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All Things Footie | Tuesday, May 6 | Jordan

The fat lady sings

Well done Manchester United. I always thought that the team that deserves to win the title would win it, and they have. Arsenal fans should not be ashamed though, their team has been peerless at times this season and played some of the best football the Premiership - and Europe - has ever seen. They have a fraction of the spending power of the new Champions and yet very nearly retained the double - a feat that has (still) never been achieved in the English league. Since Christmas however, United have been simply unstoppable. Make no mistake, Arsenal have not thrown this title away, it has been wrenched from their grasp by a determined, focused and incredibly strong willed United side.

As well as the realisation that Van Nistelrooy is probably the most lethal goal threat in Europe (and yes, I include Henry, Ronaldo and Raul there), one of the main reasons for United’s ability to put such a magnificent run together has been the marvellously mature and discretely effective performances of one John O’Shea. Van Nistelrooy may be the headline grabber, the match winner, but the contribution of the young Irishman to Man U’s back line cannot be overstated. He’s outshone Rio Ferdinand by a considerable margin in the centre and he’s been more effective at fullback than Gary Neville and Mikaël Silvestre. Arsenal sold a very similar player in Matthew Upson mid-season (similar in ability, not style) and it would be wrong to say it didn’t cost them dearly.

It has not just been defensive frailty that separates England’s finest, players like Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs have performed when it mattered for United; Arsenal’s corresponding players have not - Ljungberg, Pires and Gilberto have not been influential enough. There’s still the FA Cup Final, and it surely would be a travesty if this side left the season empty handed, but Southampton aren’t going to be easy and the Arsenal players will have to show character in getting over their disappointment.

Next season will be interesting, and I’m certain there’ll be a lot of movement for the big two in the transfer market. Unless he sells one of his stars (it may surprise a few to know that I think Robert Pirès is the most likely departure*) Wenger will not have a lot of money to play with. I suspect he’ll bring in Frederic Kanouté for a few million and possibly Auxerre’s talented centre half Phillipe Mexès - unless the budget stretches to Chelsea’s John Terry.

As for United, I think Beckham leaving for Real Madrid is almost a certainty, though I don’t think it will be a deal worth as much as the media speculate - a measly sum of around £25m will probably be brokered. If Arsenal don’t sign him, expect Sir Alex to move for John Terry or William Gallas, and PSG’s Ronaldinho will probably be at Old Trafford next season too.

Just one more thing to mention, it’s wonderful to hear a true football fan enjoy their success without being a tosser like so many cardboard cutout United fans will be in offices up and down the country today …

‘If people expect me to gloat at Arsenal’s expense, they will be sorely mistaken. When two boxers trade punches for 12 rounds, we salute the champion and respect the loser. In football, why can’t we similarly acknowledge two great teams?’ — Gary Neville

Respect to United, they deserve it.

* Since I wrote this, Wenger has said that ‘I will not sell one of my top players to finance any other deals’, so expect bargain basement shopping or a pissed off Wenger.

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