Hargreaves pours scorn on 'beautiful' Arsenal game

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The Independent Online

Pundits and public alike may be gazing on Arsenal with doe-eyed admiration but Owen Hargreaves yesterday delivered a cold professional verdict on what he described as the Premier League leaders' "so-called beautiful football".

The Manchester United midfielder, still absorbing the disappointment of Arsenal's injury-time equaliser at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, said: "They had plenty of possession but were never threatening."

Hargreaves added he felt United were "comfortable" before conceding that "scrappy goal" to William Gallas. The goal meant Arsène Wenger's team stayed top by virtue of having scored 24 goals to United's 21, and with a game in hand.

"We came to win the game and were very close to doing that, so it's even more frustrating to give away the goal at a time when we were quite comfortable," Hargreaves said. "We were keeping the ball and are disappointed to concede a goal that was quite scrappy."

Hargreaves added: "Arsenal keep the ball and had a lot of possession, but in the first half, aside from Gallas's header at a set-piece, they never got into a position where they threatened the goal. They had plenty of possession, but football's about winning games and scoring goals. I don't think they created a clear-cut chance in the half so we did a good job controlling their so-called beautiful football.

"Arsenal keep the ball, which is their style of play. It's great to keep the ball, but when you've got a team that are as good defensively as us you can keep them at bay and with the players we've got going forward we can score at any time.

"Both of our goals were beautiful pieces of play, but their goals were a bit scrappy and probably not typical of the way Arsenal play. You don't get to the top by conceding a lot of goals so you need to try and keep clean sheets and we were a bit unlucky to concede. We could have scored a third when 'Wazza' [Wayne Rooney] met a great cross from Giggsy [Ryan Giggs] which would have killed the game."

Looking ahead to how the championship race might play out Hargreaves said: "It's very open and there's a lot of football to be played. Arsenal and ourselves will be competing for the title, but Chelsea and Liverpool are still in there. We'll see after Christmas where everybody is."

Sir Alex Ferguson echoed those thoughts when he said: "The draw's good for Chelsea and Liverpool and there are a lot of twists and turns to come."

The United manager feels his team will be in good shape to maintain their challenge now the injuries are clearing up. Patrice Evra and, off the bench, Louis Saha, made impressive returns from injury on Saturday. Michael Carrick also resumed. Hargreaves, though largely bypassed at the Emirates, is returning to match sharpness and Gary Neville could be on the bench for the midweek home Champions League tie with Dynamo Kiev.

"At Arsenal I had the strongest bench that we've had all season, that's encouraging for us," Ferguson said. "The lads who have been playing all this time have been fantastic and we are very proud of them. But we can now alternate our teams a little bit better."

Ferguson is likely to escape disciplinary action for accusing the referee, Howard Webb, of favouring Arsenal. He also complained about abuse from Arsenal fans and said: "There's a lack of security here. We were getting terrible abuse from people two or three feet away. It's absolutely disgraceful. There is a danger and something must be done."

Arsenal's response was that: "Stadium security is of the highest importance. More than adequate measures are in place." Arsenal, are generally strict on security, but they may have a look at shielding the dugouts better. Ferguson might also bear in mind that while the abuse he received was unpleasant it was nowhere near as abhorrent as the vitriol Wenger gets at Old Trafford.

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