Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wigan 0 - Arsenal 0

Still in control of our destiny - although just barely

Yes, we are still in control of our destiny - which, by definition, means that if we win all of our remaining games, we win the title. On one hand, the string of draws that saw our five point lead at the top (almost) evaporate offers little hope of a nine-win streak. On the other hand, our title challengers (both of which have displayed less than stellar form this past weekend as well) will drop points as well - at the very least in their Stamford Bridge face-off.

Still top by two measly points is little consolation for a game that we should have found a way to win, regardless of the condition of the pitch. On no pitch deemed playable - although the JJB field really stretched that definition - should we have not been able to score one goal against a prime relegation candidate such as Wigan. But it happened, and United is now favored to claim the top spot in a little over one week's time, after a trip to Derby (a team unable to mount any kind of challenge) and a home game to Bolton (a team "safe" enough in the standings to mount any challenge - particularly at Old Trafford)

For the record, I am not buying the "at least we're not losing" line - one win and two looses equate to just as much as three draws - especially at a time when goal differential is becoming quite irrelevant. The title - at least in this final run - is decided by the number of dropped points, not by the number of games in the "lost" column.

And now, to the ratings - with the hope that on its season-closing trip to the JJB (and with the title fight still undecided) United will face a Wigan team in need of points to survive relegation...

Almunia - 7. Showing the leadership that we grown to expect from him every single game. With the exception of Valencia's shot in the second half, quite untroubled.
Sagna - 8. One of the few highlights of the game - at times he looks like he can do no wrong on the pitch. Despite the condition of the field, his timing, work rate and movement were remarkable. Superbly consistent throughout the game - and the entire season.
Gallas - 7. A solid performance, although you feel that his leadership has suffered in recent weeks - Flamini and Senderos are quickly emerging as the "clear heads" in our defensive third - and it is a refreshing sight indeed.
Senderos - 7. How in the world can you keep him on the bench when Toure returns - after the type of performances he has put in lately? I could be wrong, but this will be the only season of Gallas' captainship of the team - and maybe even in the starting lineup. Toure - and, to a lesser extent, Senderos - seems ready to wear the captain's armband.
Clichy - 8. He and Sagna deserve the only true accolades for the never-give-up attitude he displayed throughout the game. Tirelessly advancing down the channel ineffectively covered by Hleb, he provided cross after cross in an always-crowded Wigan box where we could get a hold of anything.
Hleb - 6. Never got any traction - literally and figuratively. He was the one player whose game was affected by the field conditions to the absolute greatest extent.
Fabregas - 5. Outside a clever through pass that set Adebayor up for what should have been the first (and probably only) goal of the game, he was nowhere near his brilliant display at San Siro. Two poor decisions in the second half when he broke free of coverage saw him first try to pass the ball when he should have shot and then shoot when he should have passed the ball.
Flamini - 7. His work rate was outstanding - particularly since anything less his full dedication could easily have cost us all the points.
Gilberto - 5. It is a sad day when one of the stalwarts of your team's glory days looks as out of place (and off pace) as Gilberto looked yesterday. He is still capable of precise, piercing passes that can set the entire team in motion, but alongside Flamini, he looked very slow and, at times, uncommitted.
sure he would not receive any service. On a day when opportunities were few and far between, he did not show the needed composure
Adebayor - 7. Worked hard but the playing surface and suffocating marking from Wigan's back line made to convert either of the two chances he had. His newfound understanding (and maybe recovering relationship) with Bendtner is encouraging.
Bendtner - 7. One of his better performances, I thought - won most of the long balls sent his way and was able to send useful passes all around. I am quite confident that given a few more starting opportunities, he would find (scoring) form - van Persie is back, however, and he is not going to be denied the starting spot.

And, finally, a word about van Persie. He looked good, he looked dangerous every time he touched the ball and seemed to effortlessly find his way past opponents. If we are to find much-needed late season scoring form, he could be key to our efforts. His unique playmaking/goalscoring mix could add spark to our predictable attacking patterns of late.

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