Can Arsenal avoid Deportivo, Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid ?

By Myles Palmer

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Manchester United 2 Deportivo La Coruna 3

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Deportivo would have beaten Arsenal, Liverpool or Leeds last night and beaten them comfortably.

They could have won this game 7-4.

Yes, Barthez gifted them two goals, but they played my kind of football.

Deportivo had a lovely range of ideas and were able to invent the game from moment to moment, outwitting the United players.

They could slow it down to wait for the clever run. It was not so much flair as a high degree of craftsmanship.

Diego Tristan and Valeron were superb.

Tristan, 25, is a big skilful striker whose movement and awareness make him an uncannily effective footballer.

He is like Christian Vieri with much more skill.

Serie A’s billionaire presidents will be trying to sign him during the Xmas transfer window. Or looking to give him a pre-contract.

I hated seeing showboating by the United all-stars, each trying to outdo the other with clever flicks when they were 1-0 up, playing as if they were 3-0 up.

This competition is not about talent or skill or flicks. It’s about collectivity, about a collective application, a willingness to supply whatever needs to be supplied to create a good team performance.

Scholes is a player without a position since Veron joined, and Keane has never had less influence on a big match than he had last night.

Keane was the anchorman but Deportivo just played round him him all night.

Beckham looked more journeyman than genius (which didn’t surprise me at all) and Giggs, the true star of the win against Olympiakos, with four assist passes before setting up Beckham’s goal, was again their best player.

A few weeks back I predicted that Ruud van Nistelrooy would soon start scoring wonder-goals and his second, to make it 2-2, was in that category.

Ruud is a fabulous player. But he is pretty new to this level.He scored two goals and missed two others and showed that he has a lot to learn at this level.

It’s still early days for RVN at United. With Holland out of the World Cup he ain’t saving himself for Japan and Korea.

This defeat, coming after Arsenal and Liverpool had won the day before, is a wake-up call for Fergie.

If he thought United were one of the top four sides in the Champions League he must think again. It was a bad defeat because it means they have lost twice to Deportivo.The good thing about this failure is that it comes at a good time, on Matchday 4.

Those six points put Deportivo in the top three teams, along with Barca and Juve, this week.

Those three, plus Real Madrid, are the teams Arsenal must avoid if they qualify. And it is highly unlikely Arsenal can avoid all four of them.

Deportivo are a lot better now than when they lost 5-1 at Highbury with ten men.

With Djalminha they were dodgy. They never knew whether Djalminha would be brilliant or rubbish or sent off. It’s more of a team thing now,not dependent on one little genius.

A worrying game for Sven, too. Scholes reproduced his recent England form : inept.

I think Barthez will go in the summer. Apparently he dislikes Manchester and wants his girlfriend back.

What he did on the first goal was truly beyond belief. It was surreal.

Wes Brown did well to recover and make the tackle only to see Barthez run past the ball and collide with him, giving the astonished Sergio a tap-in for 1-1.

For a keeper to go walkabout OUTSIDE his area is fairly common.

But to do this inside the penalty area, ten yards from his own goal, was seriously bizarre!

There will be many inquests about this game, most of them neglecting to point out that United will still qualify for Phase Two.

This week has been a reminder just how important goalkeepers are.

In the week that Richard Wright came of age, proving himself 20% better than Seaman, Fabien Barthez blew a big game that United needed to win.

He might never play as stupidly again. But if he does, United have no chance of winning the Champions League.

Their defence is iffy at the best of times, so if Barthez loses the plot or loses form, forget it.

18th October 2001.