Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United stars are terrible hitmen, says Louis Van Gaal

Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal

By Sam Wallace

Unprompted after the game, Louis van Gaal started talking about Chelsea as if the spectre of Jose Mourinho had been playing on his mind all week.

The point he was making was that the new Premier League champions, unlike his team, were capable of killing off opponents.

"The difference between Chelsea and Manchester United is that they can finish a game," he said. "They can kill a game."

No one else had mentioned Chelsea but you could tell the United manager's mind was already racing forward to next season when he will be expected to reel in Mourinho's team.

The response to the lap of appreciation at Old Trafford was gratefully received by Van Gaal who declared it "unbelievable" that the supporters would offer such thanks for a team that will, almost inevitably, finish fourth.

His point was that it would not happen anywhere else he had managed, but that is to overlook the fact that this was a club that finished seventh last season and there is sheer relief it has not happened again.

Van Gaal's team are in the Champions League places, with a play-off looming on August 18-19, and if any reminder was required that the summer will need more than just a fine-tune then this was it.

Arsenal were timid, half-committed and complacent in the first half, and there was a time when United would simply have swept them away, but they let the visitors back into it.

The equaliser was an unfortunate own goal from substitute Tyler Blackett, a deflection from Theo Walcott's shot, and Arsenal might even have won it in the closing stages.

The uncertainty with which Van Gaal later proclaimed upon David de Gea's future suggested that this is a player who is slipping out of United's grasp.

When the conversation turns to the persuasive influences of a Spanish girlfriend, and De Gea's parents who, Van Gaal says, travel from Spain every two weeks, then you have to wonder whether we have reached the endgame for United's fine young keeper.

He came off injured before Walcott's shot deflected off Blackett and beat his replacement Victor Valdes, and perhaps that is the last Old Trafford sees of De Gea. Certainly, it felt like farewell rather than just goodbye to Radamel Falcao who departed on the hour with an apologetic wave.

It was a strange afternoon, one of those quiet end-of-season days at Old Trafford with nothing to play for. Van Gaal's speech afterwards to the fans fell flat. His team had victory in the bag with Ander Herrera's goal after 30 minutes and then a familiar vulnerability seized them after the hour.

As for Arsenal, they were abject in the first half, without an attempt on goal. There were times when they looked resigned to being put out of their misery, but United did not have it in them and eventually the quality in this Arsenal side roused itself.

It was a Phil Jones signature moment that topped it all, when the Englishman propelled himself on his knees before launching himself headfirst along the turf to head away a grounded ball from Olivier Giroud's feet.

United controlled the first half and had Falcao been on the same wavelength as Juan Mata and Herrera, his team could have been out of sight.

Nevertheless, United battered away and on 30 minutes the breakthrough came down the left. Jones' ball out to Marouane Fellaini had started the move and Ashley Young's cross to the back post dropped nicely for Herrera to pick his spot.

As for Arsenal, they were overpowered in midfield and United took no chances when Alexis Sanchez was on the ball.

Eventually, Wenger's team came back into the game after the hour and exploited the crossfield ball in behind Marcos Rojo. Aaron Ramsey even got the ball past De Gea at one point before the Argentinian managed to clear it away. Walcott and Jack Wilshere, another substitute, gave them fresh impetus.

Then, with eight minutes left, Walcott's heavily deflected shot off substitute Blackett beat Valdes.

United had drawn a game they had dominated, and Van Gaal was given to wonder how next season his team can be less like this, and more like Chelsea.

Belfast Telegraph


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