United vs Arsenal: My Ratings

First things first: Congratulations to Manchester United on making it to the semi-finals of the world’s oldest cup competition, the FA Cup, for the 27th time. It was a good performance from a largely second-string side which was able to see off Arsenal’s best available eleven. Within a span of two weeks, Arsenal’s hope of a quadruple has disappeared and they’re now left in just a single competition, the Barclays Premier League where they will lock horns, once again, with Manchester United for their first bit of silverware in 6 seasons.

United, meanwhile, are still fighting on in 3 competitions. Having lost for two times in a row in the league for the first time since March 2009, United had to put behind a hugely disappointing week or so to face a determined Arsenal side that lost in midweek to Barcelona in the Champions League.

Looking at United’s team line-up, I could not believe that there were three full-backs in our midfield and an out-of form Darron Gibson. The starting line up looked like this:

                                        van der Sar


Brown              Smalling                  Vidic                 Evra



Rafael              Gibson                   O’Shea              Fabio


                               
                          Chicharito             Rooney

Seeing that, I was convinced that SAF was sacrificing the FA Cup for the important midweek game against Marseille in the Champions League. I feared the worst. A friend of mine, an Arsenal supporter, remarked to me, “How are you ever gonna score with that midfield?” But score we did. Not once, but twice. And it could have been much worse for Arsenal. Let’s analyze the performances:

Edwin van der Sar (9/10): Ever since the moment the big Dutchman has announced his retirement at the end of the season, there have been calls for him to reconsider it. It was apparent why on Saturday. He dealt with whatever Arsenal threw at him with much comfort, also producing a few difficult saves. Having a goal-keeper with a good distribution is so crucial to counter-attacking teams such as United. His ball distribution, as usual, was top-class. Also, he is so calm on the ball. Never panics and shoots it into orbit even when opposing players are charging him. Just calmly side-steps them and passes it to a player on his team. I give him a rating of 9/10 for this match. He’s my Man of the Match.

Wes Brown (7/10): Brown has been out of favor with SAF this season but has always produced the goods whenever called upon. In this match too, he did his job effectively and made some typically strong tackles. A fairly good performance from him.

Chris Smalling (8/10): Smalling produced a fine display on Saturday. He is fast maturing into a wonderful centre-back. Won most headers, made a lot of nice tackles and was instrumental in breaking up a lot of Arsenal’s attacks. He is a defender in Ferdinand’s mould and is a perfect foil for Vidic. With Rio struggling for fitness and age catching up with him, Smalling is increasingly proving himself to be a worthy successor.

Nemanja Vidic (7/10): Vidic had an average day on his standards, which means that he was very good. The United captain has been inspirational this season, often single-handedly saving matches with his exceptional defending. At his best, Vidic is a monster, destroying opposition attacks with disdain. Nothing gets past him. A forward’s worst nightmare. Even on average days such as these, he is really good. He made a lot of important headers and tackles in this match, often covering for Evra who was caught out of position.

Patrice Evra (6.5/10): Ever since returning from the World Cup, Evra hasn’t looked himself. Especially in the defensive department. Going forward he is wonderful and a great threat with good delivery from the left flank. Defensively he has looked suspect, often getting caught out of position and making bad tackles. He looks in serious need of rest and some motivation. He still remains one of the world’s premier full-backs. On Saturday too, he was good going forward but defensively wasn’t much to brag about.

Rafael da Silva (8/10): Rafael has been largely wonderful this season. Watching him develop into a quality full-back has been an absolute joy. It is clear that he plays his game with a lot of passion and controlled aggression. He has improved in the defensive department tremendously this season and going forward he’s a great threat. He has great pace, is very comfortable on the ball and has a decent delivery. On Saturday, he was played on the wing. He clearly enjoyed it as it gave him freedom to let his attacking instincts take over. He was very responsible defensively as well. Great work rate and energy in this game. Wonderful bit of skill and trickery to set up Fabio’s goal. Had a decent headed opportunity for a goal but scuffed it over the bar. It would have been a poetic goal as it was his twin’s cross. Great signs for the future.

Darron Gibson (7/10): Gibson has been under great scrutiny this season and has largely disappointed. He has a lot of critics and there are questions as to whether he is good enough for Manchester United. SAF has put a lot of faith in him but it will be inappropriate to say that he has repaid it. He is decent on the ball, good passer and has a lethal shot. His main criticism has been his off the ball movement and shouldering responsibility. He does not make himself available for passes. I, for one, do think he has a future at United if he gets confidence back in his game and shoulders some responsibility. On Saturday, he looked decent again. Again his off the ball movement was poor but once he was given the ball looked sharp and passing was good.

John O’Shea (7/10): We do not realize how lucky we are to have a player such as Sheasy. Such a versatile player! He plays anywhere on the pitch and does such a good job. He’s the ultimate utility player. As a holding mid-fielder, he did a good job on Saturday. Did his business with absolutely no fuss and quickly distributed the ball back. Very good display.

Fabio da Silva (7.5/10): Fabio has got very limited playing time this season, but whenever he has played he has looked quality, just like his twin. Remember, when they were both bought he was rated as the better twin. He plays for the center midfield in the reserves. Playing on the left wing, he provided great work rate and energy, was comfortable on the ball and delivered decent crosses. His goal was the type United has been missing all season. He made a run into the box and was rewarded with a tap-in after Hernandez’s great header which was well saved by Almunia. The twins were everywhere and not just restricted to the wings. The understanding between them is telepathic. There was one time where Rafael made a pass and it was like, “Who the hell is that for?” but Fabio made a dash and reached the pass. It was brilliant. Arsenal must have been very confused. Anywhere they looked, it was one of the twins!

Wayne Rooney (8.5/10): This season, Rooney has been… Well, you all know what he’s been. On Saturday, he was brilliant. He seemed to have got his act together. He looked hungry, was sharp, found his touch and his long range passing is a sight to behold. His goal was well taken. Excellent display from him and hopefully, this continues in the run-in.

Javier Hernandez (8.5/10): Chicharito! He’s been the find of the season. Amazing finishing, amazing off the ball movement and great technique. He plays with passion and a smile on his face. Playing for United obviously means a lot to him as evidenced by his kissing of the badge every time he scores a goal. On Saturday, he was great and was unlucky not to bag a goal. In the league, he has 14 shots on target

and 10 goals. Not a bad conversion rate, huh? Also, he has the lowest goals per minute ratio of all players who have scored 10 goals or more in the Premier League. Value for money or what, eh SAF?

Substitutes:

Antonio Valencia (8/10): Valencia came on for Fabio at the start of the second half. Fabio looked tired after giving it his all in the first 45 minutes. I just hope it isn’t another injury for him. Valencia himself was returning from a broken leg after 6 months out. Such an injury has a massive psychological and physical effect on the victim. It was feared that Valencia would never be back to his old self. He had a wonderful 2009/10 with United and played a major part in Rooney’s impressive goal tally. Now hopefully they can find that form again. Not until I saw him play did I realize really how much United have missed him. It was wonderful to watch him play and it looked as if he was out for 2 weeks not 6 months! Key encouraging points:

a) Doesn’t seem to have lost any pace

b) Wasn’t afraid to carry the ball and take on defenders

c) No visible damage to permanently neutral facial expression

Ryan Giggs (7/10): 37 and still twisting people for fun. Enough said.

Paul Scholes (8/10): Scholes came on in the 70th minute and displayed his whole career in the final 20. An unnecessary booking for a stupid tackle and orgasmic passing. It was like he came on and showed Arsenal

how to pass, “This is how you pass the ball, you feckers.” Paul Scholes is football. How are we ever going to replace him?

Honorable mention for Sir Alex Ferguson. The man is a tactical genius. Only he could have pulled off something like that.
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Writing credits: Sujay Kulkarni, First Year BA student at Fergusson College, Pune. Football fan and passionate Manchester United supporter. We encourage you to comment – he would appreciate feedback.

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