Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Arsenal and Manchester United: Neither team will draw comfort from this drab and dreary affair

Big chance: Arsenal's Olivier Giroud just fails to connect with a cross
Big chance: Arsenal's Olivier Giroud just fails to connect with a cross

Arsenal and Manchester United have played out many classic games over the years.

Last night's encounter was not one of them.

Unlike the Ryan Giggs FA Cup semi-final and the Gunners clinching the title at Old Trafford, there will be no DVDs of this one flying off the shelves.

A scoreless draw was about right for the dreary contest which killed off United's chances of making the top four once and for all and seriously damaged Arsenal's title bid.

After United's 2-2 draw at home to Fulham on Sunday, Cottagers defender Dan Burn cruelly remarked that the Red Devils had played Conference football.

Well, at times last night such a description would have done the non-league a disservice.

These were two nervy sides lacking in confidence, Arsenal because of the humiliation at Anfield on Saturday and United because of their embarrassment throughout the season.

Robin van Persie summed the mood up with a desperate miss in the opening exchanges. Presented with a wonderful chance by the dithering of Mikel Arteta, the Dutchman raced through on goal only to drag a weak shot straight at Wojciech Szczesny who couldn't believe the lack of conviction in the strike.

Van Persie did make the Arsenal goalkeeper work harder late in the game when the Dutchman's header, from an inviting Wayne Rooney cross, was turned acrobatically on to the bar, but former Gunners star RVP should never have given his old team-mate the opportunity.

He should have buried it.

And he would have done last season when he was full of confidence and swagger as he led Sir Alex Ferguson's side to Premier League glory.

One year ago United were going through the gears on their way to a 20th championship.

Today they are stuck in reverse, a whopping 15 points behind leaders Chelsea with just 12 games left.

And after Liverpool snatched a dramatic late win at Fulham, the Red Devils are 11 points adrift of fourth and Champions League football.

To be in with a chance of playing in the top club competition on the planet next season they will have to win it.

That looks as likely as Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho having dinner in Manchester after their FA Cup tie at the weekend!

Agreed, a draw at Arsenal would normally be considered a fine result and, on the plus side, second half substitute Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic looked solid on a rare outing together at the back, but the bottom line is that David Moyes and United need wins and, despite having the chances, they didn't get one in north London.

United are seventh and with Southampton in form just three points behind, they may struggle to hold on to that.

Arsenal, of course, are in a much healthier position, in second, a point off the top. For their title aspirations, however, this was two lost. David De Gea made smart saves from Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny's header was cleared off the line but the Gunners were laboured and I sensed playing not to lose rather than to win.

Clearly the 5-1 drubbing on Merseyside impacted on the self belief of the players. They looked fearful.

If that continues soon Arsene Wenger (left) will have to forget about going toe-to-toe with Chelsea and Manchester City and focus on seeing off the challenge of Liverpool and Spurs to stay in the top four.

Given how long they led the title race, it may sound as silly as the Red Devils battling to remain ahead of the Saints, but when you gaze at Arsenal's fixture list finishing in the Champions League places might be an acceptable outcome in May.

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