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Though I would sooner have a wolverine or even Jermaine Defoe chew my arm off than be caught pimping for Manchester United, I do admit to having a soft spot for two players in the club's 114-year history.

The first is the great Cantona, the French Philosopher-King who shimmied and kung-fu kicked his way into my Arsenal-encrusted heart with his imperious ball skills and Zidane-esque code of personal honor. But Cantona was just passing through Manchester on his magical mystery tour of the beautiful game. He didn't grow up in the hood, dreaming of wearing the hateful shirt, like Paul Scholes did. Nor did Cantona ever apologize for cutting ahead of me in the buffet line, as Paul Scholes also did. This was in March 1999, and England had just beaten Poland 3-1 at Wembley on a hat-trick by a ginger-haired imp who could have passed as a stunt double for Opie on the Andy Griffith Show — sorry for the pre-YouTube reference — if Opie could denoate rockets with either foot, bisect a defense with seeing-eye thru balls, launch himself, usually late and venomously, into the back of an opponent's ankles, and then afterwards shrug the whole thing off as just another day at the office. That very same Paul Scholes, scorer of three goals only an hour earlier, got a step on me in the race for the dessert table in the Player's Hospitality Suite (what I was doing there is a long story but suffice to say it had something to do with Grahame LeSaux mistakenly leaving a ticket for me at the press gate) and said the following: "Sorry, mate."


And you wonder why I was willing to risk the wrath of the Arsenal Gods yesterday to celebrate Scholsey's goal on the occasion of his 500th game for United. "The boy's been a wonderful servant," was the gracious way Master Ferguson put it. He might have added "and we'd be a steaming pile of feces for the past 17 years without him," but he was too busy measuring his trophy case to see if they could cram in any more silverware this season. Certainly, Liverpool did its part to help fuel Ferguson's fantasies, deciding to leave Gerrard at home and operate without their talismanic captain spearheading the attack. Oh wait: I just checked the lineups, and it turns out that Stevie G did play. Maybe I was looking for the Gerrard who had eight goals at this time last season — or eight more than he has now — not the peripheral figure on the right flank angrily gesticulating to his teammates for their failure to execute the simplest pass. Without Gerrard's cutting edge, the Reds are no threat to the Holy Trinity of Chelsea, ManU and Arsenal, no matter how many eye-bulging 60 yard strikes Alonso and Riise can conjure.

So United stay atop the Premiership on goal difference, but even Sir Alex knows it's a shaky perch, what with Chelsea finally getting something to show for all the filthy lucre they shelled out for Shevchenko and Ballack Ballack, not to mention reports of Cech staging a quicker recovery from last week's "life-threatening" head injury than Arnold in Terminator III. Oh, what a relief it must have been to Ambramovich that Shevie at the Levie was not dry Saturday as he had been all season. I mean, the Russian oligarch is on the verge of seeing his 11 billion dollar empire reduced to rubble after his wife learned of his hansky-pansky with the 23 year old stunner Daria Zhukova, who had previously been seen helping former boyfriend, tennis star Marat Safin, perfect his cross-court shot. Not to suggest that Roman is counting his rubles, but that the $30 million he bestowed on his countryman Sheva might have come in handy when he gets the bill from his divorce lawyer.

None of this, of course, holds any interest for Arsene Wenger, who gets his jollies from watching his team play the kind of beguiling one and two touch soccer that Reading manager Steve Coppel says puts the Gunners in a difference league from the rest of the Prem. Thank you, Steve, for confirming what I've been saying ad nauseum these last few weeks, and please compliment Steve Hunt for showing the restraint not to decapitate Lehmann when the Cech assasin hurtled in on the Arsenal keeper. To put it in perspective, Chelsea needed a brilliant piece of skill from Drogba to survive last week's game of Murderball with Reading, and the best ManU could do against Coppel's men was a 1-1 tie. Meanwhile, sparked by those wild and crazy Czech and Belarussion guys, Rosicky and Hleb, and an almost casual pair of goals from Henry, the Gunners gamboled to a 4-0 demolition over the Premiership new boys, making it five in a row as they climbed to within three points of the league leaders with a game in hand.


As Arsene said afterwards with his usual hyperbole, "we are on a very good run" So, too, is Scholsey, whose speed of thought remains matchless both on the field and in the buffet line.