While the names on the front of the jerseys screamed “soccer spectacle,” we should have expected the let-down that was Wednesday’s Premier League clash between Arsenal and Manchester United.
Arsenal and Manchester United played to a goalless draw at the Emirates Stadium. The score-line was about as exciting as the game itself.
Both teams were reeling from recent results — Arsenal’s 5-1 drubbing by Liverpool on Saturday and United’s 2-2 draw with Fulham on Sunday (which manager David Moyes called “as bad as it gets”) — so neither side played with much ambition going forward. Manchester United didn’t take a swashbuckling approach to attacking Arsenal’s goal. Rather than mesmerize opponents and fans with its passing game, Arsenal’s best moments came via counter-attack or the occasional dangerous cross into the Manchester United box.
Despite the pregame hype, Wednesday’s contest was about halting any slide in form or confidence that recent results might have sparked and getting back to the basics. The first order of business: Don’t lose.
Arsenal and United were well organized and focused defensively. While goalkeepers Wojciech Szczesny and David de Gea each made great saves in the second half, neither team created many scoring chances over the course of the game.
Moyes wanted to show that his struggling team still takes great pride in its work and is able to grind out results against one of the Premier League’s big guns.
“They are a great, very experienced group of players,” Moyes told the BBC. “They have won things and got the medals and when you have won, you want to win more. I still think they are hungry.
“I thought we did a lot of good things. We had a good shape, were nice and compact.
“Arsenal is a hard place to come and they have been having a great season. If you had told me at the start of the season we would take four points off Arsenal I wouldn’t have been too disappointed.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told the BBC that his players were careful not to suffer a second consecutive defeat during an unforgiving run of games against strong opponents in February.
“Overall, we could have won it — it was a game of few chances,” Wenger said. “Our defensive focus was extreme as we conceded so many goals on Saturday.
“In the end, either side could have won 1-0. Manchester United are a good team, so when you go forward they can catch you.
“It is important to recover physically and prepare for the next game as we want to stay in the FA Cup. The title race is absolutely open for many teams.”
Both teams sides did what they set out to do but missed opportunities as well. A show of force would have revitalized the spirits of either team and signaled a turning-point in their respective campaigns, but it was not to be, as 90 minutes of soulless soccer revealed little to the public that it did not already know.
Mesut Ozil has faced intense criticism this week after his anonymous performance against Liverpool. The German schemer was active and influential against Manchester United but was ultimately unable to score or create a decisive goal.
The authoritative performance of Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic suggests he intends to end his United career on a high note. The Serbian, who will leave Old Trafford as a free agent this summer, bottled Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud.
But Szczsney and David de Gea, both 23, were the only players who delivered eye-catching performances. They’ll be among the Premier League’s very best goalkeepers for as long as they want to be (over the next decade and half).
Seventh-place Manchester United now trails fourth-place Liverpool (which beat Fulham on Wednesday) by 11 points. Qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League is looking less likely with each passing week.
A win over Manchester United would have taken Arsenal back to the Premier League summit, but the second-place Gunners failed to capitalize on Chelsea’s draw at West Brom on Tuesday. They trail Chelsea by one point with 12 games remaining.
Wednesday’s game showed the world that Arsenal and Manchester United can defend their goals and restore their senses of pride and purpose. The drab encounter also serves as a reminder not to expect United to make a late-season surge up the standings or bank on Arsenal to implode in the final three months of the season. The would-be Premier-League glamour game merely added to the mountain of evidence that says Manchester United will miss next season’s Champions League and Arsenal won’t win three, two or even one major trophy.