Lightning struck a third time in a row at Old Trafford as Manchester United bungled another chance to get a win. Six points have been lost as draws with Stoke City, Burnley and now Arsenal as a terrific late header from Olivier Giroud equalised for the traveling side in the 89th minute.
Manchester United put in another display that was worthy of victory, controlling proceedings as a static and off the ball Arsenal side could never find a groove in a clash where United’s midfield took a strangehold on proceedings. Juan Mata finished off a terrific team move after Paul Pogba’s strength and athleticism opened things up for Ander Herrera who somewhat telepathically thread the ball between Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin for his Spanish teammate to fire home first time from 12 yards.
Yet again though, United were found wanting when they needed to put away the result. One win since the 4-1 thrashing of Leicester City on September 24th (last time out against Swansea City) means the Red Devils are now five points adrift of Tottenham in fifth, six of Arsenal and Chelsea (who have a game in hand), and eight behind Liverpool and Manchester City.
Another tough week is about to take place as doubts reign over the current squad and manager.
More Refereeing Woes
A good referee shouldn’t be noticed, unfortunately it is becoming routine for United to speak about refereeing in the aftermath of their fixtures. When Nacho Monreal dragged Antonio Valencia in the box in the first half it seems the vast majority of the footballing world were shocked that no penalty was awarded.
Valencia made the most of the contact, but there’s no doubting it was a penalty. Few objective opposing fans would have claimed otherwise. There was further debate when the already yellow carded Matteo Darmian went in rather recklessly on Carl Jenkinson, catching him in a challenge which Jenkinson also made the most of.
Unfortunately though these decisions didn’t go either teams way, but they don’t cancel one another out. Further human error is continuing to cloud football, and it has to be wondered how much longer points can cost teams with so much money on the line for clubs. Relegation, promotion and placing in European competition is at stake, it is simply time to start utilising video technology as the quality of refereeing continues to nosedive.
Nevertheless, United cost themselves two points not the officials. They should have put Arsenal away and didn’t.
Promise Not Delivering Results, Again
Manchester United were mostly magnificent, and made Arsenal look average. Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo did well against Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, handling their threat surprisingly well. Michael Carrick dictated midfield, whilst Paul Pogba delivered one of his best United performances.
The attack was good but couldn’t find the second goal which could have put the game away. It would have been interesting to switch Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, who looked better when they were in opposite roles. Martial looked at his best when running centrally before he was substituted whilst Rashford was best when running from wide in the second half.
Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia were terrific on the flanks, and it was the latter’s perhaps best ever performance in that role. In the first half he was their best outlet, and continues to redefine himself as a defender.
It wasn’t enough though, but United fans should be hopeful that the football is starting to come together.
Rooney Fights Off Hangover To Play
After a controversial week, Rooney was cheered loudly to “Rooney’s on a bender” by the loyal home support as he warmed up. The English Captain replaced Anthony Martial in the second half and led the line after switching positions with Marcus Rashford.
Although he has lost his pace and often looks like he’s running through mud when he is placed in open space, but his vision and touch were spot on as the man looked to prove a point.
Is he motivated to prove his doubters wrong, or is he growing into a substitutes role? Time will tell, but Rooney hit back at his critics post match:
“It feels as if the media are trying to write my obituary and I won’t let that happen,” Rooney told ESPN’s Mark Ogden.
“What has been going on is disgraceful. I’m proud to play for my country and I’m proud of my achievements. It’s not finished yet. I think what’s been going on is disgraceful. It shows a lack of respect and I think enough is enough. That’s all I want to say.”
Spanish Brilliance On Display
Ander Herrera and Juan Mata continued to underline their importance and growing connection to the side with great displays in midfield. Though a tad too overzealous in his challenges early, Herrera set the tone with his pressing and it seems United are starting to finally press as a unit like they should. They denied Arsenal their preferred passing from the back, and it made it difficult for the Gunners to build their passing game without it.
Mata continued his strong season, adding another goal to his tally. The diminutive playmaker has 4 goals and 2 assists this season, and his importance to the team grows by the week. It’s still a point of frustration that he continues to be substituted, as a 1-0 lead is never enough to bank on and bring on Morgan Schneiderlin instead.
United shouldn’t be giving up attacking impetus, certainly not such an important one. Meanwhile his best on field friend Herrera continues to thrive as United’s box to box shuttle man, filling defensive and attacking roles whilst linking play throughout the pitch. With his recent Spain call up and increasingly impressive club form, it appears onwards and upwards for the central midfielder.
Frustration & Pressure Mounting
Jose Mourinho summed up what was happening with the club and the feelings of the fans post match:
“Against Stoke we could have won by five or six, but we draw,” Mourinho said. “Against Burnley we could have scored five or six, but we draw, while against Arsenal today, we could have scored two or three, but we draw again.”
United have lost winnable points, and still face West Ham, Tottenham, Everton, Crystal Palace, West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland to finish the year before the second half of the season kicks off. Away trips to Goodison Park, Selhurst Park and the Hawthorns await, so Jose Mourinho’s men have it cut out for them.
The improvement seen in performances has to start turning into results, or the claims the season is slipping away will become very real.