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REPORT: Manchester United 1 Arsenal 1

Looking at the fixture list early in the season, it was tempting to look at this final home game of the season as a potential show down for that vital fourth place position.  My pessimistic side, which was very much alive at that stage of the season, envisaged Danny Welbeck scoring the winner and consigning United to another season without Champions League football.  Thankfully, in reality all that had been settled and, with both sides having secured top four positions already, at Liverpool’s expense there was only the matter of third place to settle.  A draw means that Arsenal will almost certainly finish in that position, but then they probably would have anyway.  And Welbeck was out of the game through injury.

United enjoyed some bright periods of possession in the first half, with Herrera dominating in midfield as Arsenal were restricted to the occasionally threatening break.  An early chance eluded the Reds when Falcao managed to get behind the opposing defence, only to see his shot blocked by Koscielny.  At the other end, United almost undid their early work when De Gea had to be sharp to prevent a Jones back pass from sneaking past him.

Soon after, United took an early lead.    It was typical of the Reds’ early approach play, Young stretching the defence and numbers in the box giving the Arsenal central defence enormous problems as predictably they were drawn to the threat of Fellaini.  Because of this, Young’s deep cross found Herrera unmarked at the back post and the Basque added again to his astonishing shots-to-goals ratio this season by stabbing his volley past Ospina.

United continued to attack and another excellent ball from Young almost put Mata through on goal.  The Spaniard found himself at a tight angle, however, and could do no more than chip a hopeful ball to Falcao at the far post that Ospina dealt with easily.  Just before half-time a well-worked free kick allowed Blind to get a shot in at the edge of the box but Smalling found himself in the way of his on-target effort.

Although United continued to enjoy the bulk of possession after the break, with only the offside flag denying both Fellaini and Young when through on goal, Arsenal gradually began to work their way into the game and there was a clear warning sign when De Gea was forced to save smartly from Giroud.   There was an even closer call when Ramsey looped the ball over De Gea only for Rojo to cover and clear for a corner.

It proved to be De Gea’s last meaningful action in the game – and perhaps in a Manchester United shirt as shortly after he left the field through injury to be replaced by Valdes, making a belated first team debut for the Reds.  Blackett also came on for the Reds and the two substitutes were sadly both exposed to the Arsenal equaliser, Walcott’s shot deflecting off Blackett to spin over the head of the keeper and into the net.

Arsenal threatened a late winner, with Giroud coming close on two occasions.  A late chance also fell to Van Persie, but the Dutchman sent his shot high over the bar.  After that, with United lacking the thrust they’d possessed early in the game and the visitors clearly happy with a draw, the game trundled fairly meekly to a stalemate.  United will almost certainly now face a play-off in August in order to secure their position in the Champions League next season but then, in this season when gaps between games were almost painfully long, even than seems like something to look forward to.

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