It should have been business as usual for Manchester United when they faced Arsenal last weekend, and in some ways it was. All United really had to do was turn up to face the team they demolished 8-2 last season, and there should really have been no fear for the visitors as Arsenal haven’t been a genuine threat at Old Trafford for around five or six years. The win was a given for the home side, but it did nothing to reinforce their position as title favourites this season.
Many Arsenal fans haven’t taken too kindly to the comments from the United camp and others in football that the home side should have scored at least five or six, going a decent way to replicating the embarrassment dished out last season. But was it the lack of threat from Arsenal that forced United to remain in second gear throughout the game, or did it tell something more of their own quality?
So far this season, Manchester United have been tested by Fulham, Tottenham, Stoke, Galatasaray, and Braga at home. Fortunately for Alex Ferguson’s side, they’ve managed to come out on top in each of those games except against Tottenham. That tired line of the ‘form of champions’ to come from behind to grab all three points is incredibly wide of the mark.
Yes, United are the name you associate with Premier League football because of their success, but why should history have any relevance on how poor they sometimes can be? Should a Manchester United team—and this one really aren’t as bad as has been suggested—really be going behind to these teams or using the ropes to prop them up?
Maybe Robin van Persie was willing to show his merciful side against his old club on the weekend, converting only one of his handful of chances during the game. Wouldn’t a devastating score line have said a lot more about where United are and should be this season?
It could be a psychological issue. It would seem a waste to go down the road of suggesting the overriding factor of this United team is that many aren’t good enough, because as mentioned that’s not the case for most of the squad. Why is it then that they can continue to concede in the manner they do, why can they not hold a team like Galatasaray—who really have not impressed in Europe this season—to more than just a one-goal win? The story in Braga this week could have been so different were it not for their goalkeeper deciding to go for a walkabout and Javier Hernandez benefiting from a scramble on the Braga goal line.
The fact of this season is that United have been stretched in almost every game, losing against good opposition at home and relying heavily on one player when they really shouldn’t. How long will it be before Jonny Evans gets a straight red for one of his reckless challenges, the type that is sometimes missed because there was a story from the player on the other end?
The win against Chelsea gave us some evidence that there is a good team in there who can go away to one of the more impressive sides in the league and start much more brightly, although the win wasn’t entirely of their own doing. But that game wasn’t one of many, rather it acted as one of the exceptions.
How long can this team continue to rely on van Persie (yes, in exactly the same way Arsenal did last season) and how long can people continue to say ‘United always find a way to make it through’? They’ve been fortunate that the Champions League group stage has been somewhat kind to them this year and it shouldn’t be looked at as a case of them conquering the group in the way you’d expect. Every other English team is struggling at the moment and there is a very real possibility that all of them may not join United in the knockout phase.
It doesn’t just amount to a leaky defence owed to a lack of consistent personnel. There doesn’t seem to be the same drive to go and take control of games in a manner in which they should be able to.
Again, even with a limp, lifeless and uninspired Arsenal as the opposition last weekend, United helped to create a score line that many may look back at in the future as something of a close game. It wasn’t, but that was because of the lifeless visiting team.