For the first time in few seasons, Arsenal were within striking distance of securing the league title and end their trophy drought which had extended to almost three years. The Gunners led the table for most of the 2007-08 campaign but were going through a familiar late season slump that left them six points adrift of league leaders Manchester United with five games to go. However, a victory at Old Trafford would take them within touching distance of the Champions and with United and Chelsea yet to face each other, coupled with an easier fixture list of their own, Wenger’s men would be the favourites to lift the coveted trophy in May.
The Gunners went into the game on the back of a heartbreaking loss in the quarter-final tie to Liverpool while United were on the brink of a league and European Cup double as victory over Roma had handed them a semi-final meeting with Barcelona. Therefore, it was Wenger’s men who needed to do all the running as a loss would all but end their hopes of winning the league that season. United, on the other hand, knew that victory would make it a two-horse race while a draw would not have been too bad for them but with three of their remaining four fixtures away from home, Fergie wanted to gather maximum points on offer.
And it was Arsenal who were the quickest out of the blocks. Bad luck along with Adebayor’s poor finishing kept the match goalless as the home side considered themselves extremely lucky to go into the break on even terms. The Togolese striker were presented with innumerable opportunities as Fabregas bossed the first half at the Theatre of Dreams. Fergie’s men looked nervous to say the least as they kept loosing possession in vital areas of the pitch. However, the Gunners failed to take advantage of any of their opportunities when really they should have put United out of sight.
The second half brought a much better performance from the home side but it was the team from North London that took the lead three minutes into the second half. After a well worked free-kick, van Persie found himself in space on the left hand side and delivered a perfect ball across the United six-yard box that left Ferdinand and Van Der Sar confused as they left the ball for each other. However, none of them claimed it and it was Adebayor who was on hand (literally) to bundle the ball into the net with the help of the left arm. Although the goal was a bit fortunate but the lead was nothing more than what Arsenal deserved.
But as it was becoming the case for the latter part of that season, the Gunners looked afraid to be ahead and the nervousness that had impacted United’s game so far transmitted onto the visiting players. William Gallas was the guilty party first of all as he inexplicably handled Hargreaves’ hopeful ball into the box as Ronaldo stepped up to convert the resulting penalty on a re-take after his initial effort was ruled out due to encroachment. The goal gave United a much needed life-line and now they smelled blood and became stronger and stronger as the game passed by.
After creating a lot opportunities, it took a moment of magic from Owen Hargreaves that settled the game and put Arsenal out of the title race once and for all. Evra was tripped by Gilberto Silva on the edge of the Gunner’s box and while everyone waited for Ronaldo to take the free-kick, the Englishman executed a sumptuous free-kick into the unguarded corner of Jens Lehmann’s net that left the German rooted to his spot and sent Old Trafford into raptures.
Victory for United in this game was worth its weight in gold as they suffered back-to-back hiccups at Blackburn and Chelsea, picking just one point in those two games. However, they went onto win their next two games against West Ham and Wigan and seal their 17th league title by edging out the Blues by just two points. They also went on to defeat Chelsea in the Champions League Final in Moscow to secure a famous double. Arsenal were left licking their wounds as they finished just four points behind United and only two points behind Chelsea. At the end of the season, Hleb and Flamini left the Gunners for seemingly greener pastures and as it has turned out, Arsenal are still without a trophy since winning the 2005 FA Cup. Wenger and his boys will always think what could have been had they taken their chances on that rainy day at Old Trafford.