After Monday night’s defeat of Aston Villa and subsequent confirmation of Manchester United’s 20th title, Sir Alex’s side went into the game at the Emirates knowing their season was finished, bar a desire to reach the record points total.
With that in mind, and a guard of honour expected in London, a strong side was named to play an Arsenal side looking to secure Champion’s League football next season. David De Gea started in goal, Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand in front of him. Rafael and Patrice Evra out at right and left back, respectively. In midfield sat Phil Jones and Michael Carrick, with Valencia and Nani the wide men. Up front stood Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie.
As expected, the newly crowned Champions received the guard from the home side, to a chorus of boos from the support. Soon, it was time to get down to business as the game kicked off. The home side started brightly and within a matter of minutes, they were a goal ahead. Van Persie gave away the ball, Rosicky got hold of it and played it out to a marginally offiside Theo Walcott, getting ahead of the defenders and finishing well, to beat De Gea who got a touch on it. 1-0 to Arsenal.
With Arsenal off to a flying start, Wenger’s men looked to build in a first half in which they were superior, particularly in the first half an hour. Playing with pace and looking to capitalise on any United sluggishness, they got forward and threatened often. 5 minutes later, Cazorla forced De Gea into a save from distance. United also had chances, Phil Jones headed wide from Van Persie’s cross, and the Dutchman himself fired over the bar after a corner early on. At the half hour mark, Podolski had a shot at goal, De Gea parrying at the near post. With a few minutes to go until half time, United started to find their way into the game, Valencia crossed to find Jones, who headed narrowly wide.
Moments later, Nani capitalised a mistake from Sagna, charging forward on the left to play the ball to Van Persie. The striker pushed forward into the box, a desperate Sagna tracked back to challenge from behind, bringing Van Persie down, and Phil Dowd swiftly awarding a penalty. The Dutch striker stepped up, composed himself and fired to his right to draw the game level as the sides went in at half time.
The start of the second half saw United improve on their tame showing in the first half. They went close to taking the lead fairly quickly, Van Persie playing a ball across, just missed by Rooney. United started to threaten more as they got forward, often on the right side, with the final ball lacking. Arsenal won a dangerous free kick on the edge of the area after a handball, but Cazorla could not make the most of it. With 15 minutes remaining the teams fairly evenly matched, Rafael made way for Anderson. Valencia broke down the right but could not find anyone when he played a heavy ball across into the box.
Cazorla came close to a late winner for the hosts, once again forcing a save from De Gea. As the clock wound down, Rooney made way for Hernandez, but there was to be no late surprises as Van Persie’s return to the Emirates was marked with a 1-1 draw.
With that in mind, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) United were always going to be a little sluggish
Regardless of what Sir Alex would say about wanting the record points total, it was always going to be the case that United would not be up to the intensity they would normally play with mid-season. Having just been crowned Champions, there simply is not much to play for. Coupled with the fact that earlier in the week there was likely to have been some large celebrations, one would have expected the side to be less than fresh going into Sunday’s game. Indeed, as the game kicked off, one might have wondered if the side were still nursing hangovers from the week’s antics, as they looked slow to get about and struggled to deal with an energised Arsenal side. In contrast to the visitors, Arsenal looked lively and motivated. Fighting for a Champion’s League spot, the home side pushed United back and were particularly dominant for the first half an hour. They quickly took advantage going 1-0 up through Walcott very early on, and had the chances presented themselves, could well have been more up in the first half as United struggled to get out of their own half.
2) A draw a fair result
After Arsenal’s strong start, United began to find their way into the game towards to end of the first half. The second half began and they looked far better than they had done in the first. While not quite dominant so to speak, they had some good chances to take the lead, and arguably had the better of the chances, although De Gea was kept the busier of the goalkeepers. It was a game in which either team could have won after an opening period that threatened to get away from the visitors after Arsenal’s lively start.
3) Van Persie’s return – not as fiery as expected
Given the constant talk regarding guards of honour, and Van Persie’s return to the Emirates as a Champion, it was understandable to wonder what kind of vitriolic atmosphere would go his way. However, in the end it was all rather subdued. Of course, the home fans booed him, tempers flared occasionally and the guard of honour was performed, but it all felt a little flat. Ultimately, the more pressing issue for Arsenal was the need to take advantage of Tottenham’s dropped points and the lack of any meaning to the game for United fans meant there may not have been as much tension and excitement as this fixture normally brings.
His mistake to allow Arsenal to break for the first goal would likely have drawn some satisfaction for the hosts but a well dispatched penalty made amends. As the striker went off applauding both sets of fans, one came away thinking that ultimately, his return was not as explosive as some might have expected it to be.
4) Will fringe players get starts?
With a game against Arsenal, it was perhaps not surprising to see such a strong side named. However, with the season drawing to a close and little to play for, one wonders if other players will get starts or game time to impress. The likes of Buttner, Lindegaard and other seldom used players could get minutes with little consequence besides the final standings. At this point, it would be unwise risking injuries to any of the regular starters and may allow for some experimentation before getting to pre-season games this Summer.
5) Looking to next season
In truth there was little to take from a game such as this. There were some good performances. Phil Jones impressed in midfield, continuing his strong form. Valencia grew into the game, although was wasteful at times and Nani frustrated in that way Nani can. With that in mind, and with speculation beginning heading into the transfer window, one wonders who of the current crop will leave and what kind of signings will be made. Questions marks remain over the futures of Anderson and Nani as well as that of Wayne Rooney. With the likes of Lewandowski linked with the club, it could be an exciting Summer ahead for fans. It remains to be seen exactly how accurate reports turn out to be.