Thursday, 20 October 2011

Four out of four for England in Europe... but will United v City confirm the Premier League is the world's No1?

It’s a little ditty unlikely to emerge as a chart-topping single, but when Gooners sing “one-nil to the Arsenal” they know a job has been done in the old, unfussy style once the domain of north London’s highly-successful red-and-whites.

They were chanting the old mantra after the streaky 1-0 win over Marseille at the Velodrome on Wednesday night, just as they did in 1993 when George Graham’s defensive-minded side overcame a highly-talented Parma in Copenhagen to win the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup.

It was that strange winter, when Graham had a solid defensive unit built around David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Steve Bould, David O’Leary and Martin Keown, when Arsenal fans coined their chant. Back in the days before Arsene Wenger’s neat, attacking style, Gooners were proud to frustrate the opposition and hit them with a single, late goal – more often than not from a corner.

Based on French giant’s PSG’s “Allez Paris Saint Germaine” chant, you’d have thought that, under Wenger, Arsenal were no longer interested in singing about dour 1-0 victories. You’d be wrong. At the heavily under-reconstruction Velodrome on Wednesday night against an Olympique Marseille going through all kinds of problems of their own, the old resilience was back.

Given that Wenger’s fancy fantasy football approach has failed to yield a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup triumph over Manchester United, Aaron “Rambo” Ramsey’s late, late bombshell was all that was needed to resurrect the old Graham mantra.

And of course Arsenal’s win over the group leaders was not the only Premier League victory of the night. Chelsea, coming up quickly on the rails in the domestic title race, thumped in five without reply against Belgian outfit Gunk, sorry Genk, to complete a perfect week for English fans.

Both Manchester outfits, City and United, managed to win their first Champions League games of the season on Tuesday night. The current top two in the EPL, winless in Europe before this week, were also reliant on late goals before their crunch Manchester derby on Sunday.

And amid the flurry of “our Premier League is the best in the world” responses to the week’s Champions League results, comes this daring boast from Manchester City’s Dutch clogger Nigel De Jong.

Rendered infamous for his kung-fu antics during last year’s World Cup final against Spain, De Jong, 26, goes into the Old Trafford clash on Sunday insisting: "Of course everyone at City believes we can go there and win. We're going there as No 1 and the aim is to stay No 1.

"The pressure is still the same as it was last year. But what has changed is that we are now No 1 in the league going into this derby.

"We don't have any point to prove. We've shown our quality throughout the season. We don't need a game against United to show how good we are - it's two of the best teams in England going up against each other and I expect it to be a great game.”

De Jong also responded to Arsenal boss Wenger’s claims that players – particularly former Gooners Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri and Kolo Toure perhaps – only join City for Sheik Mansour’s oily millions.

He said: "You have to be honest, they pay good wages and everyone can earn a good living here — but it's not about that.

"This side can be part of history as well because it's been so long since we won the title. That's the main reason myself and other players signed here."

And De Jong has a point. United have looked a little dodgy of late. They threw away a two-goal lead against Basle, hardly sparkled against novices Norwich City and needed two late Wayne Rooney penalties against gladiatorial Galati this week.

Will the balace of power change in Manchester on Sunday? Will City and United produce the kind of derby which convinces the world the English Premier League is the world’s dominant domestic force? Watch this space.

My prediction? United 2-1. City boss Roberto Mancini may have produced the moment of the week when with his delirious celebrations after the late winner over Villarreal on Tuesday night, but in truth he is hardly fit to lace Sir Alex Ferguson’s dancing shoes.

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