|photo by mecredis||via PhotoRee|
Two dodgy officiating decisions from Referee Phil Dowd's crew were all that separated Manchester United from leaving the Emirates with three points on Sunday, the Champions held instead to a 1-1 draw in a chippy contest played at The Emirates. On a day which United received a pre-game Guard of Honor from their opponents to commemorate their title winning season, the post-game stories revolved around none other than the man who also dominated the the headlines leading up to the match: United's leading offensive light, and first-time League winner Robin Van Persie.
It was Theo Walcott, though, who began the day's action and put Arsenal on the board inside of two minutes after an uncharacteristically sloppy midfield giveaway by Van Persie. The Gunners also benefitted mightily from a misjudgment by the line judge, who neglected to spot the Arsenal winger starting his run at least a half yard offside before emerging unscathed in the box and poking the ball under David De Gea's outstretched hands.
Arsenal played the first half on Sunday as if it mattered -- which it did for them, in spades -- while the champions began the game sluggishly, as if still working off their Tuesday morning hangovers. Eleven minutes passed before the visitors found themselves with the ball in the home side's box, and that it ended up high and wide in the stands only added comedic effect to the disastrous opening.
Phil Jones headed wide from Van Persie's cross to create United's initial threat on goal, but the vast majority of the first half was played with the game comfortably under the control of the Gunners' midfield. The home side denied the visitors time on the ball, and the Reds struggled to feed the ball into their man man -- the yellow card near the half hour mark signifying that Van Persie may have been feeling the heat of a crowd that lustily booed his every touch. That he was joined by three of his teammates in the referee's book before halftime was another obvious sign of an uncomfortable performance from the visitors.
De Gea was forced to beat away Lucas Podolski's blast as the game began to stretch, but it was United's Flying Dutchman who came even closer to putting the ball in the net -- denied only by Wojciech Sczcesny's face. If Van Persie had been quiet to this point in the contest, things were rapidly beginning to change.
The scoreline was soon leveled, although the equalizer came only after Jones was off target with his second header of the half. Inevitably, it was Van Persie who did the damage, atoning for his earlier carelessness and scoring from the spot after being scythed down in the box by Bacary Sagna -- the Frenchman compounding his mistake by adding a penalty and a yellow card to an overly casual midfield giveaway.
Tomas Rosicky conspired to miss his chance during an early second half breakaway for the home side, but once again it was Van Persie looking to be the most dangerous player on the pitch, steering a ball clear through the Arsenal six yard box, the striker's low cross missing only the slightest of toe pokes to alter its path and steer it into the net.
Sczcesny was equal to Wayne Rooney's header just shy of the hour mark as both teams continued to generate opportunities, but it was an omission near the same point that proved most fortunate for the home side: Referee Phil Dowd conveniently managed to overlook Sagna's horrific tackle and inexplicably allowed the defender to stay on the pitch.
Antonio Valencia's unintentional hand ball not only handed the visitors their fifth card of the afternoon, it also created a delicious opportunity for Santi Cazorla to put his team in the lead -- the only problem being that no one told the Spaniard that as his kick was directed well wide of its intended target.
Laurent Koscielny came closer to finding the net, although the Frenchman's volley resulting from a corner kick sailed harmlessly over the bar. Both managers made second half adjustments, Arsenal bringing on Jack Wislhere and Gervinho, and United using a substitution to bring Anderson into the game. When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on it was clear Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was going for all three points at home during what was quickly turning into a frantic final 15 minutes.
Ryan Giggs and Chicharito made late cameo appearances, and the Welshman's introduction almost changed the complexion of the match; instead, a desperate block by the Arsenal defense saved the home side's bacon. The contest ended the way most of the second half was played: Arsenal throwing caution to the wind and the champions shadow boxing defensively and looking for opportunities to break with speed.
This is farlieonfootie for April 29.