Sir Alex Ferguson has hit back at Arsène Wenger’s suggestion that the Manchester United pitch was to blame for Arsenal’s performance in their 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford on Monday.
Ferguson believes it was a diversion tactic to take the emphasis away from the way, in his words, “we were by far the better team”. The United manager is aggrieved by Wenger’s remarks, believing them to be an unfair slight on the club’s groundstaff.
“I don’t think the pitch had anything to do with it,” he said. “We were just the better team. The pitch was good, fine. I’ve no problem with the pitch at all and it was a surprise to everyone that this was mentioned. I don’t think anyone can complain about our pitch.”
Wenger had spoken at length about the playing surface being the reason why “the technical quality of the game was very average”. He went on to describe it as “very bad”, saying it was not just uneven but “bouncy and slippery”, adding: “The pitch was so poor in my opinion and the game suffered a lot from it.” The midfielder, Jack Wilshere, followed it up on his Twitter page , saying: “The pitch was shocking. [United] wanted to stop us playing!”
The irony is that Ferguson has meticulous standards when it comes to the pitch at Old Trafford and has been seen chastising the head groundsman, Tony Sinclair, on occasions when he felt it was not good enough. On this occasion, however, he feels that Wenger has been unfair on Sinclair and the small army of around 110 groundstaff who are employed to look after the grass at Old Trafford as well as United’s training ground at Carrington and two youth-team sites in Salford.
The playing surface at Old Trafford was a regularfrequent source of concern to Ferguson in the 1980s and 1990s but it has not been relaid since 2003 and, speaking on Sirius XM’s The Football Show, Ferguson reflected on his playing days in Scotland, remembering that “by March, there used to be a furrow up the middle of the pitch that was absolutely barren.” He added: “We’re spoilt now. The state of the pitches today is fantastic, with all of the drainage and the care they get.”
Although Ferguson’s irritation with the pitch comments was clear, it does not mask the club’s embarrassment that Wenger was targeted, once again, with crude chants. Ferguson had appealed to supporters via his programme notes and in several pre-match interviews to behave better, saying the Arsenal manager “deserves better, much better” and United are at a loss about how to stop it.
A more orthodox problem has manifested itself in the fitness of Paul Scholes, who has missed the last three games with a groin injury and will have more tests this week to see whether he has any chance of returning for Sunday’s match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The early diagnosis is that it is unlikely.
Arsenal, meanwhile, will reflect on their run of 11 games without a win against United and Chelsea. “I think the team performance was quite good,” Wojciech Szczesny, their goalkeeper, said. “We just didn’t get as much luck as United did. They probably had more chances to score but I felt the goal was pretty lucky.
“I don’t think Park [Ji-sung] actually meant to head the ball. It just hit him on the head and went into the top corner. With just a little bit more luck we could have got something out of the game but we’re still confident we are the top side in the Premier League.”