Tuesday, 10 March 2015

FA Cup of woe for United.

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 2

This was the clash of the FA Cup giants a meeting between the two most successful clubs in the illustrious history of the competition as both teams hold the record of 11 wins each.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger had many memorable battles in the cup spanning over fifteen years, but this was Louis van Gaal's first taste of a cup match against the Frenchman.

He of course has already tasted success over the Gunners in the Premier League but could he replicate that feat and take United one step closer to bringing a trophy to Old Trafford in his debut season.

United have played Arsenal a total of 14 times in the FA Cup and have won: 7 drawn: 2 and lost: 5. In fact, Arsenal haven't beaten United in any competition since May 2011 and United had lost only 2 matches of the last 22 so the records were stacked in the home teams favour.

With no Robin van Persie or Jonny Evans to choose from van Gaal made only one change to  the Manchester United starting line-up by bringing in Luke Shaw in place of banned Evans.  The starting XI: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Rojo, Shaw, Blind, Herrera, Di Maria, Fellaini, Young and Rooney. Subs: Valdes, Rafael, Jones, Carrick, Januzaj, Mata and Falcao.

There was a recall for Rafael to the bench which was the first time he has been involved in the first team since the beginning of January.

Once again there was no place in the starting line-up for Juan Mata who surely must feel what his compatriot Ander Herrera went through a few months ago by not being able to get a place in the team and misfiring Colombian Falcao was also left on the bench.

The match started with a full house in fine voice with almost 9,000 visiting fans adding to a great atmosphere inside the Theatre of Dreams.

The match started at a quick pace with end to end attacking football and within the first two minutes Arsenal had their first chance when Sanchez almost opened up the home defence.

One minute later Young was upended on the left wing by Bellerin, who became the first player booked by referee Oliver.  From the resulting free-kick Rooney whipped over the ball but as with many set pieces this season it came to nothing.

Six minutes in and United won their first corner a good delivery which just evaded all the waiting players but on a positive note the home team had started well by moving the ball around with confidence.

Shaw had a chance to break out after an Arsenal corner but failed to bring the ball under control, unlucky as that would have been a great chance for a counterattack as Arsenal had committed so many players upfront for their corner.

Young was causing the right back Bellerin all sorts of problems down the left wing and won a second free-kick which once again Rooney took but to no avail. I would much rather see our captain take up a position in the box to get on the end of the crosses rather than take them himself.

In the 12th minute Smalling slipped the ball through to Fellaini in the box but the Belgian opted to try and take too many touches when the best option would have been to have a shot with his left foot, a definite chance gone.

Some errant passing, which has been a problem for most of the season, began to appear in United's play which allowed Arsenal to create a few chances that luckily they couldn't take advantage of.

After 18 minutes, United's assistant manager Ryan Giggs made his way to the touchline to make his feelings known. No doubt asking his players to step up the pace and stop giving the ball away in dangerous positions.

In the 20th minute, Young was played in by Fellaini but lost his footing as he was about to shoot and the ball sailed wide. Arsenal forward Chamberlain also wasted a great chance for the visitors at the other end by not being able to keep his effort down.

After 25 mins it was turning out to be an open cup tie with chances for both sides but with United being guilty of wasteful passing and it proved their undoing as Arsenal took the lead when their left back Monreal slipped the ball past de Gea after being left totally left unmarked in the penalty area. A terrible goal to concede by United and first blood to the Gunners.

But the lead lasted only four minutes when in the 29th minute after a flowing passing move by United the ball ended up with Di Maria on the right wing and in turn he crossed the ball into the danger area where that man Rooney was waiting unmarked to meet the cross with a fierce header that gave Szczesny no chance.

In equalising Rooney had kept up his fantastic goal scoring record against Arsenal as that was his 14th goal against them and it proved without a doubt that his best position for the team is up front.

Shortly after the goal there was another wicked delivery from Di Maria that the keeper nearly made a total mess of before collecting at the second attempt.

Young showed the confidence in his play of late by constantly trying to take on the defenders down the left in an attempt to assist his forwards.

United's first of six yellow cards came after 36 minutes when Herrera was cautioned after a foul following sloppy work from Di Maria.

In the 40th minute, Rooney almost returned the favour for Di Maria after bringing down the ball with a deft touch and chipping it up for the Argentinian who just couldn't capitalise on the opportunity. Almost immediately, a chance again fell to Di Maria after a great ball from Valencia but Szczesny saved at his near post.

Just before the end of the first-half the excellent de Gea saved a free-kick down low then it was back down the other end as Fellaini tried his luck with a shot which lacked the power to trouble the keeper.

The two teams went in at half-time locked at 1-1 with United conceding a shocking opening goal but all credit to them by finding a quick reply. When United played direct they looked very dangerous but Di Maria looked a little nervous when given chances on goal and just needs to get his game back on track.

Louis van Gaal made two changes at half-time with Carrick and Jones replacing Shaw and Herrera. The experience of Carrick was indeed needed but quite why Jones came on for Shaw I'm not sure.

United attacked the Stretford End as they looked for an early goal to give them some breathing space in the match. Michael Carrick won a free-kick almost immediately but once again Rooney put over a poor delivery when he really should be on the receiving end of the set pieces.

Di Maria chased a through ball in the 51st minute and was unlucky not to be awarded a foul on the edge of the box as he was clipped on the back of the leg, but the referee was unable to see it clearly. Then the action went down the other end but thankfully de Gea was alert to a deflected effort on his goal.

The match had certainly opened up and it really was anybody's game to win.

Over the next ten minutes, the game got bogged down in midfield with both sides guilty of giving the ball away and both set of players making mistakes especially Fellaini who was booked after two successive fouls. Young quickly followed Fellaini into the book after a clumsy tackle.


On the hour, Fellaini spotted Di Maria well and it looked a certain goal but after doing all the hard work he pulled his shot wide.

Then disaster in the 61st minute as Valencia, after a short pass from Jones, played a suicidal back pass to de Gea which United old boy Danny Welbeck latched onto and had the simple task of placing it past the Spaniard. A terrible mistake to make by Valencia and made all the worse by Welbeck being the scorer. Also, Jones has to take responsibility as he only had to hoof the ball away rather than play it to Valencia.

On 64 minutes, Rojo was booked for a dangerous foul which could have been a lot worse than it turned out to be. One minute later from a corner by Di Maria the ball eventually fell to Smalling six yards out, but it came off his knee and went over the bar as the goal was gaping.

The impressive Young delivered a delightful ball from the wing that was met by Fellaini, however, his header was saved by the keeper low at his near post.

With 20 minutes left Valencia almost made his bad night even worse as he gifted Arsenal a free-kick in a dangerous position by bringing Sanchez down on the edge of the box but de Gea saved the resulting free-kick.

Van Gaal made his third and final change after 72 minutes when he replaced Rojo with Januzaj presumably to protect Rojo from receiving a second caution but why throw on Januzaj when someone like Mata would have been a better choice if not just for his experience but also his knack for picking a defensive lock.

Two minutes after the substitution the crowd witnessed a brilliant one handed save from the player of the season David de Gea low at his post. It was a truly world class save from a world class player. Contract?

Then in the 75th minute there was more bad news for United as Angel Di Maria was booked for diving then as he ran after the referee to explain his innocence he grabbed the back of referee Oliver's shirt and was immediately sent off. A strange decision as the same official did nothing after seemingly being head-butted by Man City keeper Hart earlier in the season.

This was now an uphill struggle for United to claw themselves back into the match.

A surging run from Jones ended with a handball by Arsenal right on the edge of the penalty area but as usual Rooney elected to take it himself and couldn't direct his effort on target.

Fellaini became the target man for the long ball into the area. Is this what United have been reduced to trying to pick out the tallest guy on the pitch in the hope he can get his head on it.

In the 86th minute Januzaj became the second player to be booked for diving as he tried to fool the officials when he ran into the area and fell far too easily to ground when he really should have stayed on his feet and tried to create something. I'm still not convinced about the young Belgian and his decision making in games borders on the selfish and this booking backs that up.

The one player I would pay credit to for his work rate is Ashley Young who never stopped trying to start attacks as well as chasing back to help with defensive duties when called upon to do so.

With five minutes of added time left United, with only 10 men, found the going tough and Sanchez almost added a third but for the fingertips of de Gea.

Full time and a very disappointing loss at home and with it the teams last chance of silverware this season. I honestly thought that it would be our year for the cup but in the end it wasn't to be and we will not be going to Wembley.

Now all the focus must be on finishing in a Champions League place and to achieve that United have to get through some big matches between now and the end of the season.

Starting with Spurs at Old Trafford on Sunday. This will not be easy especially when you consider the goal scoring run that Harry Kane is on and the way our defence has been playing lately odds on he will score.

To use an old cliche every match from here until May will be a cup final for United I just hope that the players can pick themselves up from this morally disappointing defeat and push on hard for that all important top four finish then come the summer the manager can clear the decks of all unwanted players and bring in the new quality that we badly need especially in defence.

Thanks for reading what in the end was a difficult piece to write.

Until next time.

Miles Dunton.