On Sunday, Arsenal travel to Manchester United looking for their first victory at Old Trafford since 2006. It is the 1st time Arsenal would have played Manchester United since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. It will be the first time Arsenal would have been to Old Trafford since the fear factor of the ground was no more.
I am a cricket fan (despite this, please read on). For a long time in cricket, there was something called the ‘Shane Warne Theory’. The basics of it were that legendary Australian bowler Shane Warne could take wickets by being just Shane Warne. He did not need to bowl great, he did not need to spin it round corners, he could bowl slow and straight and take a wicket, because he was Shane Warne. A slow straight ball could get someone out, and his victim would be adamant that the ball span. Shane Warne had a physiological edge over opponent batsmen.
Batsmen would be beaten before they had faced a ball. They would be beaten before they walked to the crease. They lost their wicket in the dressing room, where they were fearful of facing Shane Warne. Fearful of how far he would spin it. Fearful that he was the greatest bowler of all time and that he would add their scalp to his collection. When they finally got to the crease, they looked forward, the fear was in their eyes. They were like a deer in headlights. And before you know it, Warne had bowled a tame, straight delivery, and the batsman was heading back to the pavilion. He had been beaten, not by the ball, but by the bowler. The fear factory of Shane Warne.
Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson also had this. Like with a cricketer playing the bowler, rather than playing the ball, teams went to Old Trafford and became scared. This was Old Trafford. This was Sir Alex’s Manchester United. Winners of 13 of the last 21 titles. They did not play the 11 players on the pitch, they played the club, the manager, they played Shane Warne.
Teams were beaten before they kicked off at Old Trafford. They were beaten before they got to the changing rooms. They were beaten before they travelled to the game. They were beaten on their own training pitch, when they accepted that Manchester United were so much better than them. Their manager would bash into them to defend, defend, defend, that a point is a good result, that Manchester United were brilliant. How can you beat a side when you know all the players facing you are superior. And superior by miles. They were beaten not by the physical aspect of playing Manchester United at Old Trafford, but the physiological aspect.
Of course Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling & Wes Brown are brilliant defenders, they play for Manchester United. Danny Welbeck, David Bellion, Bebe, top class striker, they must be, they play for Manchester United. Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, a 41 year old Ryan Giggs, these have to be top central midfielder’s, they play for Manchester United. And with that, you were physiologically beaten.
The amount of times I watched Manchester United play another Premier League side and that side throw the game away. Run scared. Change the way they play, and end up defeated. I have seen sides put in a heroic performances against Arsenal to snatch a draw, or win, to then next week, play with fear. It is as if they were a different side. And defeat followed.
In the 2010/11 season, Manchester United won the league title. The key behind their success was home form. They won 18 out of 19 games. Now this was not a vintage Manchester United team. There were no Ronaldo’s, Giggs (before he became a pensioner), Cantona’s, Keane’s or Beckham’s. No, they had this record with a very average squad. Owen, Anderson, Smalling, Park, Hernandez, Carrick, Nani, Fabio, Rafael, O’Shea, Fletcher, Valencia, Obertan, Macheda, Gibson & Bebe all played a part.
Read those names again, take out the fact they play for Manchester United, and you will realise they are all fairly average. How did they win 18 of 19 games at home? The fear factor.
With Sir Alex Ferguson leaving, the fear factor has left as well. David Moyes is an ordinary manager, and suddenly, teams are not looking at Manchester United like a world class team full of world class players, they are looking at them for what they are, a mid table side with distinctively average players.
Bar Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, they have no world beaters. An average goal keeper. A defence which will either contain aged, past it players, or young, naive players (Smalling – The English Senderos), full backs which can be got at, a slow, uncreative midfield and little width. The fact is Manchester United are not very good. Yet they are no different from last year, when they were Champions. What has changed? The fear factor have gone. Side are now playing the 11 players on the field, not Manchester United the club.
Of their 5 homes games this season, they have only won 2 of those. A 3-2 victory over Southampton and a 2-0 win over bottom placed Crystal Palace. Not exactly convincing!
The fear factor has certainly gone with Manchester United. And with Arsenal unbeaten away for over 260 days, the psychological aspect of the game could be turning. They should be fearing us now.
Manchester are there for the taking. Play without fear and we win.