The much hyped and ridiculously overstated “Guard of Honour” got us underway at the Emirates with Arsenal players giving their United counterparts a round of well deserved applause.
The entire week leading up to the game had focused on the ex-Gunner Robin van Persie retuning back to his former favorite hunting ground. On Sunday, the Dutchman left North London with his pride intact as he helped deny Arsene Wenger’s side all three points and earned Manchester United a rather inconsequential point from their point of view.
The resultant draw ensured that both clubs would be reasonably pleased, although United can no longer break the records point tally while Arsenal lost an opportunity to cement their third placed standing. Nevertheless, Wenger’s side now have a much easier run of games and look the favorites to end up in the Champions League spot. United on the other hand didn’t have much to play for in all honesty, and in the first half especially didn’t look up for it. But Ferguson’s men aren’t champions for nothing and came back strongly to earn a respectable point.
Team sheets and tactics
Despite having already won the league, Sir Alex fielded close to his best eleven with Nemanja Vidic being the only big name absentee. Arsenal too lined up without their talisman Wilshere and their best striker Giroud, as the Frenchman was suspended following his red card offense at the Cottage. United fielded a midfield combo of Jones and Carrick, with Rooney dropping deep to make up the numbers, and Luis Nani got a rare start on the left wing. United looked to defend deep and hit Arsenal on the counter, a tactic Ferguson regularly deploys against the Gunners especially away from home.
Arsenal started with Ramsey and Arteta as the double pivot while Rosicky was handed over the creative reins of the side. Podolski started as the center forward and Theo Walcott looked to get behind United’s defense and torment Evra with his burst of pace.
Perhaps taking a leaf out of Borussia Dortmund’s book, Arsenal pressed and harried the United players from the start as Fergie’s team panicked in possession and thereby conceded the ball alarmingly.
Arsenal take the initiative: Arteta has Rooney’s number
Arsenal started the game in blazing form and went ahead almost from the start. Theo Walcott got behind a day dreaming Patrice Evra and Arsenal lead inside the first five minutes. Replays showed that the Englishman was clearly offside but the French fullback could have and should have been aware of his positioning.
United and especially Rooney found themselves without any time and space with the ball as the former Everton midfielder kept the Englishman on a tight leash. With Rooney isolated, United failed to bring the likes of RVP into the game and the link between midfield and attack couldn’t be established.
Even though Arsenal won the territorial battle, yet they failed to convert their advantage into actual goal scoring opportunities. Better decision making in the final third could have seen Arsenal double their lead but the players always chose the wrong option.
Shockingly, despite being outplayed for large quarters, Man United created more of the clear cut chances, including one where RVP headed the ball at Wojciech Szczęsny from point blank. Phil Jones too was guilty of fluffing his lines, but United displayed their prowess on the counter.
Sagna’s gift to Van Persie
Barcary Sagna had a nightmare all evening and was the main culprit as his moment of madness inside his own box resulted in a penalty which Van Persie converted to silence the boisterous home crowd.
There were no celebrations once again from the fallen Arsenal hero but United were handed a life line from nowhere. The Gunners lost the momentum which they had built up through the course of the first half as both sides went into the break all square.
United controlled the second half
All goals are worth their weight in gold but some mean more to the outcome of the game; United scored at exactly the right time and thus went in to the second half in a much better frame of mind. Michael Carrick’s impact began to grow while Wayne Rooney who had been largely anonymous in the first half began to dictate play.
Wenger’s men slowed the tempo of their game which had hitherto been the main reason for their ascendency. It was a very solid and professional second half display by the away side, and had the players been more clinical in the final third United could have even nicked it at the end.
Referee verdict: Disappointing is an understatement
Offside decision aside, Phil Dowd had a rather forgettable outing as he went on a card dishing rampage in the first half. Barcary Sagna’s cynical foul early in the second half went unnoticed and unpunished, the French full back was already on a yellow and merited a second one and a subsequent red but the referee perhaps lacked the courage to make the call in a big game.
Arsenal verdict: Point would do for the Gunners
A point against the champions is a decent return considering Arsenal’s easy fixture list, but Wenger will be ruing the chance to put the game to bed when the home side were clearly dominant in the early exchanges.
Man United Verdict: Satisfactory away day
Records point total or not, the season will count as a success and United did their status as league champions no harm, especially on the basis of their second half performance. Also, considering the game mattered very little to the club in the grand scheme of things, United did well to motivate themselves and the manager must be applauded for fielding such a strong eleven.
Arsenal Player Of The Match: Laurent Koscielny
Koscielny was a towering presence at the back and negated the threat of Van Persie brilliantly. Honorable mention must go to Ramsey as well for his tremendous all action first half display.
Man United Player Of The match: Rio Ferdinand
Michael Carrick and Phil Jones had good second half displays but Ferdinand was calm and composed throughout the ninety and marshaled the defense outstandingly. The Englishman has had an outstanding season and deserves all the plaudits he gets.