Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
(United win 5-4 on pens)
MANCHESTER UNITED on a lap of honour, Arsenal bellyaching about an unsympathetic press. 'Ere we go, 'ere we go. It was as if football had never been away.
If there was an inevitable familiarity about the two most successful teams in the country barely three months after their clean sweep of the domestic honours, the support they command is such that no match between them will ever be treated with contempt, and a respectable 66,000 were at Wembley on Saturday for the overblown friendly that is the Charity Shield.
That the Football Association has come to regard the fixture with rather more seriousness than the public was evident in the groans which greeted the realisation that a winner was to be found by penalty shoot-out. This tie- breaking lottery is a contentious device at the best of times. In the context of a charity game it has all the relevance of Vinnie's video nasties.
Both sides would have preferred to share the shield but, not for the first time, no one at Lancaster Gate had bothered to consult the people who play the game. As a result, a decent 1-1 draw, with which everyone was happy, became an ersatz 5-4 win for United when Peter Schmeichel saved the most casual of penalties from his opposite number, David Seaman.
Such a tame ending was an affront to a good, competitive match, illuminated by authentic goals of the highest class.
Alex Ferguson summed it up best. 'This is not a game that is meant to prove anything,' the United manager said. 'Both clubs did that last season. The Charity Shield should be a celebration of success. We would gladly have shared it.'
It was Ferguson who felt he had learned most from the match proper, although that worry-lined face collapsed into its customary hangdog mien when he was quizzed about his best starting line-up.
Splashing out pounds 3.75 million on Roy Keane must give him an embarrassment of riches in midfield. In time. The Irishman's below-par condition and consequent lack of stamina can only be temporary, and will presumably be remedied by extra training but, pending his return to optimum fitness, there is an obvious temptation to promote Brian McClair in his place.
A fixture for so long, it seems strange to find anyone but McClair wearing No 9, and it would be a surprise if he again took no part when United begin the defence of their title, at Norwich on Sunday.
For the moment, with Keane still trying to find his feet beneath some surplus avoirdupois, only Paul Ince is assured of his midfield place at Carrow Road. England's most recent captain resumed on Saturday where he had left off last season - as the most dynamic engine-room artificer in the country.
After paying a fortune for Keane, it raised a few eyebrows when Ferguson admitted on Saturday that he was not sure how effectively he and Ince could operate in tandem. On the face of it, the two grafters are a little 'samey', and the manager said: 'I had to play Roy from the start to see how he and Paul shaped together.'
For the first 25 minutes, when Keane was full of running, he had been satisfied. After that? Judgement had to be reserved. Hmmm. At pounds 3.75m, it had better work.
Ferguson's concern at the way Arsenal were able to turn the tide saw Bryan Robson introduced as a stabilising influence, midway through the second half. The old warrior is 36 now, and destined to keep the No 12 shirt for what could be his last season, but if the legs are slowing the spirit is undimmed, and as galvanizing substitutes go, he takes some beating.
United, who preferred the head- down pace of Andrei Kanchelskis to the more composed wing play of Lee Sharpe, were always the better side, but will have to train on, in racing parlance, if they are to emulate Liverpool and translate fleeting success into enduring domination.
Favourites they are, and properly so, but all last May's heady talk of a new golden era is giving way to a gathering suspicion that their campaign at home could be undermined by the opening of a second front, abroad. The glittering distraction of the European Cup could let in Aston Villa, Blackburn, or perhaps a resurgent Liverpool.
Arsenal, too, nurture title aspirations, of course, and in their case the diversion of the Cup-Winners' Cup is offset by the presence of nine Englishmen in their team to United's four. While the champions will have to chop and change for Europe, the Cup holders will preserve the precious continuity beloved of managers everywhere.
Arsenal's old strengths, and Achilles' heel, are immediately in evidence. They are impressively solid, if a little short on craft, in all departments, but their pressing need is to find a productive striker to share the goalscoring burden with Ian Wright. Paul Merson, a reluctant winger, is probably a better bet than Kevin Campbell.
On Saturday, as throughout last season, it was a case of: 'If Wright doesn't score, Arsenal won't' To the surprise of no one, bar poor Schmeichel, he did, staggering probably the best goalkeeper in the world with a volley hooked in out of nothing, from 20 yards.
A delightful goal, it was, only a shade better than the one with which Mark Hughes had given United an eighth-minute lead. After a summer of Sumo Merv, here was Sado Mark, Manchester's Macho Man harrassing defenders and embarrassing them with a typical tumbling volley to do full justice to an ooh-aah of a chip from the endlessly inventive Eric Cantona.
The issue should have been settled by a bona fide penalty, when Ince was tripped by John Jensen. Instead, we were condemned to a shoot-out as tedious as any Eastwood epic. Wright got it wrong, Seaman was anything but able, and suddenly everyone was shaking hands, wreathed in who- cares-who-wins smiles.
Enough charity. Our faith and hope is in the real thing.
Goals: Hughes (8) 1-0, Wright (40) 1-1. Penalty shoot-out (Man Utd score given first): Ince 1-0, Winterburn 1-1, Bruce 2-1, Jensen 2-2, Irwin 2-2, Campbell 2-3, Keane 3-3, Merson 3-4, Cantona 4-4, Wright 4-4, Robson 5-4, Seaman 5-4.
Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon (Keown, 45), Winterburn, Davis, Linighan, Adams, Campbell, Wright, Merson, Limpar (McGoldrick, 74), Jensen.
Manchester United: Schmeichel; Parker, Irwin, Bruce, Kanchelskis, Pallister, Keane, Ince, Cantona, Hughes, Giggs (Robson, 68).
Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).
Wolves have made an improved offer of pounds 1.5m for Darren Peacock, the QPR centre-back. Keith Burkinshaw has completed his first signing since succeeding Ossie Ardiles as West Brom manager, paying pounds 225,000 for the Preston winger Lee Ashcroft.