Monday, 18 May 2015

United end home season with a draw.

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 1

Louis van Gaal delivered on his promise of a top four finish as United went into their final match of the season at Old Trafford.

After Liverpool were defeated at Anfield by Crystal Palace it confirmed United's place in one of the Champions League spots.

Arsenal held the advantage of finishing third as they have an extra game to play but United had a chance to issue a statement of intent and gain revenge for the defeat by the Gunners in the FA Cup quarter-final which was United's only realistic chance of silverware.

With transfer speculation ripe in the build up to the match, especially concerning player of the season David de Gea, the question was which players would be playing their final matches for United at the Theatre of Dreams?

I would be disappointed if De Gea departed for his hometown club after United have invested money and time in his development only for Real Madrid to benefit from his undoubted talent. I would prefer him to stay a few years longer and help United to get back to former glories and become a red legend therefore making it more difficult for him to leave. However, I wouldn't hold it against him if he did go as it would be too tempting for him to return home.

Other players who could have said their farewells if reports are to be believed are Januzaj, Falcao, Evans and Robin van Persie.

Unfortunately, Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw hadn't overcome their injuries in time for selection so here was Louis van Gaal's team: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Rojo, Mata, Blind, Herrera, Young, Fellaini and Falcao.

Chris Smalling had the honour of captaining United, Falcao was given a start in the absence of Rooney and Rojo returned after injury to take over from Shaw at left back.

Subs: Valdes, Blackett, McNair, Di Maria, Januzaj, van Persie and Wilson.

No starting place for van Persie against his old team. It is not a good sign for the Dutchman who couldn't even get a start ahead of underperforming Falcao when he’s playing his old club. The manager has always said he generally plays players against their old teams because they have that extra edge. Yet again, Angel Di Maria started on the bench.

United kicked off the match attacking the old Scoreboard End.

It all started very scrappily in the midfield as both sides took their time to settle into the game.
Ashley Young had United's first chance on goal in the 6th minute with his trademark cut inside followed by a right-footed effort that sailed over the bar.

As you would expect from these two rivals it was a highly combative start backed up with both sets of fans in fine voice.

8 minutes in and Young and Fellaini nearly repeated the Palace goal, but the Belgian couldn't reach the ball with his head at the far post. From the resulting clearance, Falcao was played through but his effort was cleared for a corner which when taken fell to Smalling whose shot was blocked for another corner.

First 10 minutes and it was the home side doing all the attacking. With Smalling leading as a captain should with some fine build up from the back.

Mata won a free-kick right on the edge of the area in the 13th minute which Falcao lined up, but it was Mata himself who fired the ball tamely into the keeper's arms. Where's Depay when you need him?

After 20 minutes, there was still no breakthrough for either side but Arsenal were slowly creeping into the match with Sanchez and Giroud looking like their biggest threat.

In the 21st minute, Phil Jones cleared the danger with a header while lying flat on the grass before Giroud could pounce. Great, if not comedic improvisation.

Just before the half hour Arsenal broke with a long ball which Jones nearly touched past De Gea in a mix up between the two. If David De Gea does leave for Madrid I guarantee he won't miss the likes of Jones and Evans that's for sure.

29 minutes 1-0 United. A superb goal by Ander Herrera after a great cross from the left by Ashley Young. Herrera ran to the far post after anticipating Young's ball and hit a beautiful rıght footed volley into the net.

That's his sixth premier league goal from seven attempts an impressive strike rate.

Young has been excellent since the turn of the year and his assists have helped United into the top four that's for sure.

Since the goal, the play went a little quiet with the ball stuck between the opposing midfielders.

38 minutes in and Mata did well to work a cross from a tight angle on the byline Falcao tried his best to steer home his header but was put off by Koscielny. Summed up Falcao's contribution so far by easily being knocked out of his stride.

The half ended with United enjoying most of the possession and with Blind attempting to put the home side ahead before the break with a couple of efforts the first of which was blocked on the way to goal by a combination of Rojo and Smalling.

A good 45 minutes from the home side who controlled the majority of the play and deserved to be in the lead. Arsenal didn't really offer anything in the way of chances even though Phil Jones did his best to help them.

Up front, Falcao offered nothing to the team and surely it wouldn't be long before he was replaced by Robin van Persie.

The Gunners started the second half with United attacking the Stretford End for the last time this season.

Louis van Gaal made no changes to the side at half time so Falcao would have a last chance to win over the home fans. The Colombian started the half in a feisty mood battling for the ball and winning a free kick which was taken far too quickly.

The 49th minute saw a nice passing movement involving Mata, Fellaini and Young with the winger managing to cross the ball into the danger zone, but it was too close to the keeper. One minute later Alexis Sanchez had a great opportunity to equalise for the visitors but his volley was high, wide and handsome.

54 minutes. Rojo tried his luck from outside the box which Ospina managed to save low down on his line.

Smalling was commanding at the back as he stopped everything that Arsenal threw at him. Maybe wearing the armband brought the best out of him.

Blind almost played Young in on goal, but the flag was raised against Falcao who was standing in an offside position.

An hour into the match and van Gaal had seen enough of Falcao as van Persie replaced the striker. As the Colombian left the pitch he waved to the home fans as if signalling that was his time over at Old Trafford.

One thing I noticed is that Falcao's reaction time is nowhere near good enough as on too many occasions he was slow on the uptake and lost the ball far too easily. He spent more time falling over than on his feet. As good as he was in the past he is not good enough for United now.

Following the change that man David de Gea came to the teams rescue yet again this season this time blocking a shot from Giroud with his legs. Which prompted the ground to start chanting his name and asking him to stay a red.

Two minutes later it was Rojo's turn to be the hero as he intercepted a through ball just in time.
The action and challenges were heating up as Arsenal tried to get back into the game but at the same time leaving themselves open for counter attacks by United.

In the 69th minute, Rojo was in the right place at the right time again to clear the danger which gave the visitors another corner. Rojo was having a great match on his return as his full-blooded style of play stopped Arsenal in their tracks at every opportunity.

Then in the 72nd minute David de Gea left the pitch with what looked like a leg injury but could have a deeper meaning. He was replaced by Victor Valdes who made his debut appearance for the first team. De Gea received a standing ovation from the Old Trafford faithful as he made his way to the tunnel.

Is it possible that De Gea gifted a chance of a run out to his compatriot Valdes?

At the same time, the impressive Rojo was replaced by Tyler Blackett.

A quarter of an hour left and Young had another run down the left and his industrious work earned a corner. When the ball was cleared by Arsenal a huge cheer rang out as Valdes got his first touch of the ball.

In the 81st minute, Arsenal got the equaliser in a somewhat fortunate fashion as Walcott's shot was deflected over Valdes by Blackett. The keeper was unlucky there, but the visitors had been threatening since the introduction of Walcott. The goal was given as an own goal to Blackett.

Following the goal Daley Blind literally had a blind moment when he passed the ball to, well, no one.
Van Persie had a great chance to restore the lead but fired the ball over the bar from inside the area in the 87th minute. What an opportunity!

Try as they might United couldn't find the winner in the closing moments which would have taken them above Arsenal.

The game ended all square and once again United will rue their missed chances which have blighted the season. Not being able to capitalise on the high percentage of possession has been one of the reasons we are not higher up the league that and the shoddy defence.

It now looks certain that United will end the season in fourth place and will have to play a tricky European qualifier to get into the Champions League proper. Tough ties in Greece, Turkey and Russia could lie ahead for United.

There were positives to be taken from the match with the form of Young and Rojo down the left, the work rate of the two amigos Mata and Herrera in midfield and Smalling putting in a captain's role. Unfortunately, there were also negatives including Falcao's lacklustre performance, the early departure of de Gea and the none appearance of Di Maria.

After the final whistle Louis van Gaal grabbed the microphone and thanked the Old Trafford faithful for their support and said he would see them again next season.

This was followed by the players making their way around the stadium rather solemnly after the draw and, of course, empty handed.

Wayne Rooney's son Klay delighted the crowd by sticking the ball in the net at the Stretford End which was more than Falcao had managed.

Only one match to go and that is at relegation-threatened Hull City.  They need a win over United and hope that Newcastle lose. I feel for red legend Steve Bruce as he is one of the honest managers in the league and I would rather the Geordies were relegated, but United need to end the season on a high. In the drop zone, it will be an exciting and nervous last day of the season.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.