James Lawton: Old Trafford was Arsenal's turning point - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

James Lawton: Old Trafford was Arsenal's turning point

There Are two certainties about tomorrow's meeting of Arsenal and Manchester United at Highbury. One is that Sir Alex Ferguson will cry to the gods for a performance that does not mock all his great years as the most successful manager in the history of British football.

The other is that at no stage will Arsenal begin to reproduce the gutter-level behaviour which so disfigured the meaning of their club, and the achievements of their brilliant manager, Arsène Wenger, in the Old Trafford fixture earlier in the season. And it is here that we might indeed find the key to the extraordinary reversal of fortunes experienced by England's greatest football clubs.

Some said that what happened at Old Trafford, when Martin Keown and Lauren and Ashley Cole submerged Ruud van Nistelrooy in their bullying spleen, was relatively trivial, something way down the food chain of football disrepute.

Others said it was an appalling statement about the discipline and demeanour of an otherwise superb team. Wenger, bewilderingly for all his admirers, seemed to take the former view. He gratuitously insulted Van Nistelrooy, and said he would defend his players. The club directors, perhaps led by the traditional voice of the Hill-Wood family, at last reined in their virtuoso manager. They issued a grovelling apology, and said that they would not be a party to any defence of the indefensible. Wenger complied, however reluctantly.

There are no doubt other reasons why Arsenal have maintained such marvellous consistency ever since, but surely it is impossible not to believe that the Old Trafford incident served as the most dramatic warning that an unacceptable point had been reached in the players' conduct on the field. Certainly there is no doubt Arsenal's discipline has sharply improved, and it is one of the oldest truths in the game that a disciplined team is well on the way to being one that wins a lot more often than it loses.

Ferguson's tide of triumph only began to flow relentlessly when he addressed United's own disciplinary problems, and Brian Clough's extraordinary, eccentric winning of two European Cups at Nottingham Forest was underpinned by the terror of his players that they would offend him with any unprofessional behaviour.

Now we look at Arsenal and see a team finally showing the resolve and the composure to make a serious challenge for the European Cup after years of failure so profound that it was plainly eating into their collective psyche. That such a transformation could be worked by a group of players who so recently did such a fine impersonation of a malignant mob is truly remarkable. So, too, is the fact that it is reasonable to presume that United are well capable of ransacking their memories and producing a performance that will rescue at least a little pride - and that it will happen in a game marked by quite impeccable behaviour.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week