We spent a few days in the last week feeling good and optimistic after United had beaten both Sunderland and Newcastle to stay firmly in fourth place in the league, and most of us were looking forward to the FA Cup clash against Arsenal.
Because of the BBC’s wisdom of moving the game to a Monday evening, we had to wait longer than others for our team to play. Why should they care about match-going fans, when they had the chance to ‘do a Sky’ and show two top teams play on a Monday?
Quite a few United supporters were pessimistic about this game, mainly because of the way the team has been playing. It turned out that they were right to think so too, as after a very decent first-half, United reverted to being the ‘average’ side we have now seen a lot more often than we had hoped for.
Though Arsenal had gone ahead through Monreal, it didn’t take long for United to equalise, as Rooney headed in an excellent Di Maria cross. As the teams went into the dressing rooms at half-time with the score at 1-1, it seemed like this was United’s game to lose… and so they did.
Partly due to substitutions, and the inability of some players to do even the simple things right, mistakes started being made, and when Valencia passed back to nobody in particular, Danny Welbeck pounced and went round De Gea before scoring what proved to be the winner. After that, it was thanks to De Gea that the score didn’t get embarrassing for United as he made a couple of brilliant saves to keep Cazorla and Sanchez out. Throw in a sending off for Di Maria for two yellow cards in a minute (first for diving, then for pulling at referee’s shirt), and another pathetic dive by our ‘golden boy’ Januzaj, there wasn’t much else to see, and the players left the pitch with their tails firmly between their legs when the final whistle went.
Looking at the goals conceded, too many Arsenal players were left unmarked leading to the first goal, and someone should have tackled Chamberlain to take the ball of him (Valencia actually turned round and gave him his back!). As for the second goal, Valencia should know better, though he was put under pressure by Jones not heading the ball away instead of sideways to him.
All in all, it was another sorry performance by most of the players, and apart from De Gea, Rooney and to a certain extent Di Maria (until he was silly and got the red card), the others should take a hard look at themselves and ask if they’re doing enough to earn the massive wages they’re being paid. I don’t like criticising players (not much anyway), but it is frustrating to see our own players not being up to scratch when doing their jobs. When you read that a player like Januzaj now has more yellow cards for diving than he has scored goals for United, it’s only right that they get pulled up on it. Hopefully he’s young enough to learn from such mistakes, and will learn to do things the right way for himself and the club.
As for Welbeck’s celebration after he scored, why not? He was only showing his happiness at doing his job for his current employer. Hopefully other players will take note and start doing the same when scoring against a former club of theirs.
And so it comes to this, fighting tooth and nail just to try and finish in the top four. Another trophy less season, making this the first time since the late 80’s that United have gone two seasons in a row without winning anything. Hopefully when (or if?) we finish in the top four, we won’t be celebrating like we have indeed won a trophy, though we will certainly be relieved.
In other games, the ‘Get Gerrard to Wembley’ bandwagon was delayed as L’pool could only manage a goalless draw at home to Blackburn so will now have to play a replay in about a month’s time. Yes, they have to wait that long because UEFA rules stipulate that no top domestic competitions can be played on the same nights as European competitions are being played. This might not seem so bad, until you realise that they’re now spreading the last sixteen games of the Champions League over the course of more than a month, making it much harder for associations to arrange fixtures in midweek; Aston Villa beat neighbours West Brom for a second time in a few days to be the first team to make it through to the quarter-finals, while Bradford and Reading played out another 0-0 bore to at least still be in the hat for the semi-finals draw.
Just one game was played in the Premier League, as QPR hosted Tottenham in their game in hand. The away side won a hard fought game 2-1 to climb to sixth in the league, just three points behind United.
Looking at another bit of football news, it seems that Qatar’s national squad will be using the English FA’s centre as a base for a couple of friendlies in May. Though the FA’s chairman Greg Dyke opposes the 2022 World Cup being held in Qatar, it seems ok to help them in this way as the Arab country use of the venue was a commercial arrangement. A case of money building bridges maybe?
Back to United, Falcao, who wasn’t used at all against Arsenal, played for 72 minutes in a 1-1 draw for the U/21s against Tottenham. He’s either still not fit enough to play for the main side, or Van Gaal is showing who’s boss and using him as an example for players who can’t seem to learn his way. United’s goal was a beauty scored by Rafael; meanwhile, Ashley Young might miss this weekend’s game after picking up a knock against Arsenal.
We now look forward (or sideways) to United’s next game at home to Tottenham (Sunday 15th March, 4pm UK time). As a direct challenger for a top four finish, here’s hoping that we get back to winning ways in the run-up to a tough schedule… COME ON UNITED!!!