Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

What an excuse for a game - Arsenal v Man United clash was well off the pace

Head scratching: Jack Wilshere (left) and Mikel Arteta were two Arsenal players who flopped against United
Head scratching: Jack Wilshere (left) and Mikel Arteta were two Arsenal players who flopped against United
Robin van Persie of Manchester United reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium

Gary Lineker got it right on Match of the Day. "Lousy" was his description of Arsenal's 0-0 draw with Manchester United on Wednesday night.

Drab, dreary, dull... all of those too.

This season's Premier League is as entertaining and compelling as it has been for many years, but the midweek encounter at the Emirates gave top flight football in England a bad name.

These were two sides in desperate need of victory to realise their respective ambitions yet were more intent on not losing than going for the glory.

Playing scared gets you nowhere, hence the stalemate in north London. No wonder Gunners fans are starting to fear that another season which promised so much could end in bitter disappointment.

The frightening part for United supporters is just how bad it will get.

Normally at this stage of the campaign the big teams and big players step it up to satisfy their craving for silverware and success.

What the past week has done is raise more questions than answers about Arsenal, dreaming of the title, and United, clinging on to faint hopes of a top four finish.

Having being hammered 5-1 at Liverpool and drawing 2-2 at home to bottom side Fulham a few days before, you would have thought that a match against fierce and historic rivals would have lifted the two sets of players dispelling, in Arsenal's case, increasing doubts about their championship aspirations, and in United's, the growing disenchantment towards David Moyes and his team.

Not a bit of it. Mentally Arsenal and United lacked the strength of character to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and physically the level of performance from both was highly disappointing for neutrals and dispiriting for followers of these great clubs.

The supposedly world class Mesut Ozil and Robin van Persie (pictured) were major letdowns, not for the first time recently.

When German midfielder Ozil arrived at the Emirates from Real Madrid in the summer for £42million he had an immediate impact.

Aaron Ramsey, in particular, seemed to revel in the presence of Ozil but on reflection maybe it was the other way round.

Since Welshman Ramsey suffered injury, Ozil hasn't looked worth £4.2million let alone 42! Instead of gliding across the pitch to glorious effect he is drifting out of games.

The match at Anfield passed him by. Ditto the scoreless draw with United.

If he is not carving out chances or taking them, Arsene Wenger has to drop his record signing because Ozil is offering little else.

He wasn't the only awful Arsenal player in midweek. Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta underwhelmed while striker Olivier Giroud misfired.

Playing Liverpool and United, regardless of their form, back to back was always going to present difficulties for the Gunners but trophy winners relish those challenges.

That's part of the problem. Arsenal haven't won anything since 2005 and when the crunch comes they tend to break.

The fixtures don't get any easier. They face a Liverpool side, playing with character and class under Brendan Rodgers, in the FA Cup on Sunday and brilliant Bayern Munich in the Champions League after that while from March 11 to April 5 they are due to face Bayern, Spurs, Chelsea and Everton on the road and Manchester City at home.

If Wenger's men, second in the title race at the moment, play as they did against United during that dangerous run they'll be out of every competition and fighting to hang on to a top four spot.

Still, it could be worse...they could be in United's embarrassing position... seventh with no chance of Champions League football next season unless they win the competition in May.

Stop laughing!

While Arsenal's players have let their club down in the last week, United's have been doing it all season.

Van Persie's display at the Emirates illustrated the campaign... lacking confidence, conviction and control.

There is a theory doing the rounds that the Dutchman is saving himself for the World Cup.

Don't believe it... he's still in a strop following Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, believing he'd work with the great Scot for three years, not just one.

This term RVP's been absent with niggly injuries, but even when he's been on the pitch he hasn't looked the same player that Fergie brought to the club.

Is that the fault of David Moyes? Well, he's being blamed for everything else.

The truth is Van Persie needs to get his finger out along with others going through the motions.

Only youngster Adnan Januzaj and Wayne Rooney in patches have shone. The rest have failed their manager and their club... players like Tom Cleverley, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Rafael believe they belong at Old Trafford.

Isn't it about time they started showing it?

If not, with United going to buy big in the summer they'll be out quicker than you can say 'Fergie time'.

Moyes may have inherited a squad of champions, but it was the least impressive of Sir Alex's remarkable reign.

The new boss ought to have realised that and invested better in his first transfer window. In the second he did extremely well to recruit Juan Mata, but why, having signed the silky Spaniard from Chelsea for £37million, is the United boss playing him out of position on the left wing?

Moyes has to make better use of such a gifted performer, give him more flexibility and let Rooney, RVP and Januzaj work around him home and away.

By the end of Wednesday's game the Red Devils seemed happy with a point.

Someone needs to remind them United are all about winning, nothing else.

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