If ever a moment epitomised United’s season, it came sixty seconds before the final whistle. Having been pinned back in their defensive third for a while, United pinched the chance to counter one last time but Wayne Rooney squandered the initial chance and Michael Carrick did not deem driving forward a worthy option and proceeded to pass the ball backwards. Opportunity gone, philosophy….seemingly GONE.
United, in those last seconds, played for a 0-0 draw as they had done for the previous 92 minutes and, in fairness to David Moyes and his men, it was mission accomplished, the sort of result a seventh-placed team would draw positives from, given it came against one of the favourites for the title.
Except, of course, that United aren’t – or rather, shouldn’t be – just another average mid-table side, at least not just yet, and it was rather sad to see them offer so little going forward, particularly given some of the enterprising performances they had put on in these surroundings in recent years.
If United were turgid going forward, at least they were solid at the back, in itself a nice change considering the shambles that unfolded on Sunday, but one has to wonder how a back four that conceded two against Fulham could keep Arsenal at bay for the second time this season.
The days of Keano vs Vieira and Ruud vs Keown are long gone and United vs Arsenal these days has a very eerie aura about it, with neither side sure of how to go about their business in the fixture and none of the passion and/or entertainment we had grown used to in the past.
With Antonio Valencia and Tom Cleverley replacing Ashley Young and Darren Fletcher in the starting XI, Juan Mata switched to the left to accommodate Valencia, a man whose personal conundrum remains utterly inexplicable. Does he see so much of the ball because he’s one of United’s most enterprising players or does he see a lot of the ball because he carries no threat at all and he’s therefore allowed time in possession in the knowledge that he won’t produce anything worthwhile?
Having conceded four in 20 minutes on Saturday, Arsenal were almost one down after a minute, with Robin Van Persie dispossessing Santi Cazorla before shooting tamely at Wojciech Szczesny, before Olivier Giroud chose not to ruin his perfectly combed hair and headed without the sufficient power after Nemanja Vidic had missed the cross by a couple of days. The Serbian centre-back was joined by Rio Ferdinand at half-time, who replaced Rafael after a nasty fall.
Excitement, unlike the wind and the usual array of awfully boring songs from the Arsenal fans, was at a premium until the last 30 minutes, with United doing enough to control Arsenal when not in possession, as Tom Cleverley produced a strangely diligent performance, although the fact that we feel like praising him for not making mistakes says a lot about him.
With an hour gone, David De Gea did well to remind Valencia which post he was supposed to stand next to and football’s least attacking winger did his job by clearing Laurent Koscielny’s header off the line, before Adnan Januzaj and Ashley Young replaced Mata and Valencia and Wayne Rooney decided to finally offer a contribute, having spent the previous 79 minutes as a passenger.
Rooney and Van Persie orchestrated a superb counter attack, with Rooney’s lofted pass finding RVP’s header, which was brilliantly parried onto the bar by Szczesny, who denied Van Persie his fourth goal in four games against his former club, before De Gea saved twice from Cazorla at the other end.
With Liverpool winning, United are now 11 points off fourth place and will struggle even to get into the Europa League but at least, should Arsenal win the title – hard to fathom, though, given the Gunners are by far the least formidable of the top four teams at the moment – at least we could always comfort ourselves in the knowledge that they failed to score in both games against us.
It’s not much, but it’s just about all we have at the moment.