Arsenal hold Man Utd, but showdown lacks spice of old
Deflected late equaliser from Theo Walcott tightens Arsenal's grip on third place in the Premier League
Manchester United 1 Arsenal 1. A late deflected goal earned Arsenal a share of the spoils at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon and took the Gunners to the brink of finishing third in the Premier League. Victory against Sunderland on Wednesday will confirm that scenario and condemn United to fourth and the rigmarole of a Champions League qualification tie in August.
In the long history of encounters between this two famous clubs this match won't linger long in the memory. With little at stake other than who finishes third and fourth, there was little of the usual excitement and tension, and it wasn't until the fifth and final minute of injury time that the first yellow card was flourished. Oh, for the blood and thunder days of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira when this fixtures were guaranteed to stiffen the sinews.
Ander Herrera's crisp strike gave United the lead on the half-hour mark as Arsenal struggled to get into the game, and it wasn't until after the break that the visitors began to show some of the form that has seen them lose just once in the league in their last 12 matches.
First Olivier Giroud forced a sharp save from David De Gea – who was subsequently replaced by Victor Valdes on account of a tight hamstring, prompting many to speculate that he had played his last game for United at Old Trafford. And then Marcos Rojo scrambled clear Aaron Ramsey's effort. Moments after the introduction of Valdes eight minutes from time the Gunners levelled, Theo Walcott's cross deflecting off Tyler Blackett to wrong-foot the helpless goalkeeper.
"It's the third goal in a row we have conceded that has been deflected," said a disappointed United manager Louis van Gaal, who takes his team to relegation-threatened Hull on the final day of the season. "We were better than our opponents for one hour, and we led one-zero, but we have to finish the game. Chelsea can finish the game. We have to improve in this respect for next season."
Asked what areas United need to improve on if they're to launch a credible challenge to Chelsea next season, Van Gaal replied: "When you see the results we've had against the other top-six sides, they are not so bad. It's against the little clubs, who fight, defend and park the bus, that we have to be cleverer. That is what has made the difference for Chelsea this season."
The result means it's still 2006 since Arsenal last won in the league at Old Trafford but nonetheless manager Arsene Wenger was pleased with another dogged display from his side against one of their fierce rivals. "It is important for us, compared to last season, to exist in the big games," commented the Frenchman. "I think we've done that. We were slow to start this season but I think we've made progress. We want to secure second or third and start on the front foot next season."
Whether they do so with Radamel Falcao in the ranks remains to be seen. The Colombian striker started up front but was withdrawn after 60 minutes. He waved to the crowd as he left the field, suggesting that they are unlikely to see him wearing United red at Old Trafford again.