The quick conclusions after today’s game.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
First things first; Arsenal deserved to win. They thoroughly deserved it. They were the better team on the day.
Now let’s see how United contributed to that. They started with Ashley Young and Daley Blind in defence, two players used to playing far higher up the pitch. Blind has performed admirably but sooner or later these truths become evident and the deficiencies of the team against top sides will be noted. More on that later, because with Luke Shaw’s injury, one could argue that on paper it was a reasonable team for United to field at Arsenal, all things as they are.
But Schweinsteiger and Carrick – a midfield that controlled supremely against Liverpool in the only other big game it started together – was woefully out of sync. Schweinsteiger was notably pulled out of position and visibly looked the worse performer but at least he was attempting to make a contribution. Carrick’s anonymity has been something he has received praise for in recent years but there are times when anonymity means plain absence. Schweinsteiger recovered in the second half but the wisdom of selecting two midfielders over thirty to sit behind a dreadfully out of form Wayne Rooney and face an always – if nothing else – vibrant and energetic Arsenal team hurt United so deeply in the first quarter of this game that they never recovered.
And that leads us on to the point about Blind, and Young. You can expect players to play well as professionals, and you can expect them to adapt to trying circumstances, but you can’t expect a standard that is so high week in week out that it will win or even challenge for the best championships.
This point will be lost in the hysteria that will undoubtedly follow the shock scoreline and perhaps that is Louis van Gaal’s just desserts for allowing so many senior players to leave and not replacing them in number, even if the starting XI when every one is fit looks like it could challenge. And perhaps United have no excuses after spending the money that they have, but the fact of the matter is regardless of the money spent, the squad is too thin to reasonably expect to cope with even half of the amount of injuries it has in the last four years and come out with a respectable achievement in May.
Hate to say we told you so
And that, leads us on to a point we’ve made on our podcast. But we have to point out the foresight of United legend Gordon Hill on this one. We’ve sometimes been challenged on what has been perceived as negativity but ‘Merlin’ has often made the point that United’s true quality will be discovered when they come up against a quality opponent.
The evidence of today suggests that the points made above – while hardly rocket science – are salient conclusions and problems that will prove impossible to resolve until January at the earliest. So, we should expect the time until then to be a bumpy ride. Fasten your seatbelts, kids.
It’s ten years ago to the month since United were last 3-0 down at half time in a Premier League game. That was at Middlesbrough, a game which finished 4-1 and is most memorable for prompting the infamous Roy Keane MUTV rant which never aired, but cost him his employment at the club.
If there are parallels to be drawn it is in the lack of leadership. Wayne Rooney has been club captain for just over a year and, despite all of the reasonable suggestions earlier in his career that indicated he was a sure fire certainty for the skipper’s armband for club and country, now that he has achieved them, he is not showing the sort of form worthy of either accolade.
Rooney wasn’t to blame for today’s debacle but it was extremely evident that he would not provide the inspiration for a recovery; and, even in the darkest moments, this is the least you require of the captain of the most successful club in the country, if not in himself then at least in inspiring it from others.
It is ridiculous to suggest that Rooney be subjected to the same fate as Keane (as much as some naysayers may wish it) but it is now far past the point of debating whether it would be fair to drop him. Of course it would, and even bearing in mind the scarcity of options, James Wilson – or, whisper it, Marouane Fellaini – may be worth a try from the start. If the least that it does is motivate Rooney to discover some form then it will be a worthwhile exercise, but it is clearly now one that needs to be taken sooner rather than later. Whether Louis van Gaal is bold enough to do so isn’t a question that should be asked of a manager who sold off Robin van Persie, a player who was deemed to be his golden boy less than 12 months before, and that’s without referencing the Angel Di Maria episode.
History repeating (2)
There ought to be a caveat to the above point, but it’s strong enough to stand as a separate one. There were a few players singled out by Keane in that 2005 rant and those were said to include Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea. There were even question marks over Cristiano Ronaldo’s potential, with his periods of inconsistency and frustrating decision making being cited as reasons that he should possibly be moved on.
And just as then, there are players being doubted today. Memphis Depay’s ineffectual performance, Daley Blind’s shakiness against speed and strength, and even Schweinsteiger’s capability to cope with the pace of these top games were all called into question today.
There is enough potential in this United side in terms of the players that Louis van Gaal has brought in himself but the question has to be asked whether the manager is doing them more harm than good? Even against Wolfsburg, the side had to go down to be cajoled into a tempo which was more reminiscent of a United side the supporters are used to seeing.
There’s so much disjointedness in the team that there is sensibility and justification with those with concerns and sensibility and justification for those who have hope. However, if you want to see how dangerous a debate about the half empty and half full glass can be, you need look no further than today’s opponents – time isn’t running out for Van Gaal, far from it, but further tangible signs of progress are required from his management, and it looks as if the next three months will provide many of the answers for those for and still undecided about the manager.