Generous Arsenal gift United the points
As well as Manchester United defended, with Chris Smalling marshalling his younger colleagues and deservedly earning praise for a commanding performance, there’s no escaping from Arsenal’s sloppiness in front of goal acting as one of the chief reason for this result. Jack Wilshere was the chief culprit, sending three close range attempts straight at David De Gea when choosing either side would have likely yielded a goal. The Spaniard was good, no doubt, but that finger, dislocated whilst training with Spain was rarely troubled given Arsenal’s insistence on shooting straight at him.
Elsewhere, the self-destruction that led to United’s opening goal was farcical on a whole new level, with Kieran Gibbs wildly clattering into Wojciech Szczesny, injuring his keeper in the process and then instinctively trying to get a crucial touch on Antonio Valencia’s cross. Crucial, it turned out to be, with his deflection making the most of a rare United break and opening the scoring without the visitors needing to register a shot on target. This wasn’t the first time that Arsenal, or even Gibbs aided a United victory, but rarely have they been so generous. Make no mistake, this was a hugely useful win, and one that wouldn’t not have arrived had those in blue not been as well-drilled at the back and lethal up top as they were, but when your opponents make errors as basic as these, winning becomes a little easier.
Wayne Rooney turned in a captain’s performance
Whether or not you still want Wayne Rooney at this club or not, there’s something most United fans should be able to agree on having seen Saturday’s match; a performance like that, with the captain’s armband on show and with plenty of guile and leadership on offer is very welcome. There was no slating of the club’s younger performers, no aimless lambasting, just a solid performance capped off with a fine goal. The way in which he was mobbed in front of the away fans having chipped Emiliano Martinez suggests that his team mates value his presence, and whilst universal acceptance will likely never come for a player so adept at polarising opinion, performances of that standard are best for all involved.
Fellaini’s form a bright spark amidst a mounting injury list
Marouane Fellaini has often spoke about his self-belief being a huge factor during the darker moments of his time at Old Trafford, but even he might have struggled to envision his current status. What was initially a speculative substitution against West Brom several weeks ago has turned into a guaranteed starting berth. Admittedly, that stunning strike at The Hawthorns helped earn some serious exposure, but the Belgian has been an unexpected and welcome bright side in amidst a glut of injuries. Even now, his presence, hard work and physicality is keeping Ander Herrera out of the side, with the Spaniard watching on as Fellaini continues to make an impressive nuisance of himself in United’s central midfield.
At this stage, his talents and application are most welcome, given the chop-and-change nature and unfamiliarity that surrounds the club’s ever-changing defence. His presence is a useful shield in that respect, with his work rate seemingly guaranteeing interceptions, but that perfectly delayed pass for Angel Di Maria in the build-up to United’s second was a welcome contribution to matters further up the pitch. There’s still no certainty that the Belgian has a long-term place in his manager’s plans, but with Louis van Gaal shorn of so many options, he must surely be happy with what he is currently getting out of Fellaini.
Loss leaves Arsenal clutching at straws
Arsene Wenger has long known of the significant sect of the Emirates Stadium crowd that wants him gone. They’re especially difficult to ignore after such occasions, especially when United, an opponent that has vexed the Frenchman for a number of years were essentially there for the taking. The final scoreline says much of the current state of both sides, the home side losing their second game on the bounce despite having dominated for large patches whilst the visitors left North London with all three points and a defence that gave new meaning to the term ‘patched-up’. In terms of quality from top to bottom bonuscorner, both sides are strikingly similar, but there’s a mental strength that has long since left Wenger’s charges that he seems incapable of recovering ( although frequently over-indulgent forays into the transfer market aren’t helping). Van Gaal, however, seems to have drawn a resilience out of his team that David Moyes simply couldn’t tap into, and given these sides seemingly share the same aim of a finish in the Champions League places, you wonder if such spirit will end up being a deciding factor come May.
Danny Welbeck showed what we already knew
The Longsight-born Arsenal forward would have been at pains to admit it but there must have been an increased desire to perform in this fixture, simply to prove a point to the manager that was happy to let him leave his boyhood club in September. Unfortunately for Danny Welbeck, Van Gaal was on hand to see his former charge put in a display that all but vindicated his decision. Not that Welbeck has had a poor start to life at Arsenal, and he could well reach 20 goals this season if he continues to feature this regularly, but wayward shooting and a last-ditch tackle from Chris Smalling when clean through must have had the Dutchman slowly nodding to himself; here lies a great forward, not necessarily a great striker. Not yet, at least.
United are winning ugly, and it’s great to see
Playing poorly but getting results is often seen as the form of champions, something United have certainly been accustomed to over the last 20 years. At present, however, with Luke Shaw hobbling off on Saturday night meaning that United have had 40 injuries since Van Gaal took over, and having struggled to get this side playing cohesive football, United’s aims are somewhat more modest. Picking up victories, whatever the circumstances has become the club’s priority during a period of significant disruption, and potentially few this season will be as hard-earned as this. The derby defeat to Manchester City is United’s only significant blot in 7 matches, and they can now go into back-to-back home games with Hull and Stoke in confident mood.
Of course, there’s plenty still to do. Having ended the weekend in the top four for the first time in almost a year, the challenge now is to stay there. But with that current position in mind, and having seen his side win a game they scarcely had control of, the Dutchman could be forgiven for enjoying the moment a little.