In the first half, also at the Stretford End, Dean had failed to give a much more blatant penalty. Perhaps with Eduardo on his mind, the referee evidently didn’t want to be duped but he took that to the point of absurdity shortly before half-time. The ball had broken to an unmarked Andrei Arshavin in the far side of the penalty box. Darren Fletcher, firefighter supreme and man of the match, came sprinting across, slipped and absolutely flattened the Russian. Fletcher would have had to have taken Arshavin’s leg off to make it even more obvious. Dean waved play on.
Wenger’s touchline apoplexy was calmed by the delivery of almost instant compensation by the football gods. Arshavin certainly is capable of exploiting the physics of kicking a ball with results beyond the ability of most mortals. Just moments after picking himself up in disbelief after Fletcher’s challenge, he received the ball some 25 yards out and, with Nemanja Vidic failing to close, sent the ball hurtling into the near post with illogical power. Sir Alex Ferguson placed the blame at Ben Foster’s door. “Obviously he should have been dealing with that,” he said.
Not as bad as the manner in which Arsenal conceded the winner. Ryan Giggs sent a free-kick swinging into the Arsenal box where Abou Diaby, under no pressure from any United attack, bizarrely headed the ball straight into his own net.
If his players had struck their efforts on goal as cleanly as Wenger struck that bottle, Arsenal would have won this game comfortably. Van Persie was denied by a superb Foster reaction save with his left boot and actually hit the bar with a viciously swerving free-kick of his own two minutes before United took the lead. United, by contrast, were inarticulate, struggling to find their old attacking expressiveness. They gave the ball away relentlessly in the first half and without the outstanding Fletcher could well have been swept aside. They will need to find more conviction if they are to win that fourth straight title.
Substitute Dimitar Berbatov and Nani missed great chances to add late gloss to the result and might have had serious cause for regret had William Gallas not been spotted drifting offside deep into stoppage time, thus causing Van Persie’s late leveller to be disallowed.