that, and so forth, through the partnerships of Cole and Yorke up front and Pallister and Bruce at the back before them. Near on twenty years of almost unquestioning, overwhelming dominance at Old Trafford, one of the world’s most difficult stadiums to come to. Yes, it’s always had the history and glory attached to it; any stadium that saw the wizardry of Duncan Edwards, the career-long brilliance of Bobby Charlton and the sheer magic of George Best is going to have that until the end of time.
But history is nothing without that air of impregnability at this very moment, that sense of no matter how well you play, no matter how much you excel out of your everyday limitations, you’re still going to get beaten. Bon voyage, eff off, don’t crash the team bus in the car park on your way out.
Oh, how times have changed. Thus far, the stewardship of Manchester United in the post-Fergie era has been catalogued by a succession of poor results on the pitch and even more diabolical choices off it. This is not the Manchester United which would turn over sides even when an off day. This is a vulnerable club at the moment, truly. A huge and monstrously influential one, but vulnerable nonetheless.
With a new manager who’s never won a trophy and a new ‘executive vice-chairman’ who’s about as popular with United fans as Russell Brand would be round Andrew Sachs’ house for dinner, Sunday’s visit of Premier League leaders Arsenal poses a crucial test for Moyes and United as they try and keep up with the early season pacesetters. This game has huge implications: lose, and United’s obituaries will be written. Win and United are only five points behind The Gooners, Arsene Wenger’s face drops faster than Jimmy Savile’s popularity post Operation Yewtree and United fans can start to hope that an irreversible decline has started to be, well, reversed.
On our side is the fact that Arsenal’s form against us has been atrocious for some time; of their five most recent trips to Old Trafford, Arsenal have lost every single time. In ten years, one victory at The Theatre of Dreams. But for a United fan to seek solace in this statistic is foolish and self-defeating. A comprehensive trouncing from Arsenal will give us the opportunity to realistically assess our capabilities and ambitions for this season; quite probably, scrape into the Champions League and rebuild from there in the summer, although Moyes must be careful to ensure that any arrogance doesn’t creep into his fledgling United team, otherwise they’ll fail to secure a place at the European top table next season.
Win, and a pessimistic part of me thinks that’s almost as harmful as a loss in the long term sense that it may delude some fans and perhaps the players themselves into believing they’re still the Premier League’s top dogs. Expectations will be skewed and the predominantly dire performances in the league of the last three months will be excluded as some sort of extended blip. Rubbish.
This is a team without any kind of energetic, consistent spine running through it. At centre-back, Rio and Vidic are slowly edging towards retirement and Evans, Jones and Smalling have yet to demonstrate they’re ready to take over. Our central midfield is in dire need of a marshalling, dynamic presence in the mould of a Paul Pogba type of player – imagine how much better we'd be looking if we’d have bothered to trust him and promoted him when he was at the club – and as for a playmaker, the curious case of Shinji has yet to reach a satisfying conclusion for either club or player. 'Kagawagate' rumbles on and one of the brightest creative talents of recent seasons continues to woefully under-perform. If it wasn’t for the rapid emergence of Adnan Januzaj, what would United have had to cheer about since the season started?
I am not the type of doom happy, ‘Moyes Out’ Man United fan that has unfortunately found a public voice as of late. I believe that with a good fun of form and one or two astute January purchases, we’ll improve quite dramatically. But Arsenal have an air of confidence about them which seems less temporary and fragile than it has been since the days of the Invincibles team. Yes, their attacking flair has always been taken as a given and with the signing of Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey’s emergence as a game-altering midfielder, such artistry has only been enhanced. But the immeasurable improvement of Per Mertesacker in defence, marshalling his troops to splendid effect, has helped to create a defiant back four in the mould of the Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn era.
This Sunday’s going to be a pretty tricky afternoon for United. And I, for one, don’t predict a good night’s sleep for David Moyes afterwards.
More Man United Transfers...
More Man United Nostalgia...