Manchester United 1 (Herrera) – Arsenal 1 (Blackett 82 (O.G))
Man of the Match – Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Arsenal secured an important point at a place they have struggled in recent years, Old Trafford. Having won 8 games on the bounce, the Gunners drew 0-0 to Chelsea, who look set to seal the title soon, and lost 1-0 at home to Swansea. Manchester United, who were knocked out by the Gunners in the FA Cup, recovered from that loss in style, beating Sp*rs 3-0, Liverpool 1-2, at Anfield, Aston Villa 3-1, Manchester City 4-2, before falling into a slump. They lost 1-0 to Chelsea, thanks to an Eden Hazard goal, before capitulating 3-0 against Everton at Goodison Park, and a 1-0 home loss to West Brom. Last weekend, they recovered some form, as they beat Crystal Palace 2-1 at Selhurst Park.
Arsene Wenger went into the game with an unchanged lineup for the 7th game in a row, something which has not been done since the George Graham years, in late 1993, till early 1994. For Manchester United, Colombian striker Radamel Falcao was the surprise name in the starting lineup, with Wayne Rooney injured, and Robin van Persie on the bench. Luke Shaw too was injured, which meant a start at left-back for Argentine Marcos Rojo.
Arsenal knew they had to start brightly, after the sluggish loss to Swansea, but they failed to do so. Manchester United were quicker, and more efficient in the opening exchanges of the game. Olivier Giroud was up against United’s centre back pairing of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, the latter of whom had to head the ball rather awkwardly, when still on the ground, and trying to find his feet, when Giroud seemed to have gotten control of a ball. Phil Jones wasn’t having a very confident outing, and his poor back pass had to be rushingly cleared by David de Gea.
Arsenal were passing the ball around, but Manchester United looked more likely to score in the first half. And score they did, on 29 minutes. It was eerily similar to the goal conceded against Reading in the FA Cup semi-final and Swansea, recently in the league. A cross coming in and a goal being conceded at the far post. Ashley Young, was giving Hector Bellerin a tough time, and he skinned the Spaniard, and he played it to an onrushing Ander Herrera, who had a rather simple finish past Ospina. United were leading 1-0.
This seemed to have ignited the confidence of the home side, who whizzed the ball around in midfield, even as Arsenal still looked to get into the game. Cazorla was stifled out, and Ozil and Sanchez, often had no one to pass to. The Gunners were forced to do something they were not used to, playing long balls, and Olivier Giroud had a hard game toiling up front. In a really poor first half performance, Arsenal failed to register a single shot on target.
Manchester United closed the half with two chances. First, Spain international Juan Mata’s run and cross wasn’t well spotted by his national teammate Nacho Monreal, and it resulted in the labouring Falcao pushing Laurent Koscielny on the line. After that, a low shot from Daley Blind which could have gone in, was blocked by his own teammate Chris Smalling. Arsenal were rather lucky the score was only 1-0.
Arsenal had to be sprightly in the second half, and they certainly did, in the opening stages. Spanish full-backs Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal found new found space on the overlap, and soon the first chances came, as Alexis Sanchez’s volley was lashed over, having been set up well by Giroud. The French striker, then smartly beat Smalling, but couldn’t capitalize on it. A Cazorla volley was easily saved by David de Gea, and Marcos Rojo’s brilliant defending repelled Aaron Ramsey twice.
Sensing Arsenal’s better second half performance, Arsene Wenger sent on England duo Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott in place of Santi Cazorla and Hector Bellerin. This meant Francis Coquelin moved to right-back. David de Gea was forced off due to an injury, and was replaced by countryman Victor Valdes. Tyler Blackett replaced Marcos Rojo at left-back.
Arsenal then found the goal they were looking for. Theo Walcott looked bright since he had come on, making a couple of darting runs. He got third time lucky, as he made his way past Blackett, before crossing into the box. The ball flicked off Blackett’s foot and landed into the back of the net, leaving Victor Valdes with no chance to make a save. It was 1-1.
And Arsenal could have left Old Trafford with all 3 points, had Olivier Giroud converted his opportunities. He first hit the side netting from point blank range and then his shot deflected off a defender with Valdes rooted to his spot. Mathieu Flamini came on for Alexis Sanchez, as Arsenal closed down on an important point.
This was the Gunners’ first point at Old Trafford in 6 years, and a 3rd place finish looks in sight. Arsenal face Sunderland and West Brom, both at home, next.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
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