With a European tie looking comfortable, with a home leg to play, it would be understandable for Manchester United fans to be feeling somewhat confident about their side’s prospects this season.
With the first of what are seen as 4 defining matches to be played consecutively, opening up with a victory away to Schalke was the perfect start that would have been hoped for.
However, with United’s less-than-stellar away record this season, combined with a trip to Arsenal following the European exploits, there would naturally be a bit of concern regarding fatigue and, at such a crucial stage of the season, even nerves affecting performance, with the undoubted pressures associated with maintaining league form at such a critical point. And so it was, that we were treated to a largely flat performance from Sir Alex Ferguson’s team. A showing that lacked forward drive, failed to produce opportunities and ultimately deservedly lost 1-0, blowing the title race wide open. As such, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Should we fear Hernandez suffering “burn out”?
It is only natural when someone consistently produces top form, that they become a first choice within a team. This is made more incredible by the fact that this is Chicharito’s first season in the Premier League, and has usurped the league’s top scorer in Dimitar Berbatov for a starting berth to partner Wayne Rooney up front. However, we must also remember that this being Hernandez’s first season, fatigue may well be a real threat, particularly in the latter stages of the season.
When we also consider the work rate he possesses during matches, combined with the fact he has been used so regularly of late and it is easy to see why precautions might be needed in making sure he does not become tired out, especially when he will have not been used to such schedules while playing in Mexico. When we also consider that Berbatov is an option as well as, dare I say it, Michael Owen, then the logic of using the young Mexican so frequently becomes questionable. Not to say that he was terrible, the effort was undeniable, but Sunday appeared to be one of those days where it simply did not happen for him, and with a lacklustre service, the sprightly performances we have become used to was not evident.
2) The Midfield was lacking without Giggs
With Ryan Giggs rested, reasoned as being out with flu, it gave Ferguson a chance to make some changes to midfield on Sunday afternoon, utilising Anderson, and giving Valencia a rest in favour of Nani on the right wing, one would have hoped that there would be an air of freshness about the middle of the park.
Unfortunately this was not to be, as United struggled against an Arsenal side that looked to keep possession and were passing the ball around with efficiency. United on the other hand, failed to impose themselves in the middle, giving the ball away regularly and generally lacking an attacking edge that was so effective mid week. Michael Carrick was unable to control the game as he had done so well against Schalke, and Nani failing to deliver the form that made him such a threat earlier in the season, meant Arsenal looked the far more likely side to score. Of course, with Giggs having been in such sparkling form of late, finding it significantly lucrative centrally, one must wonder if United missed his influence on the game, his superb passes and ability to set up play as well as providing another attacking option as well as the fact United lack suitable cover for his type of play.
As well as this, Rooney and Hernandez lacked the service necessary to produce clear cut chances, and an Anderson showing that was largely anonymous led to the North London club largely controlling proceedings. That said, offensively both sides were hardly at their peak, with Arsenal producing only 2 shots on target. Despite this, Arsenal looked to be the far more creative side, and as such looked the more likely to get a goal.
3) Arsenal deserved to win
The general consensus of opinions regarding United’s showing on Sunday was that they “failed to turn up”. Such a critical game after a European trip away would always leave room for error, particularly as few would be rested when the importance of getting results at the business end of the season is so high, requiring the best squad available to be put to use as much as possible.
However, Ferguson’s men certainly looked as though they were lacking such energy levels and it was felt that with Chelsea having been so fortunate the day before, the pressure was on to deliver a performance that would keep the title advantage firmly towards Old Trafford. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Vidic was lucky not to concede a penalty for what was considered a blatant hand ball, but it failed to shunt the players in to gear and, despite a brighter start to the second half, Arsenal found themselves in the lead through Aaron Ramsey.
After this, an equaliser rarely looked likely, as Berbatov and Owen were brought on to try to lift the team offensively to no avail. On a day where crosses were poor, and chances failed to materialise, United needed a lifeline, and could well have got one when Owen appeared to be brought down inside the box late on, only to find his appeals waved away. It was not United’s day.
Continued on page two.