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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal

Sir Alex Ferguson stepped lightly across the slick Old Trafford turf, turning slowly and taking in the view as if it was his first ever visit to the stadium. With eyes full of awe and a broad grin splashed across his face, he let out a long, sigh of satisfaction. Job done. When he arrived at the club in 1986 with the intention of knocking Liverpool, "off their perch," it was an ambition so improbable that it seemed ludicrous to even voice it. To equal the Merseysider's domestic achievements, this newcomer to English football needed to win eleven league titles and United hadn't even picked up one for almost 20 years.

Most managers would be happy to build just a single Championship winning team, but since those glory-sapped days, Ferguson has created a dynasty. He has led United to a third consecutive title, the only manager ever to achieve that feat twice. He has won 11 of the 17 Premier Leagues since its inception in 1992 and he is just one game away from his third European Cup. We can trot out the statistics and the honours all night and, actually, perhaps it would be a good idea if we did. It would certainly be more entertaining than discussing the match itself.

On an afternoon when the weather was far more exciting than the football, United seemed strangely subdued. Torrential rain jostled for prominence with bright sunshine, both of them showing far more ambition than the players in red. Understandably, they had no intention of leaving gaps for Arsenal to exploit, but to go 90 minutes without mustering a single shot on target was something of an anti-climax. Not that anyone in the stadium cared, obviously. This game will be long forgotten by the time the celebratory hangovers wear off this evening. The only thing that matters is the fact that United have managed to hold off Liverpool's spirited challenge.

Well, perhaps that's not the only thing that matters. This may have been the last time that the Old Trafford crowd ever see Carlos Tevez in a Manchester United shirt. Substituted players occasionally acknowledge the support of the fans, but they very rarely wave goodbye as pointedly as the Argentine did here. A message, surely, to the supporters who are desperate for him to stay.

"Fergie, Fergie, sign him up!" they chanted, but it all seemed rather redundant. There's no question that Ferguson admires and appreciates Tevez, it's the GBP30m cheque that needs to be written out to a South American consortium of agents that's causing all the trouble. It's a desperate shame that there is no sign of common sense breaking out, but if Tevez does leave, United will survive. They coped with the departures of Eric Cantona, Jaap Stam and David Beckham. They'll cope with this.

It's not difficult to find the secret of Ferguson's success. In the dressing room before the trophy presentation, he shook the hand of every player and thanked them for their efforts. There was no champagne and there were no wild celebrations for this 11th Premier League title, but there was one song and the lyrics tell you all you need to know about the mentality of this football club.

"We'll win it twelve times, we'll win it twelve times. Come next season, we'll win it twelve times."

Brace yourself, Liverpool. United aren't finished with you yet.

EXPLOSIVE - How does Cristiano Ronaldo get so much power on those free-kicks? If his late effort had hit the post, it would ripped the goal out of the ground and sent it spinning into the stands. Fortunately for everyone in attendence, it smashed into the advertising hoardings instead. I bet it left a dent.

BRAINS OF THE OPERATION - At the end of another week of hysterical criticism, Arsene Wenger showed why almost any other football club would be delighted to welcome him aboard. Arsenal were comfortably the better team, passed the ball superbly and never allowed their hosts to get complacent. Granted, they probably need a more physical midfielder, but they certainly don't need a change at the top.

MISS OF THE MATCH - If Robin van Persie had put his early header on target, there would be a lot of champagne sat untouched in the Old Trafford fridge right now. It couldn't have been any easier for the Dutch striker, but the ball bounced off the top of his head and sailed into the crowd. A real let off for United.

PUNTER'S RANT - Well, look on the bright side. At least this appalling football match ended early enough for punters to salvage their Saturday night. There was still time to go for dinner, or out for a drink with friends. Imagine if you'd stayed up until 4am to watch something this dull. You'd be livid.

MAN OF THE MATCH - There really wasn't one. This was a game devoid of thrills, only getting vaguely interesting in the last ten minutes as Arsenal threatened to spoil the party. Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo looked sporadically sprightly, but it was more a day for the tireless industry of Darren Fletcher. Let's give it to him, eh? He needs cheering up.


Crowd - 75,468
Yellow Cards - Van Persie, Arshavin, Nasri, Fabregas, Song (Arsenal)
Red Cards - None
Manchester United -
Edwin Van der Sar (rating 7), John O'Shea 6, Nemanja Vidic 7, Jonathan Evans 7, Patrice Evra 6, Cristiano Ronaldo 7, Darren Fletcher 7, Michael Carrick 6, Ryan Giggs 7, Wayne Rooney 7 (Anderson 6, 90th), Carlos Tevez 6 (Ji-Sing Park 6, 67th)
Arsenal -
Lukasz Fabianski 6, Bacary Sagna 6, Kolo Toure 7, Alex Song 6, Kieran Gibbs 6 (Emmanuel Eboue 6, 77th), Samir Nasri 7 (Nicklas Bendtner 6, 70th), Denilson 6, Abou Diaby 7, Cesc Fabregas 7, Andrey Arshavin 7 (Theo Walcott 6, 70th), Robin van Persie 6