LONDON: Manchester United are still in with a mathematical shot of finishing third in the Premier League but the 1-1 draw with Arsenal at Old Trafford was the effective end of their hopes.
Arsene Wenger’s men had gone into the game knowing that, whatever the result, they remained favourites to clinch the third place which carries decisive entry into the Champions League group stage. They have a game in hand and home matches to come against both struggling Sunderland and becalmed West Bromwich.
By contrast United and Louis Van Gaal hoped in vain that, despite their own injury problems, they could take advantage of Arsenal’s attention being distracted by thought of the forthcoming FA Cup final.
Van Gaal had praised Arsenal beforehand, intriguingly, as “maybe a better team than Chelsea” but had lagged behind the new champions because they were not as ruthless in front of goal.
Otherwise Van Gaal was looking forward to his first holiday in two years: he had no summer break last year because of joining United directly after taking Holland to third place in the World Cup finals.
He will use the break for important ‘thinking time’ to assess his first season in English football.
Van Gaal had said: “I will go on holiday immediately after the last game, Monday the 25th. We didn’t have so many matches because we didn’t play in Europe so it was a more intensive season than before for me and, as a manager, I have had to adapt also.
“It is not only the players, the manager also has to adapt to the culture of England and the rhythm of the game here. It is very exciting but also very difficult. Nobody ever asks about that.”
While Van Gaal goes away for a break and a self-assessment transfer work will continue. United are expected to inquire about whether Real Madrid are willing to sell Gareth Bale ‘home’ after last week’s double anti-climax in Liga and Champions League. Van Gaal is also likely to be interrupted by a phone call from executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward over whether to sell off Angel Di Maria after only one disappointing season.
The first half was disappointing for Arsenal in more ways than one. They failed to put in a short in the first half of a Premier match for more than a decade and they went a goal behind, deserved, to midfielder Ander Herrera on the halfhour.
The Spaniard volleyed in his sixth goal of his first season in English football beyond David Ospina from a cross by Ashley Young, one of the most improved of United’s ‘old guard’ since the arrival of Van Gaal.
United might have scored a second goal just on half-time but Daley Blind’s goalbound effort was blocked, unintentionally, by team-mate Chris Smalling.
In goal David De Gea had the easiest 45 minutes of football of his season against an Arsenal side in which Mesut Ozil was among several players guilty of preferring the ‘safe’ pass when they might have had a shot at the keeper who has been targeted by Real Madrid as successor to Iker Casillas.
De Gea was injured and replaced towards the end of the second half by Victor Valdes who was caught badly wrong-footed when Arsenal equalised shortly before the end with a shot from Theo Walcott which took a slight deflection off the foot of Tyler Blackett.
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