So Arsenal have been suffering for a dearth of leadership on the field, have they? I don’t remember Patrick Vieira, whose name was often invoked in the build-up to this match, ever having a more radical effect on a keynote fixture than Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas had here.
Relatively little men, they rose to the big occasion quite magnificently. Nasri’s two goals — and it should have been three, for Nemanja Vidic pulled his shirt in the penalty area on Howard Webb’s blind side and Nasri would surely have taken the kick — helped to explain why Arsene Wenger paid Olympique Marseille £11.7 million for the France midfielder last summer.
As for Fabregas, he merely gave of his best; when a footballer is as gifted and intelligent as the young Spaniard, it is usually enough.
And yet the odds had been against Arsenal: quite literally, even though they were at home to the champions. And yet Nasri and Fabregas are aged a mere 21.
To accuse Wenger of lacking nerve, or of producing teams who lack nerve, was really a quite ridiculous way of looking at his complaints about aspects of Stoke’s physical approach the previous weekend.
Arsenal may have failed the tests posed by Stoke, Hull and Fulham, but they possessed the character required to play their own game against Manchester United.
They did it, moreover, with Nicklas Bendtner and Abou Diaby in the positions Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie might have occupied but for injury and suspension respectively.
Bendtner lacks the sharpness and trickery of Adebayor; Diaby, to be kind, was doing his best in an unfamiliar role (though he did useful work in dropping to defend after half-time).
But such creative shortcomings were overcome as Nasri and Fabregas eclipsed such comparative veterans as Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, providing Arsenal with as impressive and timely a victory as the season has contained thus far.
Nor would any football-loving critic have minded this rout. Leadership comes in a variety of guises and, as Nasri and Fabregas demonstrated, need not necessarily involve the shaking of a fist.
If even Tony Adams had done that alone, he would have looked silly; the likes of Steve Bould and Lee Dixon were usually around to lend support. And according to Wenger the game has continued to evolve.
‘’I don’t agree with people who think you need a leader in football any more,’’ he said. ‘’You need shared leadership on the field — five or six leaders — and today we had 11. Everyone took initiative.’’
Including his much-criticised captain, William Gallas, who had a splendid match at the back. As did Gael Clichy, even though his foul on Ronaldo was as nasty as anything perpetrated by Stoke. As did Manuel Almunia; the goalkeeper had to be on his toes, especially in the first half.
Arsenal did lead 1-0 at the interval, but it could just as easily have been 3-3, so easily were Wenger’s team penetrated every time United counter-attacked.
The nearest they had to a holding midfielder was Denilson, who found himself outnumbered and outclassed by the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov and Anderson.
Yet Rooney sidefooted too high after a brilliant move and Almunia hurled himself to deny Rooney and Ji-Sung Park.
Though a touch of luck put Arsenal in front, no one could have deserved it more than Nasri. When the ball was cleared to him, he had the confidence to hit it left-footed and a deflection off Gary Neville did the rest.
Earlier Nasri had turned the hapless Neville inside out before swinging in a cross from which Bendtner ought to have scored. But the sheer beauty of his second goal — it lay not just in the finish but the final pass, from Fabregas — took the breath away.
In fact it was the 16th pass of a wonderfully patient move that split United apart, their confusion exacerbated by Theo Walcott’s clever run across the face of the defence, and left Edwin van der Sar exposed to a sumptuous drive from Nasri.
He is not the only French player to have been lumbered with the tag of the ‘’new Zidane’’.
But this is no Bruno Cheyrou. Nasri is no Zizou either: not yet anyway. He is, however, all but confirmed as the new Robert Pires and that will do Arsenal’s fans very nicely for the time being. The Telegraph (UK)